Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama Plays Pool

Some say he was just trying to score points with working class voters. But when Democratic hopeful Barack Obama during a 2008 campaign stop picked up a pool cue in a West Virginia bar and started running balls, he was simply following a long, proud and very presidential tradition.

Consider this: George Washington reportedly won a game of pool in 1748; John Quincy Adams installed a table in the presidential quarters in 1828; and Abraham Lincoln extolled the virtues of pool as a "scientific game lending recreation to the otherwise fatigued mind."

Even Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was said to have a table at Monticello.

But Obama should also be careful about pocketing balls for political gain. After Adams used his own money to purchase a pool table, his political opposition in 1828 took him to task for installing "gambling furniture" in the White House.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More stories about Ralph Greenleaf

Mr. Coby Atkins writes in with a story about Ralph Greenleaf. He also has a great idea about visiting the retirement homes in his area for more information. Notice at the bottom he describes a shot that appears very similar to the "Jersey Red" one-pocket shot. I had always heard that Jersey Red was credited with that shot but maybe Ralph Greenleaf was shooting it even earlier.

Here's Mr. Atkins note:

Hello Mr. Dyer,

I am 55 years old and have lived most of my days in Lancaster, PA. As a young pool enthusiast, I often sought out the old timers to, hopefully, steal a tip or a secret to mastering the game of Pocket Billiards.

As published in the Billiard Digest, Mr. Greenleaf had written a letter of complaint to Brunswick from Lancaster. I don’t know what the date of that letter was, but that helps in putting into perspective the stories I had heard regarding Mr. Greenleaf’s stay here in Lancaster.

One of those “Old Timers” was Ducky Gilbert. He was probably about the same age as Mr. Greenleaf. I had met Ducky in the early ‘70’s, perhaps ’73 or ’74, and he was in his early 70’s himself. Three Cushion Billiards was his game and he was much better than average. Ducky always claimed it was Ralph Greenleaf who showed him the way to better Billiards. One of his stories was that Mr. Greenleaf never had any money. He would start his day by entering the poolroom on Queen Street and borrow a one dollar bill. He would then lay the bill on the table at the Brunswick Logo and ask for bets as too him shooting a spot shot (object ball on the foot spot and cue ball on the head spot) and after pocketing the object ball, the cue ball would stop on the dollar bill. Apparently Mr. Greenleaf was extremely proficient at the shot and very, very rarely failed. This story was verified by Peter DeLaurentis, who would have been in his early twenties at that time.

In York, PA, there is a private Men’s Club called the Yankee Athletic Association. A very cool place to play. When I was first introduced to the Club in 1975, there were 4 Brunswick Centennials in a theater setting with 150 point wires over each table. One of the bartenders was an “Old Timer” with white hair, in which they called (get this) “Whitey”. Having no idea Whitey even played pool, he began to tell me about Mr. Greenleaf, when he found out I was from Lancaster. He said that someone would usually have to bring Mr. Greenleaf over to the Yankee, because he did not have his own transportation. The Club Membership had many accomplished players, of which, Whitey was of the best. He described Mr. Greenleaf’s stroke in that he always aimed the tip of his cue low on the cue ball before following through to the point of contact. He, also, said that Mr. Greenleaf was all but mediocre, at best, until he had at least two drinks in him.

Both Ducky and Whitey, both, told me it was Mr. Greenleaf who showed them the double kiss bank off the long rail. Cue ball in the kitchen (or near that whereabouts), Object ball frozen to the rail one diamond or so above the side pocket. Shoot medium speed just to the upper side of the center of the object ball. Object ball will double kiss back into the rail and bank into the lower corner pocket. I’ve used it many times during one pocket games and have seen it used only once against me ever.

There are more and I’m probably not the only new young old timer with these second hand stories or memories.

All these folks are gone. But, before it may be too late. I was considering entering a small "request for information" ad in a few of the retirement villages and homes in Lancaster County. There just might be someone left in the area who has some memories of that time.

Would I be wasting my time? Is there any special type of notice I should arrange? Do you have any suggestions? Would you be interested in any of this information, if there is some to be found?

I’m sure all of it would be hearsay, but would make for some great scuttlebutt.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A few stories from a ghost hunting pool player

Sometime back my family and I enjoyed an excellent ghost tour of downtown San Antonio. I was quite pleased to discover that the host of the tour -- one Martin Leal -- is a big pool fan. We spent a good while talking about pool before and after the tour. I mentioned the recent sightings of UJ Puckett's ghost, at Fast Freddie's in Fort Worth. I suggested he bring out his equipment and camera crew to discover the truth.

Martin was a very interesting and gracious host and story teller. He wrote me a note sometime back. Here's what he said:

I was lucky to have hung around with some of the best players from the near old days because of my father and his friends who have become my friends. Puckett, Jersey Red, Fats, Reyes, Allen. I remember seeing Allen for the first time at Reds in Houston. The first game I watched him play was one pocket. He broke, made a ball and then ran out in about four minutes. I was like wow, did that really happen, he made it look like a 9-ball game. I remember Jersey Red play a guy for two dollars a game at 9 ball and beat him for three hours straight. I don't think the guy won one game in three hours. Somebody asked Red why he would play for two dollars a game and he said, "look at this, I win about fifteen games per hour, that's thirty dollars an hour, its easy money, hahaha."

Fats did an exhibition in San Antonio about thirty years ago and he spent the night at the pool hall owners house and I was invited to come over and wow, Fats could really talk, just talk, talk, talk about the old days. It was very entertaining but I could not figure out how much was fact and how much was Fats bullshit but it was a great experience....

Are you familiar with a guy named Little Al Romero from California? He came to visit my father in the 70's. We went to moyers billiards in Austin. Little Al beat the best of the local players and when one of the players named Steve S------- quit after losing a few hundred, Little Al said he would play left handed and Steve said that if Al played left handed he would double the bet from 20 to 40 per game. Little Al could play the same with either hand and he killed the guy for a few more hundred and Steve quit again. So, Al tries to work on something else with Steve, one pocket, a spot, something and Steve told him: "Hey, after seeing you beat me with your weak hand I do not want to play you anything, I will not even play you a game of jacks like the kids play because you are unbeatable." I really enjoyed that experience.

I think there are so many players out there who have some great stories about the road that never became famous. I went on the road with a guy named Tito years ago, we went as far as Memphis. Tito plays left handed. That is the only way he can play, left handed. He would beat guys out of a few hundred and then do tell them he would play them left handed and you would not believe how many suckers never noticed he had been playing left handed all of the time and go for more of a beating.

Martin Leal