Thursday, June 18, 2015

One-Pocket Mystery: Who Invented the Game?

Fats identifies "Jack Hill"
 as the inventor
 of one-pocket.
Here's a one-pocket mystery.

Jack Hill, apparently from Oklahoma, is referenced in Hustler Days as the inventor of one-pocket. But the original source for that information was The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies, the book by Minnesota Fats. Fats offers only a few details about Hill, and we have never seen Hill's name referenced elsewhere.

According to Fats, a man by the name of Babe Emmett owned a great room in downtown Oklahoma City, on Main Street. Fats first went there, looking for Hill, but to no avail. The locals told him that instead, Hill would be playing in a room at the Huckin's Hotel, down the street.

 "I must have stayed at the Huckin's Hotel for six months, watching old man Hill playing one-pocket," Fats states in the Bank Shot. "He told me if I could play three cushion and banks and straight pool, I would have a tremendous advantage at one-pocket so we played some three cushion and banks and once he saw the way I could bank a shot he said I wouldn't have any trouble at all."

So who was Jack Hill? And was he really the father of the most cerebral of hustlers' games?

A difficulty here is that a separate man,  a hustler named Hayden Lingo, also has been credited with inventing one-pocket. Lingo is also from Oklahoma.

There's a bit more known about Lingo. For instance, he played Johnston City, during the Jansco Brothers tournaments. Two sources told Steve Booth at that it was Lingo's rules that the Janscos used at their one-pocket events.

"Although he was from Oklahoma City, Lingo spent long stretches on the road, at least as far from home as Boston," wrote Booth. "Old-timers from Oklahoma City describe him as a well-dressed and soft-spoken man, while those who ran into him on the road often describe him as a secretive hustler. From Eddie Taylor to Squirrel, to Freddie the Beard, all who knew him agree that he was an unusually smart player, who approached One Pocket like a studious chess master would approach chess."

But Lingo passed away several years ago and no one knows for certain what role he played in the creation of one-pocket. Booth himself expresses skepticism.

So that brings us back to Jack Hill, who is referenced in the Bank Shot. That book was actually written by Philadelphia journalist Tom Fox, and it was based on his conversations with Fats and his then-wife Evelyn. But there wasn't a lot of fact-checking going on when Fox wrote the book, and Fats was known for playing extremely fast and loose with the truth.

Could it be that Fats simply forgot Lingo's name and so made up that of "Hill" instead? That is, could it be that Lingo and Hill are the same person? After all, they're both from Oklahoma City. Or could it be that Hayden Lingo learned the game from Jack Hill?

I tend to think the second supposition is the more likely. That's because Fats, in his book, described Hill as "an old man." Given the timeline from the Bank Shot, that means that Lingo would have been either dead or positively ancient by the time of the Johnston City tournaments. That doesn't quite square with the description of Hayden Lingo that we've seen.

But Fats, Tom Fox and Hayden Lingo and are all dead. And so too, presumably, is Jack Hill. So it seems impossible to do more than speculate.

-- R.A. Dyer

Saturday, June 13, 2015

American Pool History: A Timeline

Here's a work-in-progress timeline of American pool. Feel free to suggest more entries or corrections. One day I'll put this up more permanently on the regular website.

Pool makes its first appearance in North America, according to Frank G. Menke, a sports historian. A Spanish family brought it with them to St. Augustine, Florida. (Source: Life Magazine, Oct. 8, 1951).

George Washington purported to have won a pool game. (Source: A Brief History of the Noble Game of Billiards, by Mike Shamos.)
Michael Phelan, considered the father of American pool, is born in Castle Comer, County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Michael Phelan and family join father John Phelan in New York City.

The first slate tables appear. Previously, the playing surface of tables was cut from wood and then briefly with marble. However, marble was known to "sweat" in warm weather. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sports, by Frank G. Menke, 1939.]

India wooden cushions are substituted for wooden cushions, which had been popular previously. The India rubber cushions provided a "spectacular bounce," according to sports historian Frank G. Menke. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sports, by Frank G. Menke, 1939.]

Phelan, seen now as greatest player in the United States, publishes Billiards Without a Master.

Phelan’s book, Game of Billiards, is published; he opens a room at the corner of Broadway and 10th, New York. It was considered the finest and most luxurious pool room in the world. He also publishes the first edition of Billiard Cue, the first billiard periodical.

Jim Seereiter and Michael Phelan play in a four-day standing room only tournament in Detroit for an astronomical $15,000. Phelan won; in April Dudley Kavanaugh beats Michael Foley in another high-profile match, also in Detroit.

Phelan retires from active competition; he also offers a $10,000 reward for anyone who can devise a suitable ivory substitute for the manufacturer of billiard balls. This effort has been credited with the eventual development of plastic. Dudley Kavanagh wins in a pro championship in Irving Hall, New York, June 1-9. He becomes second U.S. pool champion.

Vulcanized rubber came into use for cushions, and remains the standard to this day. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sports, by Frank G. Menke, 1939.]

On Sept. 7, Louis Fox and John Deery, joint holders of the world billiards championship of 1864, meet in Washington Hall, Rochester, New York, to decide the 1865 title. According to an account of sports historian Menke: "Fox, far in the lead and on his way to winning, found himself bothered by a fly, which, despite 'shooing,' continued to light on the cue ball. Fox, excitingly trying to chase the fly, miscued, and it was Deery's shot. Deery ran out the string to win the championship. The heart broken Fox rushed out of the hall to a river, leaped in, and was drowned." [Source: Encyclopedia of Sports, by Frank G. Menke, 1939.]
Celluloid, the first industrial plastic, is discovered by New Yorker John Wesley Hyatt. Hyatt was attempting to come up with a substitute for ivory billiard balls, but his new substitutes sometimes exploded on impact.

Jerome Keogh, inventor of straight pool and five-times billiard champion, is born.

Keogh wins his first world championship.

Eight ball is invented. The first three-cushion championship is established.

The game of straight pool is invented by Jerome Keogh.

The very first World 14.1 Tournament was held in 1911 and won by Alfredo De Oro. 

Straight pool becomes the official tournament game of pocket billiards.
Alfredo De Oro

Rudolf Wanderone, AKA Minnesota Fats, is born in New York on Jan. 13. Willie Mosconi is born in Philadelphia on June 27. The industry reports one of its best years, ever, for table sales.

Dudley Kavanaugh dies in New York on March at age 80.

Ralph Greenleaf competes in his first national championship tournament, held in October at Doyle’s Academy in New York. The 16-year-old Greenleaf was described as a “Boy Wonder” by the New York Times.

Luther Lassiter is born.

Greenleaf wins the first of his 13 world titles.

Greenleaf, playing in Detroit, regains the title – his eighth. He defeats the scoreless Frank Taberski with a sensational 126-ball run.

Harold Worst, future three-cushion and pool champion, is born on Sept. 29 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Willie Mosconi makes his national tournament debut.

Willie Mosconi
Willie Mosconi wins the first of 15 world titles.

The Billiard Congress of America is established.

Jerome Keogh, winner of five titles and the inventor of straight pool, dies at age 80 on January 12.

Harold Worst wins the world three-cushion title during an event held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Willie Mosconi establishes the BCA-recognized straight-pool high-run record of 536 balls. He accomplished the startling feat in Ohio, on an 8 by 4 table.

Willie Mosconi suffers a stroke.

George Jansco conducts the first of his famous hustler tournaments in Johnston City, Illinois. The tournaments, which lasted about a decade, would eventually attract nationwide attention.

20th Century Fox releases “The Hustler.” The film, starring Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman, would reinvigorate the public’s interest in the sport.

Rudolf Wanderone begins making the fanciful claim that he was the real-life inspiration for the film’s Minnesota Fats character.

Luther Lassiter wins the first of his seven Billiard Congress of America-recognized titles. He won many more non-sanctioned events.

Three-cushion champ Harold Worst briefly conquers the world of pocket billiards with victories at the Las Vegas Stardust tournament in June, and in Johnston City in October and November.

The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies, the fanciful memoirs written by Minnesota Fats and
Philadelphia newspaper writer Tom Fox, gets published.

George Jansco dies. Brother Paulie takes over management of Johnston City tournament.

After reading newspaper reports of widespread gambling, federal agents on Oct. 26 raid the Johnston City tournament. The '72 tournament would be the last.

Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats would play the first of several televised challenge matches. It was the most-viewed pool match in U.S. history.

Earl Strickland wins the first of his historic five U.S. Opens.

The Color of Money, a sequel to The Hustler, opens to favorable reviews. The film stars Tom Cruise with Paul Newman reprising his role as Fast Eddy Felson.

Allison Fisher
Willie Mosconi dies in Haddon Heights, New Jersey on Sept. 16.

Allison Fisher wins the first of her more than 50 Women's Professional Billiard Association titles.

Minnesota Fats dies on Jan. 18.

Allison Fisher wins 8 consecutive major pro pool tournaments. 

Shane Van Boening wins the first of his five U.S. Opens.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Michael Phelan, the Father of American Pool — A Timeline

Michael Phelan, Father of American Pool
1819 (April 18th) — Born in Castle Comer, County Kilkenny, Ireland.
1823 —
Father John immigrates to the United States. Here, he begins to operate a number of pool rooms.
1824 —
Michael Phelan and family join father John in New York.
1830 —
Begins learning the jewelry trade. He eventually abandons this trade and instead follows in his father’s footsteps, devoting himself to the pool business.
1838 —
Phelan travels to Galveston, with plans to open a pool room there. The plan goes awry, and Phelan remains stuck and penniless in the south for several years.
1842 —
Michael Phelan returns to New York.
1847 —
Opens the famous Arcade Billiard Room on Barclay Street, a favorite of the fashionable young men of the day.
1848 —
Irish nationalists launch aborted rebellion; Hugh Collender, Phelan's future business partner, flees Ireland — apparently in a coffin — when the rebellion fails; Phelan lends financial support and helps arm militias in the United States.
1850 —
Phelan, seen now as greatest player in the United States, publishes Billiards Without a Master. This was pool's first best seller.
Phelan visits Europe as a delegate of the “Insurrectionary Party of Ireland,” meets with rebel leaders; is ejected by British authorities.
1851 or 1852 —
Leaves New York for California.
1854-1855 —
Returns to New York.
1854 —
Begins manufacturing billiard tables, entering into a partnership with Hugh Collender to form Phelan & Collender.
1855 —
February, Plays a three-carom match with Monsier Damon, a French expert, for a stakes of $1,000; he opens a room at 39 Chambers Street, New York.
1856 —
Phelan’s book Game of Billiards is published; he opens a room at the corner of Broadway and 10th, New York. It was considered the finest and most luxurious pool room in the world. He also publishes the first edition of Billiard Cue, the first billiard periodical.
1858 —
Phelan defeats Ralph Benjamin of Philadelphia for $1,000. This is the first recorded billiard match in American history.
1859 —
Enters into a high stakes challenge match with John Seereiter  In today’s dollars, the stakes would be valued at more than $400,000.
1860 —Buys Tobias C. O'Conner's share of billiard table manufacturing business, O'Conner Collender.
1863 —
Phelan retires from active competition. He also offers a $10,000 reward for anyone who can come up with a suitable ivory substitute for the manufacturer of billiard balls. This effort has been credited with the eventual development of plastic.
1865 —
Phelan was a founder of the American Billiard Players Association, which was open to professional players, poolroom proprietors and amateurs. Controversially, he brings a large segment of the sport under his control.
1870 —
Saves his grandson from drowning during International Yacht Race.
1871 (Oct. 7) —
Dies, presumably from the lingering effects of exposure from helping saving his grandson the previous year.
1993 —
Inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame.