|pooltournament at the
Speaking to a friend and he says—whatever
happened to that pool story?
I said: Its around somewhere.
He says: you should post it on the website.
So I thought about it and poked around in the
files and there it was, 35 years later, on the
yellow typing paper I favored at the time,
banged out on my trusty royal portable
The piece was never published. In an earlier
carnation the Sunday Times magazine was
called West magazine and it was to West I
submitted the story. I had no contacts at the
mag and as we all know it is more the contacts
of the writer and not so much the talent that
generally prevails. But from time to time the
reverse occurs. So I mail off the piece and a
few days later get a letter from the mag, from
the top guy, the editor in chief, whose name I
no longer recall—maybe Paul. But a nice
letter—meaning they like the story and want to
publish. So a contract was issued and along
with it a $500 check.
Writers write to publish and if for their labors a
decent check is included--so much the better.
But its publication of the work—recognition—
that we crave.
So now I await publication, in the Sunday
Times—circulation 12 million, very nice.
But publication never occurred. Every Sunday I
bought the paper and to dig out the magazine
for my story and the story wasnt there.
In this way a month passed and I called Paul at
He says: we have a problem. The magazine is
folding. He explained why, the usual, reader
apathy, and said: Im trying to get the story in—
maybe next week.
But next week never came. There were 2
more issues, my story was nowhere to be
found-—and the magazine dropped dead.
Too bad. I still had my check but as I say—its
So now its 35 years later and I have retrieved—
or re-interred--the story from the files and to
give a re-read and yes, my friend was right: its
a cool story. I note a few stylistic mishaps here
and there but I have decided to let stand as is.
Style reflects the person and this is the person
I was at that time.
|pool tournament at the
I read a story in the Times—a pool story. A
tournament was occurring at the Elks club in
Hollywood. The players mentioned included Danny
Deliberto—from Buffalo. I knew Danny. 20 years
before we played ball together at a place called the
Butler Mitchell Boys Club. Later I would run into him
from time to time at this or that pool hall. He had
become a pool player and one year beat out a guy
named Joe Moran for the city championship. Then he
left Buffalo and went to Miami to become a fighter.
Fighting was his love. After that I lost track.
I went to a match. The tournament was half over. A
guy named Joe Balsis was leading at 10-0. In second
place was Irving Crane—the "Deacon"—and one of
the few players with a recognizable name outside the
sport. Crane was 9-1 tied, with Lou Butera. Danny
was 8-1. tickets were $3/$4/$5.
I entered the room—the size of a small auditorium.
There were 50 -75 people scattered about in seats.
At one end was a stage with 20 chairs—the $5 seats.
These seats were empty, there were no officials in
sight and I climbed to the stage and took a seat
I had a terrific view of the play 10 feet from the table
looking directly down upon it. The room was dark
except for three florescent light units suspended over
the tables that flooded the play area. Beneath this
light the felt cloth of the tables was a bright flaming
green. The players wore black tuxedos.
Danny was playing—a guy named Jimmy Gartner.
Gartner was ahead 22-7.
Danny was shooting on a run of 9. There were 7 or 8
balls on the table. He finished off the rack but left
himself a tough break shot--a straight shot on the six
ball into the corner pocket.
The problem is: there is no way to deflect the cube
ball off the six and into the rail and off the rail to
break up the rack and keep the run going
There is no way but he finds a way. He drills the
shot--cutting the six ball on the right with strong left
hand English applied to the cue ball. The six spins
back, over to the right into the pocket, the cue ball
freezes than then flies into the side rail, deflect to the
end rail and off the end rail into the belly of the rack
and knocks a few balls loose.
This is the shot:
A terrific shot—even for a pro. There is some
He looks the table over—not much.
He has one shot--the 13 into the corner pocket
It’s a break shot but a weak break shot. He takes the
shot, that he makes and for the cue ball to deflect off
the side rail and into the rack but there is no scatter.
He must play safe. But now, studying the rack, he
sees a shot--the 10 ball dead into the right corner
pocket—a 3 ball combination—the explosion shot. The
problem with these shots is they dont always work.
Anything can happen and when it does youve busted
up the rack and its easy pickings for your opponent.
But he takes the shot—to drive the stick into the rack
and the balls fly over the table. The 10 shoots into the
corner pocket and two other balls drop as well—the 9
into the side and the 15 into the corner pocket at the
far end of the table. Now he has an open table and
he runs the rack, leaves a perfect break shot that he
drills, to bust open the rack and the run continues.
He runs 42 balls and misses—a difficult combination
Gartner rises from his table to study the table. He
was an older guy—mid-fifties
He runs the rack. Leaves a good break shot, makes
that, runs 7 balls and misses. Back to Danny. He
runs 4 balls and misses an easy shot along the rail
that traps itself between the jaws of the pocket and
fails to drop.
Garner runs 50 balls, leaving himself a weak break
shot on the 4th rack and he runs out of shots and
plays safe—a perfect safe running the cue ball down
to the far end of the table to within a centimeter of
Danny studies the rack.
He has nothing. He plays a deliberate scratch stroking
the cue ball on a soft bank off the side rail into the
end rail and off the end rail into the belly of the rack.
Gartner has nothing and plays safe. They exchange a
few safes. Back and forth they go exchanging safes
and now Gartner has a shot-- the 6 ball into the side
He makes the shot and runs the table. He runs 32
balls and misses an easy shot, the score is 109-69.
Danny runs 61 balls.
Now he misses a tough shot.. There are 5 balls on
the table. He has one shot--the 12 ball in the corner
pocket. Its a tough shot because the 4 ball is frozen
too the elbow of the pocket partially blocking the
shot. He has room to squeeze the 12 ball by the four
ball--a fraction of a centimenter. Thats one problem.
Also the 12 ball is a rail shot--that must be perfectly
struck or it will drift off the rail and bang into the 4
He tries the shot and misses.
Gartner runs 32 and out
I left the room and went downstairs to check out the
scoreboard. It was a tough match for Danny to lose
because Gartner wasnt playing well. He was 3-7 for
the tournament. The loss put Danny at 8-2.
I returned to the hall.
Danny was inside signing autographs.
Danny: remember me—from Buffalo?
Must be 20 years—right?
I shouldnt have lost that match. I got a bad break on
that last run.
Ya see it dont mean anything to him but now I cant
win. Im out of it. I wanted to win this thing. What are
you doing out here?
Thats what Im doing—nothing.
You wanta drink?
Im having a drink with somebody else.
Come on by again.
I returned a few days later. I took my wife with me.
Deliberto was playing a guy named Jimmy Rempe.
Rempes name was vaguely familiar. I thought I
remembered it from a billiard item in Sports
Illustrated about Irving Crane. Rempe was mid-
twenties with long hair—the current Johnston City
one pocket champ—a big tournament.
We went upstairs. The room was deserted or nearly.
It was professional pool--the best players in the world
plying their craft in a wonderful game and no one was
interested. But hold a soccer match with 22 guys
kicking a ball back and forth for 2 hours to arrive at a
score of 2-1 and 100,000 people show up and a riot
follows the game and three referees are stabbed to
We took the $5 seats in the first row.
It was a short match. Deliberto lost the lag and
broke. Rempe ran 12 balls. Danny ran nine. Rempe
ran 24. Danny ran 15 and played safe. Rempe played
safe. Danny played safe, Rempe played safe and then
Danny got a shot and ran 31. Rempe ran 30. Danny
ran 42 and scratched and Rempe ran 84 and out.
Final score : 150—97
Down to the bar. One of the players entered—a kid
about 23—Walsh. He was a dead ringer for Mick
Jagger. Now he looked like someone had been
beating him over the head all night with a pool cue.
He had a match at two with Joe Moore that he
forfeited by not showing up. He ordered a large
tomato juice and two aspirin.
He said: I just got up. I went to a party last night and
didn't get in until 9 this morning. Now Im playing
Martin at 4. this was bad news. Martin was the
defending champ. His game was off and he had lost 3
games with no chance to win the tournament but
seemed to have $300 sewed up on the side for
high run of the tournament. Playing Murphy he ran
141 balls. Murphy broke, Martin ran 9. Murphy ran 22
and played safe, they exchanged safes and Martin ran
141 and out.
Walsh himself was 2-12 and slugging it out for last
place with a jap—Ichiro Fujima.
He drank his tomato juice and stood.
Delibere walked in with Rempe. They had changed
Danny said: I lost again for ya.
No. We/re goin to the park—watch the ducks.
The next night
It was Danny vs Irving crane
By now I was hooked on the tournament and was
attending all three sessions, morning, afternoon and
At this point it was It was Joe Balsis and Crane tied for
the lead at 10-1. Danny was 9-3. I saw by the Times
that morning that Martin had destroyed Walsh 150-
We were late for the match.
Danny was leading54-26 with Crane on a run of 9.
Crane is one person out of three players in the history
of professional pool with a name familiar to the
general public. The other two are Willy Hoppe and
Crane was tall, late fifties, thin, the quiet type, non-
flashy. There was not one thing about him to attract
your attention until you watched him methodically
work his way through a 70 or 80 ball run on a pool
table. He had a nickname: the deacon.
He was from Rochester where he worked as a car
salesman for a Cadillac agency.
Crane ran 20 balls and played safe when he failed to
leave himself a break shot. A few safes were
exchanged and it was Dannys turn and it looked like
there was a possible shot—a break shot off the 13
ball. It was a difficult shot with the cue at the far end
of the table frozen to the rail.
He takes the shot. He busts the rack open and 2 balls
drop but not the 13 that misses by a mile.
Crane runs 36 balls and plays safe.
Danny has a shot—another tough shot—the 4 ball into
the corner pocket at the other end of the table but its
frozen to the rail and there is no angle to the shot--or
barely. He is tempted because he has a break shot if
he makes the 4 ball and gets some decent position on
the 6 ball off to the side of the rack.
He takes the shot and drills it. The cue ball banks off
the end and side rails and works its way into perfect
position for a break shot on the six. A terrific shot and
the room bursts into applause. He runs 20 balls and
misses an easy shot. Crane runs 32 and plays safe.
Its Cranes lead 118—74
They exchange a few safes and then Danny makes a
tough shot and breaks open the rack and now
something happens. He gets hot. He becomes a
different player. A visible rhythm has entered his
game. The balls start dropping like they are
guided by radar. His position is perfect. He never
leaves himself a tough shot. Each time he shoots the
cue ball moves four inches. He was in the groove. He
runs 71 balls in 9 minutes. Then he gets a bad break—
he scratches on a break shot—a tough shot that he
doesnt quite pull off.
this is the shot:
This is what happened:
Crane gets up. During Delibertos run Crane sat there
in his chair like he had nothing to do with the game.
He was cool as a cucumber. He sat there like he was
watching Deliberto play someone else. In his mind
the match was over and had been over the minute
the pairings had been announced.
He gets up and runs 17 balls and now he studies a
mean looking shot—the 6 ball into the corner pocket
with the cue ball down at the far end of the table. He
is 2 balls into a fresh rack after a weak break shot
and this is the only shot unless he wants to play safe.
He studies the rack and decides to play the shot. He
strikes the shot and the 6 ball slams into the corner
pocket with a thunk you could hear at the other end
of the room. He runs out.
Back to the bar--having a drink with Nagy, 25 or
therbouts, from New York—make that Queens. He
was quite thin with a blue face and narrow shoulders
who looked like he didnt have a vitamin in his body.
He was telling us about life at The Golden Cue in
Queens. He had a brutal Queens accent.
I get up aroun tree and shtagger inna ta living room
in my batrobe. I lay down on ta couch. My mudda
brinks me cawfee. She turns onna tv. I open my
eyes. I watch tv for a couple hours while my mudda
cleanza house. She like ta scream at me while she
25 years old and still watching cartoons on television!
Cartoons and pool! No job! 25 years old! Sleeps all
day! Plays pool all night! Doesnt eat! Eats shit! Coffee
and cake, cheeseburgers and cokes, pizza and
Every day I go troo dis. Around six I get dressed and
go over ta da Golden Cue. I dont eat dinner. I eat a
cheeseburga aroun midnight. I feel lousy alla time. I
got no pep. Ill die when Im 50. I been thinking bout
stayin out here –in LA. I like it out here but I cant
make any money. All the tournaments are back east.
Fred says he could get me a job at Marina Billiards. I
might do it if I win some money in this here thing. It
dont look good. Im playing bat. I should be winnin
this thing, at least I should be doin better. Ive run
more 60s and 70s than anybody in the tornoment.
But I cant play the way these guys play. The longest
games I ever played in my life. Im getting piles from
playing these characters. Crane and Lassiter are the
worst. Lasssiter is unbelievable. You could go out and
look for a job while that guy plays a shot. I could run
a rack while hes chalking his cue. He had me climbing
the wall. And he knew so he took twice as long. I
beat myself when I play guys like that. I cant do
it. I hafta play fast. I play better against guys like
Butera and Marino and Jack Breit. Or Danny. I should
have beat Deliberto did you see that match. I lost by
one ball. He broke and I ran 85 balls. He comes back
with a 70. Then I run a few and he runs a few and
then I run 32. He runs 5. I run 22 and need one ball
to win. But I dont have a shot. I have a bank shot in
the side pocket but the odds are against. The correct
call would be to play safe but playing safe isnt my
game. I am the worlds worst safe player.
So I take the bank shot and miss and Danny runs out.
Everyone tells me I got a bat attitoot—too negative.
Maybe they are right. I let these guys bodda me. I
aint relaxed. I dont scare them. You hafta scare them
a liddle bit. Maybe I/ll get a razor and cut my face up.
Danny entered the bar with Rempe and Ed Kelly and
Kellsy wife. Kelly was mid 30s and the wife also—a
They lived in Vegas. He was a previous winner of the
tournament in '69.
Danny said: you came to see me 3 times and I lost 3
I hope I havent jinxed ya.
I dont believe in that stuff. Dont come see me again.
We drank for an hour and the bar closed and we
stood around for a bit
Danny said: come on up to the room.
We bought a couple bottles of wine at the bar and
went up to the room. Deliberto broke out some grass
and Rempe rolled a few joints. There was a portable
stereo tape outfit in the middle of the floor with a
dozen tapes dumped around it. Deliberto picked out a
tape and inserted into the machine—Jesus Christ
He said: I love this thing.
He made an announcement: no pool. Nobody talks
We sat around for a bit listening to the music. No one
spoke. Deliberto was laying on the floor with his feet
up on the bed. He got up and went over to the closet
and poked around inside it for a plastic cleaning bag
that he slipped off over a pair of trousers. He started
tying knots in the bag.
Ever see this Kelly?
He tied 6 or 7 knots in the bag a few inches apart and
tied one end of the bag to the coat hanger. He
hooked the coat hanger over the rim of the light
fixture. There was a small wastebasket beside the
bed that he filled with a few inches of water and
placed under the knotted bag. He turned out the
lights. He struck a match and ignited the bag. As
the bag burned tiny flaming pellets of cellulose
detached themselves from it and splashed into the
wastebasket. The bag alternately flared up
spectacularly and then the flame killed when it
reached one of the knots. Marbled patters of
light from all this were splashed onto the walls and
ceiling of the room. Everyone was pretty well bagged
at this point and the effect of the thing was ecstatic.
The bag burned for 10 minutes.
Deliberto turned on the light
I asked him about this stunt.
Rempe said: he discovered it one night sitting in a
hotel room going crazy. How else could anybody
think of something like that?
We sat around for another hour listening to the stereo.
Kelly and his wife left. The wine was gone. There was
a half pint of Johnny Walker Red on the desk half
filled not with scotch but something else—perhaps gin.
Deliberto said: moonshine. A girl in Lexington
Kentucky gave it to me. Go ahead.
I uncapped the bottle and took a small taste. A few
murderous vapors flew up my nose and incinerated
some nostril hairs. The liquid as it passed my lips and
coated my throat anesthetized various tissues and
membranes. It was like drinking embalming fluid. I
took another taste.
This shit is unbelievable
Rempe was looking at me like he was awaiting for
me to go blind.
We sat around some more.
Nagy and Rempe left. Deliberto was laying on the
floor with his eyes close and his feet on the bed.
Member Joe Bi Danny?
Sure. I saw him last time I was back.
What a great guy. Member Garrow?
Basil and hooky miller?
I wonder what ever happened to those guys.
Nothing ever happened to them. Thats what
happened to them.
It was 4 o clock. Deliberto was falling asleep on the
floor. I opened his cue case and took the stick out—a
beautiful thing. The shaft was birdseye maple. The
handle was rosewood with a leather grip and a lot of
peral and ivory inlay work at the butt.
How much was the stick?
On the dresser were two scrap books. They were old
and falling apart. None of the material inside had
been pasted in and a few clippings and pictures
floated to the floor.
You need a new scrapbook
In the ring he fought as Danny Torriano.
How come you changed your name?
My family didnt know I was fighting.
How come you quit.
I broke my hand 4 times.
There were pictures of him in his ring gear and
shooting pool before he had grown the moustache
and long hair—the face I remembered from the
Butler Mitchell club. He was a handsome, tough
There was a big picture of 50 or 60 midgets in suits
with shoulders like ironing boards and a priest sitting
in the first row—the 1951 sophomore class of Canisius
I looked for Deliberto in the picture. I found him in the
second row with his head between the shoulders of
two kids on either side. He looked like he was 9 years
Danny—this picture is too much. I know some of
these guys. This kid here. What the hell was his
I was looking at a kid with a pointed head, large ears,
a banana for a nose and a dent in his chin like
someone had been stabbing him with the end of a
Iggy something—right. Wait. Iggy Marino!
It occurred to me there was something extraordinary
about a pool player carrying around with him on the
road pictures of his sophomore class in high school
Or was it me?
Deliberto fell asleep. We watched him sleep. He woke
up and went to the bathroom.
We got up and left
He said: I wanta write a book. Or a movie. I got a lot
of stuff written down—notes. We oughta talk about it
Ok. Don’t forget
I feel bad about that game tonight. You should have
won that thing.
I should have won it. Not because I played better
than he did but because I outsafed him. Crane is the
best safe player in the world.
I got up the next day and went over to the Elks club.
A few of the players were in the lounge having
breakfast. Crane was sitting with Jack Breit and Breits
wife at a table. I sat down in a booth and read the
paper. There was a paragraph in the last page of the
sports section about the Crane/Deliberto match—
none too well described. The impression received was
that Danny had the game won but choked by missing
a routine shot and he only needed 5 balls to win.
Danny would love this one.
Crane got up and left the room. I intercepted him at
the door—asked for an interview.
We sat down at a table
He said: The tournament is not doing well. It never
has. This is the third year Fred has had it out here
and every year he has lost money. All of it comes out
of his pocket. He cant get a sponsor. Last year he
lost $7,000. The year before he lost $7,000. This year
hell lose $7,000. You cant keep doing that forever—I
don’t care how much you love the game. I doubt if
there will be a tournament next year. I don’t know
the problem. I think the tickets are too high. There
are no discounts. They chase you out of the room
following the 8 o’clock match and make you go
downstairs and buy another ticket if you want to see
the match at 10. Many people have complained to me
about that. But its not Freds fault. The game is dying.
There is nothing to be done. Its dying because
women don’t like it. It doesn’t interest them. They
don’t enjoy playing it. Why? I dont know. Its a
difficult game. Golf is also a difficult game but has no
problem attracting women. Also bowling. Women
love bowling. Maybe they don’t like the pose, to bend
over with that big ass sticking out. But either way you
cant have a popular sport if it isnt popular with
women. Thats the story
He continued: 30 years ago there was more interest
in the game than there is now. Brunswick had 20
players on their payroll. Now they have one: Jimmy
Caras. Even then you couldnt make a living at it. I
tried. I didnt fancy the idea of spending the rest of
my life alone in a hotel room. I wanted to get
married and raise a family. You cant be a family man
and a pool player. No sir.
I said: I dont understand why Deliberto tried that
break shot last night on the 3 ball. Why didnt he try
for different position on the three and leave you safe
down at that end of the table.
Crane said: what Deliberto didnt do isnt the point. If
it was the shots you dont shoot that count we would
all be heroes. Look at that shot I made on the 7 ball.
Now why did I try that shot. I could have played safe.
Why didnt I. Because I dont want him to get up from
that chair. He only needs 5 balls. If I play safe than
he plays safe then I play safe and and we go back
and forth playing safe and sooner or later one of us
gets a shot. Maybe its him. The way he had been
playing me safe all night it could easily have been
him. Thats why I took the shot. It was a gamble. If I
make the shot Im a hero. If I miss Im a bum—like
they made him look in the paper. Did you see that
story? My point is—even though not three guys in this
tournament could make that shot—under that kind of
pressure--nine times out of ten—if I miss the shot I
lose the match and Im a bum. Thats my point. I dont
know why Danny took the shot. I think he played the
right shot. He needs 5 balls. All he has to do is make
the shot and knock two balls out of the rack. He got a
bad break and scratched. Too bad. Dannys a fine
player. Hes never beaten me.
The tournament continued. I saw most of the games
and from time to time my wife tagged along. She had
the pool bug.
She said: its so interesting!
During the next week I laid out $30 or $40 to watch
pool games. Crane was right. But I saw some good
games. Balsis had lost 2 games and Crane and Butera
were leading the tournament. Crane was 14-1,
Butera was 13-1 Breit and Balsis were 12-2. Danny
and Lassiter were 10-4. Danny then lost to Balsis and
Breit beat Balsis and then dumped Butera. This was a
good match. Butera was an amazing player. He
played fast. He was a blur The announcer introduced
him as machine gun Lou Butera--the fastest shot in
the world. Butera came trotting out onto the
stage holding a machine gun over his head. He was
early forties and beginning to lose his hair that was
combed up and over across the top of his head.
Breit also was a fast player. He was a big guy, mid-
thirties with a nickname—the Red Raven. He had red
hair but the raven part of the nickname was a
mystery. He was a southpaw who played with the cuff
of his tux rolled up a few inches. He wore short
sleeve shirts and when he took a shot the sleeve of
the tux traveled up over this meaty paw to reveal 8
inches of furry forearm the size of the average
persons neck. He bent low over his shots with his chin
barely clearing the cue. He had a big ass which stuck
way up in the air. He was the animated type and it
showed whenever he missed a shot. His wife was
present and he he would miss a shot and up would
come the hands and up would come the head, the
eyes would cross and a horrible strangled agonized
groan to escape his lips and give a stunned look to his
wife to confirm the unbelievable luck he was having.
Earlier that day I had a conversation with Breit in the
He said: the game is dying because it lacks color. The
players—with a handful of exceptions are dull—stiffs.
The promoters think the game has a seedy
reputation and trying to give it class. For example:
tuxedos. This just compounds the problem. What is
more boring than a tuxedo? Also its too quiet in
there. We arent attending mass. Yes its a game that
deserves respect and that normally brings out
some reasonable manners on the part of the players
but—you cant have your cake and eat it too.
You missed a good tournament last year in
Bakersfield. There was a terrific fight when Ervolino
broke a cue stick over Joe Russos head. I dont
condone that but lets face it—we got some good pub
from that one.
Saturday was the last day of the tournament. On
Friday Crane beat Breit which put Breit out of it.
Butera beat Balsis. That meant the Crane/Butera
match Saturday would decide the tournament. Crane
was 17-1, Butera was 16-2. If Butera won there
would be playoff Sunday.
I noticed that when Butera was introduced he left the
machine gun at home. It promised to be a good
match because of the contrast in styles. Butera was
“machine gun Lou” and Crane was the Deacon.
It was a close game all the way. Crane would get up
and run 20 or 30 balls which would take 15 minutes.
Then Butera would get up and run 30 balls in 3
minutes. Then Crane would get up and shoot for
another 20 minutes and then Butera would get up and
shoot for 4 minutes. Butera played like there was a
map of every shot on the table. He had a few trick
shots in his repertoire and played one—a memorable
shot—the masse shot— the six ball into the side
pocket with the cue ball partially stymied. He stood
the stick straight up in the air and drove it down on
the cue ball applying strong English. The cue ball took
a bounce, jumps the 9 ball, returns to the table and
spins right, back on line and bangs the object ball into
the side pocket. This was the shot:
The crowd went wild.
But it was Cranes game all the way. He never missed
a shot. He played perfect pool. The safes were
brilliant. Danny was right. Every time Butera got up
to shoot he had nothing. But he made some
tremendous shots and at one point led the match 111-
108. Then there was an exchange of safes that Crane
won and he ran out.
So that was that. Crane won, Butera finished second,
Breit third and Danny was fifth. Danny won $1000
and Nagy who finished in a tie for 10th picked up $750
We left the Elks Club and my wife said: I think for
now Ive seen enough pool.