Friday, August 8, 2014

Immonen, Parica Selected for Hall of Fame

Broomfield, Colo., August 6, 2013 – The United States Billiard Media Association today announced that two-time world pool champion Mika Immonen and Jose Parica, the leader of pool’s “Philippine Invasion” in the 1980s, have earned induction into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame in the Greatest Players category.

Immonen, 42, and Parica, 65, will become the 63rd and 64th members of the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. The pair will be inducted during ceremonies on Oct. 17, at the Chesapeake Convention Center in Chesapeake, Va.
Mika Immonen

Immonen, born in London, but raised in Finland, was the European 9-Ball Tour’s No. 1 player at 20. Four years after capturing his first major international title — the 1996 Peace Cup in Taiwan —Immonen settled in New York City. A year later, he won the World Pool Championship in Cardiff, Wales, topping a star-studded 128-player international field and grabbing what was then pool’s richest top prize — $65,000. Immonen was a dominant player throughout the 2000s, winning 10 pro titles in the U.S., including back-to-back U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship crowns (2008, 2009). He added his second world title when he won the 2009 World 10-Ball Championship. Billiards Digest named Immonen “Player of the Decade” in 2010. Immonen has added a handful of major titles since 2010, including the World Cup of Pool doubles crown in 2012. He has also played as a member of Team Europe in the Mosconi Cup 14 times, and was named MVP in 2008.

“This is really amazing,” Immonen said, when the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame call interrupted a practice session at Amsterdam Billiard Club in Manhattan. “I’m a little beside myself right now, with goose bumps. After last year (in which Immonen lost to Jeanette Lee in a special Hall of Fame run-off]), I knew I had a chance. But you never really believe it until it’s real.”

“When I was younger, I had dreams and goals,” he added. “It’s a timeline, and the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame was on that list. Obviously, that goal takes time. I wasn’t in a big rush to be recognized as an old geezer, but it’s nice to be in the Hall of Fame at 41.”
Jose Parica

Parica becomes the second player elected to the Greatest Player wing of the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame through recommendation of the Veterans Committee. (The Veterans Committee considers players who failed to be elected through general voting prior to turning 60. Players recommended by the Veterans Committee are put on the final ballot. Election is confirmed with a 50 percent approval from the Voting Members of the Hall of Fame.) Following a distinguished career in the Philippines, where he gained a reputation as the pool-crazy island’s money-game king, Parica arrived in the U.S. He won his first pro tour title in 1986, at the Clyde Childress Open.

After a sabbatical from the game (1992-1996), Parica returned to the Camel Pro Billiard Series with a vengeance, winning a pair of tour titles. His consistent play throughout the year also earned him the $50,000 Player of the Year (POY) bonus award to the tour’s top points earner. The points title came down to the semifinals of the year’s final event, when Parica battled Buddy Hall in a match that determined which player would claim the POY award. Parica topped Hall, 9- 7. Parica continued to rank among the game’s top players well into the 2000s, winning Derby City Classic titles in 2001, 2002 and 2003, including Master of the Table in 2002.

“It has been a long time to wait,” said Parica, when told of his election. “For many years, I didn’t think the people from the BCA knew who I was. I was always asked about my record. I won many major tournaments in the U.S. They commented about my gambling, but what pool player doesn’t gamble? But it is a great honor,” he added. “I’m very happy.”

Voting for the 2014 BCA Hall of Fame was conducted by the USBMA Hall of Fame Board, which consists of USBMA members, elected At-Large members and living members of the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. Induction in the Greatest Players category is awarded to the player named on the most ballots. A second player is elected if both players are named on more than 70 percent of the ballots. To be eligible for consideration in the Greatest Players category, a player a) must be 40 years old by Jan. 1 of the year of their induction; b) must have a professional playing career of at least 10 years; and c) must have recorded significant achievements in U.S.-based events.

Immonen, in his second year of eligibility, was named on 75 precent of the ballots. Germany’s Oliver Ortmann was named on 33 percent of the ballots, and Gerda Hofstatter was named on 27 percent. Belinda Calhoun, Kim Davenport, Mary Kenniston, Jeremy Jones, Rodney Morris and Vivian Villarreal each received votes on less than 25 percent of the ballots.

About United States Billiard Media Association
Founded in 2007, the United States Billiard Media Association (USBMA) is a non-profit association dedicated to elevating the visibility and status of billiards in the media at large. The USBMA consists of professional print, radio, TV, public relations and Internet media persons who cover cue sports. One of the association’s main functions is electing of billiard media members to the Billiard Congress of America’s Hall of Fame Board for the purpose of nominating and electing players and notable figures to the BCA Hall of Fame.

About Billiard Congress of America
Founded in 1948, the Billiard Congress of America is a non-profit trade organization dedicated to growing a united, prosperous and highly regarded billiard industry through Billiard Congress of America leadership. The Billiard Congress of America seeks to enhance the success of its members and promote the game of billiards though educational, marketing and promotional efforts, annual industry trade shows and other programs designed to encourage billiards as a lifestyle and make pool everybody’s game

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Dean: Memories of Onofrio Lauri

From left: Willie Mosconi, Lauri, Irving Cranee.
Erling Hammarstrom, the son of Norwegian parents, wrote me recently with recollections of his poolroom hero, the famous Onofrio Lauri. I've reproduced his letter,  shortened somewhat for space.

My sister and our parents settled in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood called Bay Ridge. The year was 1953 and I had just graduated from high school. A friend asked to go shoot a game of pool at a second-floor room managed by Onofrio Lauri, known as 'The dean of pocket billiards.' 

I was fascinated. The sound of the click of the balls. I even liked the smell of the powder that you put on your hands. One day I came to the poolroom early and there was no one in the place except Lauri. He challenged me to a game of straight pool and gave me a 90-ball spot on a 100-point game, playing for a pack of cigarettes.

Lauri ran five racks before he got out of position: the fifteen ball, which was his break shot, ended up behind the rack. Lauri called it in the corner pocket and I told him he'd never make it. He said let’s double the bet. He hit the cue ball off the right-hand side rail and it clipped the fifteen ball into the corner pocket before it broke open the rack. After running 150 balls Lauri unscrewed his cue and said that was enough for today. I went downstairs and bought him two packs of cigarettes. 

Sometimes Lauri and I would talk baseball. I was a real Brooklyn Dodgers fan and I thought Lauri would be too.  But years ago he shot pool with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and ever since that day he was a Yankees fan. I also asked him who was the best player of all time. Was it Greenleaf or Mosconi? Lauri had played against both of them. Lauri thought for a moment and said in a single game he'd pick Greenleaf, but over a series of games it would be Mosconi because he was so consistent.

Mosconi, in his autobiography, writes about Lauri
Every year Lauri would play Willie Mosconi at Julian's in Manhattan on 14th Street. Lauri might win two games, but he said you always get punch drunk playing Mosconi because he was so good. The last time I saw Lauri and Mosconi play was in 1965, at a place called the Golden Q in Queens. They were playing 200-point matches and Lauri ended up defeating Mosconi with runs of 90 and 110. After the match Mosconi turned to the crowd and said, "doo you believe this old man?"

Mosconi in his biography Willie’s Game co-authored with Stanley Cohen, speaks of Onofrio Lauri. "You wouldn’t want him to be the guy standing between you and a championship. He was a sensational shot maker. If he got on a roll he could run out on you quicker than you could count the balls.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

Parting Gift from Freddy the Beard: The "Encyclopedia" of Pool Hustlers

Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna

 Pool writer Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna passed away earlier this month. He was a great guy and a very funny writer. Late last year he completed what would become his final book, The "Encyclopedia" of Pool Hustlers. It's top notch. Here's an excerpt of a review I wrote for Billiards Digest  

RIP Freddy.

-- R.A. Dyer

The 'Encyclopedia' of Pool Hustlers Colorful, Fun

Nowhere in The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers will you find a list of birth dates and death dates of famous pool players. Nowhere will you find academic descriptions of pool games, the sort you might find in Mike Shamos’ New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards. Nowhere will you find the sensible organization of Robert Bryne’s pool treasuries.

But what you will find in Freddy “The Beard” Bentivegna’s new reference work is fun — 325 chaotic pages of it. The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers is not a book you’ll ever read from start to finish — at least, not in any disciplined way — but it’s a book you’ll want to have around your nightstand or in The Brown Study. It’s chock full of quick and quirky anecdotes about players both famous and obscure (mostly obscure), all seasoned with Bentivegna’s aromatic brand of BS.
The entries are usually short — some just a few paragraphs. But his book is expansive. Formidably so.  Leafing through it, I quickly found entertaining entries for Greg “Big Train” Stevens (He was the only guy that I ever saw eat a whole loaf of Wonder Bread for a meal), Alfie Taylor (old time road-hog hustler) and “Gar” Milborn Frazier (World’s champion stay-up man). Bentivegna includes a few entries for pool playing celebrities, including James Caan and Elvis Presley. He also describes “The Wonder Dog of Pool,” a man he calls “The Filthy Beast” and by necessity includes an entry entitled “Chemical Enhancement.”

The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers is a better book than it has any right to be.  But if you order the Encyclopedia (and I think you should), don’t for a moment lose track of what it is you be getting in your mailbox. Like the hustlers that Bentivegna writes about, this book is chaotic and untidy. Neither are there any real profiles here, no get-into-the-weeds details.

What you’ll find instead are outrageous anecdotes, first-hand stories of lying, cheating, drug taking and boozing. At its very core, this is an anthology of boys behaving badly. This is a book about pool hustlers.

And for my money, a fine one.

-- R.A. Dyer

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Branch in the Fats Family Tree

Rudolf Wanderone — the many better known as Minnesota Fats — was the most famous pool hustler in American history. But how much do we really know about him?  Here’s a quick quiz.   But be advised:  some of these are trick questions. 

Which statements are true?

  1. The Minnesota Fats character in The Hustler, the novel by Walter Tevis, was based on Wanderone. 
  2. Rudolf Wanderone was born in 1913. 
  3. Rudolf Wanderone was married twice. 
  4. Rudolf Wanderone had no children. 
  5. Rudolf Wanderone had only one child, the famous rhythm and blues singer Etta James. 
  6. Rudolf Wanderone was a top-notch pool hustler.

Wanderone with daughter, Juanita.
This may come as a surprise, but all of these statements — with the exception of number 6, are in dispute.  This, despite what it says in Wikipedia and even what has been previously reported in my own books, like The Hustler and the Champ and Hustler Days. 

New information has come to light, information that I’ve detailed in recent edition of Billiards Digest.  We now know that Wanderone may not have been born in 1913, that he may have been married three times (not just twice) and that he had at least one child other than Etta James (and whether Etta James was his daughter remains an open question.) 

Here's the Cliff Notes version of what we now know: 

Wanderone had a long relationship during the 1930s with a woman named Lucy Blanche Maria Wood, who gave birth to a daughter named Neva Juanita. Lucy Blanche died in 1959. Neva Juanita died in 2010. Wanderone was almost certainly Neva Juanita’s father, and he also may have been married to Lucy Blanche. This is startling because Wanderone never publicly acknowledged any wife prior to Evalyn Grass, whom he married in 1941. His second wife (or third, depending on how you count) was Theresa Bell. Also, the timeline of his relationship with Lucy Blanche puts into doubt Fats' supposed birth year of 1913.

This new information comes to us from JustinVerhovnik, a hithertofore unknown grandson of Wanderone. Speaking to me for a January 2014 edition of Billiards Digest, Verhovnik said that the last time he laid eyes on his grandfather might have been in 1980, at about the time that Fats was divorcing Evelyn Inez. 

The story is long and drawn out, but I’ll try to relate more of it in a future blog post. You can also try to track down that January edition of Billiards Digest. Freddy Bentivegna likewise has included some detail in his new book, 'Encyclopedia' of Pool Hustlers.

 -- R.A. Dyer