From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
February: Great Show
GOD BLESS the Internet!
Nothing will make you feel younger and older at the same time than reliving your past, and nothing makes that easier than the Internet.
Even in a sport like pool, a sport whose record-keeping and preservation seems to lag well behind most sports, there exist volumes of photographs and videos in cyberspace that quickly reconnect you with the game’s rich history.
For instance, all pool fans should make a point of “friending” Mary Kenniston on Facebook. One of the Women’s Professional Billiard Association’s greats, Kenniston has uploaded nearly 5,000 photos to her page. She’s become the de facto clearinghouse for random photos from the past 30 years.
Recently, I stumbled on a photo-sharing service called smugmug.com, where I found a site owned by Bill Porter, a now-retired college professor. In the ’80s, Porter used to pop up at pool tournaments around the country to take photographs, often times with his Texas pal Mike Haines, also a prolific shutterbug. They took thousands of great photos, and Porter has the images collected in galleries from each event.
One of the events (photographed by Haines) was the 1984 Red’s Open 9-Ball Championship in Houston. The Red’s ’84 gallery contains 163 fabulous images and immediately transported me back to what was then (and for me, still is) the Greatest Show on Earth.
Red Walling was a typical Texan. He liked big. Red, himself, was big. He wore big boots and a suede blazer. He wore a big ring.
Red opened a club in Houston, which, without a hint of embarrassment, he called “Red’s Billiards, Booze, Fun and Food.” It was a massive 24-hour billiard honky tonk. It was packed, up and down, with pool tables, both of the big and bar-table variety.
Red liked to flash money, gamble and hang around with people who liked action. There was no shortage of green baize gamblers in Texas at the time, so Red decided to stage a pro pool tournament. Red’s Open (with a then-substantial $75,000 purse), which lasted just three years, was the Wild West of pool tournaments.
Everyone showed up at Red’s, the young guns and the veterans, the tournament-tested big names and the under-the-radar bar-table hustlers. Take a spin through the photo gallery. Check out the sunglasses-wearing tournament director with the full head of hair. It’s Barry Behrman. Keep looking. There’s “Jersey Red” Jack Breit, “Machine Gun” Lou Butera, Bill “Weenie Beenie” Staton and pool’s most noted cowboy, Jimmy Moore. The day’s darlings were there: Mike Sigel, Steve Mizerak, “Little David” Howard, Jimmy Rempe, Earl Strickland and Louie Roberts, as were yesterday’s heroes Ronnie Allen, Richie Ambrose and “Champagne Eddie” Kelly.
For pool, it was the best of times.
Red’s Open was pure Barnum & Bailey. And as wide open as the event was, even the local authorities had their limits. A handful of players in 1984 took up residence in the local jail for their blatant heaving of greenbacks onto the table beds during late-night action.
Of course, the 1985 tournament, Red’s last, introduced pool to then-29-year-old Efren Reyes, who played under the name Cesar Morales. Reyes stormed through the tournament virtually unchallenged while his Filipino posse tore through the club taunting the proud Texan crowd with wagers that seemed crazy at best, insulting at worst. And over and over the Filipino sweators left the arena, winnings in hand, laughing and chanting, “Manila, Manila!” and “Where’s the beef?”
It was, indeed, the Greatest Show on Earth. Thanks, smugmug.com, for sharing.