"The point is once you get the table, you don't ever want to give it back. You can destroy a man in this game if he has to sit on the sidelines while you run 100 balls at a time." -- Willie Mosconi.
Mosconi was born on this day in 1913 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Around my grandfather's house, Willie Mosconi was something of an icon. My grandfather graduated from boxing to billiards as a youth, and when he was old enough and wealthy enough, he realized a dream when he built a detached playroom dominated by a big beautiful pool table. A copy of Mosconi's Winning Pocket Billiards was always on hand nearby.
One doesn't normally think of the 1940s and 50s as a period in which a professional sport was completely dominated by a single performer -- except maybe, in the case of rodeo and billiards. While Jim Shoulders was roping rodeo world titles like they were gimpy goats, dapper and diminutive Willie Mosconi racked up 15 world billiards championships between 1940 and 1957. With his gentlemanly, meticulous air, Mosconi also managed to cultivate a better image for billiards, lifting it out of the seedy urban tavern and making it an acceptable activity for one's grandfather's playroom. Shoulders didn't quite get that far with rodeo.
The son of a ranked bantamweight boxer, Mosconi learned his craft as a child and embarked on a hectic exhibition tour at the age of 20, facing billiards legend Ralph Greenleaf in 107 matches and remarkably winning 50 of them. In one famous 8 p.m. Times Square match, Mosconi ran 125 straight balls against Greenleaf in less than a half an hour, finishing in time to take his seat for the 8:30 p.m. opening curtain of Anne Nichols' play Abie's Irish Rose a few blocks away. While at the peak of his powers, Mosconi set a world record by running 526 balls consecutively.
Always a great promoter of family billiards, Mosconi was disgusted by the back-alley behavior of billiards player Minnesota Fats Wanderone, and finally got a chance to embarrass him in a few 1978 televised exhibition matches in which Mosconi beat Minnesota handily. Ironically, Mosconi had served as technical advisor on the 1961 film The Hustler, upon which Wanderone built his own reputation.
He died on September 16, 1993 in Haddon Heights, New Jersey.
Categories: Sport, Billiards