One Man’s Amazing Journey to the Center of the Bowling Ball

Victor Marion is one of several bowling industry figures whom Pinel irritated. In 2006, Marion attended a Pinel-led seminar at a Las Vegas conference for pro shop owners. “He was writing some physics on the board, and he had it wrong,” recalls Marion, who had studied the topic as a hobby in school. “And I called him out. I was like, ‘Hey, Mo, I think you forgot a step there. You skipped some variables and didn’t do a couple of things.’ And he yelled at me, like, ‘Who’s teaching this class?’” Marion claims that a slightly intoxicated Pinel berated him for being a know-it-all, then ordered him to pipe down when one of his colleagues confirmed the mathematical error. (Marion eventually became a ball designer himself and now runs his own company, Big Bowling, in Spokane, Washington.)

Pinel also formed a bitter rivalry with a designer named Richie Sposato, a former pro bowler. In the late 1980s, around the same time that Pinel was refining his hypothesis about how core shape influences motion, Sposato went to a fateful Pink Floyd laser light show in Syracuse, New York. “I came home and I was really intrigued by these lasers,” he says. “And I just wanted to draw these lasers. And so I drew this diamond, and this light bulb went off in my head. It was like an aha moment—like, bingo, this is the perfect shape for a bowling ball.”

Sposato patented his diamond-shaped core, which he claims produces 20 percent more inertia than any competitor, and placed it in balls that he manufactured under the brand name Lane #1. But while he’s adamant that his core is the most advanced on the market, Sposato has always lagged behind Pinel in terms of sales and recognition. That dynamic led to years of conflict between the two ornery men. After one tussle in the online forum Bowling Ball Exchange, Pinel was banned for his caustic replies to Sposato’s criticism.

“See, Mo, he talks above everybody, talks down to people,” Sposato says. “People can’t understand what he’s talking about—physics-wise, all these big words, stuff like that. So they just look at him and they agree with him. But I can see right through it. I know what he’s talking about, what he’s saying, and I can always throw it right back in his face.” (In addition to designing Lane #1 balls, Sposato also owns a nightclub in Syracuse; he made headlines last year for openly flouting the state’s lockdown by hosting a party.)

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Sposato was partially vindicated when MoRich flamed out. The company suffered from typical startup woes, notably maintaining quality control when dealing with contract factories. More fundamentally, demand was down. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of league bowlers—the folks willing to splash out for a new ball or three every year—decreased by 36 percent. But Pinel’s ideas had also been copied by bigger competitors, who were now touting audaciously asymmetric balls of their own. Unlike MoRich, those companies had the means to put their products into the hands of the most influential pros. (Getting a brand approved for use on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, the sport’s top circuit, costs in excess of $100,000 in certification fees.)

Pinel kept sinking his dwindling savings into MoRich until 2011. Shortly thereafter, he was offered a lifeline by an old friend. Phil Cardinale, the man who’d given Pinel his first design opportunity for Track more than two decades earlier, had recently become the CEO of Radical Bowling, a niche ball brand owned by Brunswick Bowling. Cardinale and the VP of Brunswick Bowling invited Pinel to become Radical’s technology director. In addition to designing cores for the brand, Pinel became Radical’s chief ambassador. His #MoMonday YouTube series drew thousands of viewers every week, and he also scheduled more than a hundred personal appearances a year. Though in his seventies, Pinel would regularly put 45,000 miles a year on his black 2006 Chevy Malibu Maxx. He’d drive across the Dakotas in midwinter, dropping into tiny alleys to talk up the cores he’d designed for Radical, balls with names like the Ludicrous, the Katana Legend, and the Conspiracy Theory.

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