Tips & shafts
By George Fels
Consulting Editor George Fels has been writing for Billiards Digest since 1980, and his "Tips & Shafts" column is usually our readers' first stop when they crack open the magazine. For better or worse, pool has been his only mistress for 40-plus years.
Best of Fels
July: Meant to Be Broken
THE LATE Mike Eufemia’s name came up not long ago. Whenever that happens, it will undoubtedly be in one of two contexts, and the two frequently follow one another as the night the day: 1) how the man was undoubtedly one of the greatest practice-pool players who ever assembled a cue, and 2) how schizoid that ability seemed in contrast to his tournament play, which was generally not only bad but spectacularly so.
Regarding the first, Eufemia was the first known player to claim to have topped the immortal Willie Mosconi’s record of 526 consecutive balls pocketed (although Mosconi himself stated that he once ran 700-plus on his home table, and who wouldn’t believe him?). His long-run claim of 625 was generally considered credible in and around New York, where Queens’ Golden Cue, his home turf, offered a nightly standing bet that Eufemia would run 200 balls before the place closed for the night. Skeptics noted that there was no single witness, save Eufemia himself, who saw the run from start to finish (Mosconi’s feat was achieved in front of an adoring audience in Springfield, Ohio), adding that he might have simply selected Mosconi’s number backwards. But it was the no-witnesses aspect of that accomplishment which has kept it out of the record books. The man’s legend has apparently grown to the point of a rumored 1,100-ball run.
And as to part two, the late shortstop/hustler Vince “Pancho” Corelli/Furio (whose real name was neither) once said, “He taught me everything he knew. Then I saw him play in a tournament, and I wanted to cry. No position, no sense of ball speed, no nothin’.” In 1967, after the Jansco brothers moved their hustlers’-jamboree tournaments from southern Illinois to Vegas, Eufemia did win the straight-pool division over a very strong field, and that represented his only known major win. He was said to have trouble running 20 balls in tournaments.
I’m not sure about the chronology, but I believe that Ohio’s Tom Parker (not to be confused with Elvis’ mentor) was the next to come forward similarly, claiming a 642. Now I have met any number of credible Ohioans who will attest that Parker did indeed rule the roost on his turf — Lakewood, as I recall — and consistently produced two- and even three-hundred ball runs, but again, there were no start-to-finish witnesses to the nearly 46-rack effort. I saw the man play once, in one of the old 14.1 U. S. Open meets held in Chicago, and he was only slightly better than Eufemia was supposed to be. He was clearly uncomfortable with the mandatory necktie, having chosen a shirt which, even when buttoned all the way up, still exposed his T-shirt, and spent most of the match shaking his head sadly, wondering where the real Tom Parker was. Jimmy Mataya tore him to shreds, but afterwards graciously offered, “He didn’t handle the pressure here too well. But you play him for $2 or $3 on his table, and you won’t like it much.”
The late Hall of Fame player Art “Babe” Cranfield dwarfed both those claims when he announced that he had sunk 768 consecutive shots one day. Unlike both Eufemia and Parker, Cranfield had a prodigious tournament record; to this day, he is the only player to have won national junior, amateur and professional titles. And a sizable Syracuse crowd did see him run 30 consecutive racks (420 balls) in an exhibition, on a 5-by-10 table yet. Cranfield’s lifelong friend and eventual co-author Laurence Moy says, “If Babe says he ran 768 balls, he ran it.” I have no way of confirming or denying Cranfield’s claim, but I’ve always found Mr. Moy wholly believable, notwithstanding his being an attorney.
Up until the mid-’60s, it was fairly common for pool’s national championship (which, in that era, amounted to a world championship, and 14. 1 was the only game recognized) to be decided not by tournament play but through challenge matches. Such competition was almost always staged in a “block” format, which wasn’t quite the same as standard 125- or 150-point games. In block play, one competitor or the other always concluded a block with a multiple of the decided-upon points. Say Champion A and Challenger B square off; in the afternoon session, A wins by 150-100. Thus in evening play, and matinee/evening was generally how these matches were staged, B would have the opportunity to pocket 200 balls instead of 150, in order to reach a match total of 300 before A. In such play, then, it was entirely possible for a player to complete a recognized run of more than 150 points — except that few ever did. When players charged from behind in a block competition, it was usually by consistently producing runs of two to five racks in combination with stifling defense. That’s why the late “Iron Joe” Procita’s feat of 182, again on a 5-by-10, is still in the record books.
And to be brutally honest about the whole thing, I’m not sure I understand what all the hoo-hah over higher-than-high runs is about in the first place. Long runs do not define pool greatness, any more than we conferred that mantle upon basketball’s Wilt Chamberlain simply because he once scored 100 points in a game, or remember Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson merely for the two longest home runs in baseball history. And none of the long-run numbers we’ve looked at here except Procita’s were achieved in any form of sanctioned competition; even Mosconi’s mark came in exhibition play. I’m not a big fan of the Guinness Book of World Records, but that’s where one of those numbers — and only one — belongs.
My idea of a great run is Luther Lassiter going 92-and-out for $5,000 with his opponent sitting glumly in the 2-hole. The run, the victory margin, the stakes, none of that will ever even get a whiff of the record books. But that’s pool greatness.