Friday, July 31, 2009

A Willie Mosconi & Ralph Greenleaf Mystery

Here's a mystery. In 1934, shortly after Willie Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf competed together in a national championship, the two icons supposedly went on the road together. Mosconi told stories about the road trip in his biography, written with Stanley Cohen. Both Mosconi and Greenleaf supposedly had been contracted by Brunswick Billiards to promote the sport during a series of exhibition matches.

Here's the mystery part: as far as I know, no one has ever produced any sort of independent confirmation of this long series of exhibition matches. I myself have gone through hundreds of articles in the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, but have never come across a reference. I've asked a few other guys about this -- including pool historians Charles Ursitti and Mike Shamos -- and they agree that they've never come across any any sort of advertisement or news article to provide independent confirmation of the 1934 Greenleaf and Mosconi tour.

The problem may be that without a description of when and where these exhibition matches were played, it's hard to know in which newspapers to look, and in which editions. So I put it to the blogosphere: Has anyone out there hoarded an old article or advertisement from their hometown newspaper? Or how about this: Does anyone even KNOW anybody who's still alive who knew Ralph Greenleaf or his wife, the Princess Nai Tai Tai? I recently wrote about Harold Houle. But such folks are now tough to find.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Very Early Efren Reyes

I was just flipping through my old pool books the other day, trying to track down a bit of info for a column, when I rediscovered this interesting passage in John Grissim's book, Billiards. Grissim describes an encounter he had during the mid-1970s with a player from the Philippines. At the time, this player -- who went by the nickname "Bata" -- was wholly unknown outside that country. Grissim was traveling around Asia when he came across the then 20-something-year-old kid in a Manilla pool hall.

"I allowed myself to be steered into the money game, an in-and out affair in which the starting bet was 21 pesos, about three dollars," explained Grissim. "My opponent, a good looking kid named Efren Reyes, was taking some ribbing from friends as he chalked up.... As a score of spectators crowded around Efren broke the balls, leaving an open table but only one decent shot, barely -- those old five by tens are big tables. That was all she wrote. The kid ran out. Efren had the smooth motions and subtle touch that charaterize excellent players everywhere, regardless of age."

Reyes, of course, later gained a reputation as one of the very best players in the world. Grissim's quick pool match occurred about a decade before Reyes first came to the United States under an assumed name.

One other note. In his description of his quick eight-ball match, Grissim describes a variation of the game in which he and Reyes were required to pocket the one and the 15 into the side pockets. This variation is common in Latin America. It's called "jugando con la zona." I played this way many times when I lived in Costa Rica. It raises questions as to how this variation spread to the Philippines, which also has Spanish colonial roots.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Alfredo De Oro, Cuban billiards player

Here's a cool picture of Alfredo de Oro, the Cuban-born billiards legend. The picture is from the Library of Congress. I found it posted on flickr. Alfredo de Oro won some of the first straight pool championships, in 1912 and 1913. He also won at Continuous Pool, a precursor to straight pool, and "61 Pool." You can read more about Alfredo De Oro's records in the BCA's official Rules and Record Book.

P.P. Tornich

P.P. Tornich, originally uploaded by jbpics.

Here's a very cool picture that someone graciously posted on my billiards history group at Flickr. The person responsible, one John Bosco, has a collection of vintage photographs. "I've been diligently gathering up all of the old images I can find, (most all of them are original glass plate and celluloid negatives), for nearly twenty years now," says Mr. Bosko. This picture is entitled "P.P. Tornich". I don't know why. It was apparently taken around 1915.