I think "legends" is a relative term. And I think player's legendary status is, primarily, a frame of reference for when a person first encounters the sport.
I came to pool through the back door in 1980. By "back door," I mean I wasn't a player. I wasn't even an aspiring player. I was a college grad looking for work. The "legends", when I arrived, were players like Irving Crane, Luther Lassiter, Jimmy Moore, Jimmy Caras, Lou Butera, Eddie Taylor, Joe Balsis and, of course, Mosconi. None of these players were going to win a significant pro event by the time I met them, but they still liked to compete. They were the players who elicited whispers from knowing fans when they walked into a tournament room.
The comments, spoken with hushed reverence, would go something like this: "That's Crane. They call him "The Deacon." I saw him run 150 and out in Chicago in the finals of the U.S. Open in 1966."
I didn't really know a 1 ball from a grapefruit, but I knew when I was in the company of greatness. I cherished the opportunities I had to spend even a few minutes with those greats. I've got a few autographs and a few photographs. Mostly I've got memories. Memories like hanging with Lassiter in the lounge at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, after he'd won the Legendary Pocket Billiard Stars Tournament. And interviewing Crane at the World Open 14.1 event in New York, after he'd inexplicably picked up a ball during his turn at the table and moved it a few feet.
Now they're all gone. The last of my legends, "Machine Gun Lou", passed away in July. Lou always seemed like a youngster compared to the others. Maybe it was because of the bounce in his step, and the way he seemed to do everything fast. He was as quick with a kind word as he was with a shot. He was opinionated. Most of all, he was a family man. Rarely did I see him when his wife, Carrie, wasn't by his side.
It's difficult when we lose these legends, these heroes. Their absence leaves a hole in the game that can never really be filled in; not even by the next generation of legends.
I feel fortunate to have arrived when those player were considered the legends. They were a special group.