Sure, barry Behrman was flawed.
But his flaws were, as one American writer once put it, stitched together with good intentions."
Behrman died April 23 after a two-month battle with a bacterial infection. He had just turned 70. Behrman was, of course, the colorful and often controversial founder and promoter of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, the longest-running continuous major professional pool tournament perhaps in the world.
The history of Behrman's U.S. Open is a virtual timeline of professional pool over the past 40 years. He started the tournament in 1976, and as the tournament's reputation grew, so did the size and quality of its fields. U.S. Open titles are usually at the top of resumes for Hall of Fame candidates. It is no coincidence that the list of U.S. Open champions reads like the roster of the BCA Hall of Fame.
I've written before about the importance of the U.S. Open in American pool, and it is important largely because of the historical timeline that the event offers. This single event has seen winners like Sigel and Mizerak and Hopkins and Louie Roberts. It has ushered in legends like Strickland and Archer, and, more recently, Appleton, Immonen and Van Boening. It has been the career-defining moment for players like Tommy Kennedy and Gabe Owen. You can chart the game's generational changes over the past 40 years with the U.S. Open.
Still, while the U.S. Open boasted a flawless reputation for the first 25 years, the 2000s have been freckled with prize money shortfalls, last-minute payout changes and even a stint in jail for the event's promoter.
I remember interviewing Barry after he reduced the prize funds during the tournament in 2001 and 2002. His event had been affected by the attacks of 9/11 in 2001, then by a hurricane in 2002. He tried to justify the reductions, despite the fact that he advertised the added money as guaranteed." I argued with him for hours, in vain, trying to explain the definition of the word guaranteed." It was not our first disagreement, and would not be our last.
Two years later, Behrman spent eight months in jail following convictions for illegal gambling (Behrman hosted high-stakes gambling events at his home) and failure to pay back taxes on one of his poolrooms.
There were years in which some players boycotted the event. Others threatened to do so but never did. Foreign competitors have sometimes viewed the event with skepticism.
Despite criticism and threats from players, Behrman persevered. To his credit, Barry always admitted his mistakes, took his beatings like a man, and vowed to change. While players occasionally were forced to wait several months to get paid their winnings, Behrman always eventually paid off.
And the players kept coming back.
In part because Barry kept coming back. Players knew he didn't need to continue to produce the Open. It wasn't his primary source of income. If anything, it was a drain, financially and certainly emotionally.
Undaunted, Behrman would call players during the year, explaining his next great idea to improve the event and alleviating concerns about prize fund shortfalls. He always promised that the next event would be the best ever.
And you know what? He genuinely believed it.
Behrman's main flaw may well be that he wanted the U.S. Open to be the best event in the world. He always promised more prize money than he really needed to. He always stretched the limits of what his event could possibly produce revenue-wise. Any hiccup in ticket sales or sponsorships could turn his event sideways...and often did. I used to beg him to keep his guaranteed added money at $50,000, noting that if the event exceeded his expectations he could always add to the prize fund. No player, I would rationalize, ever complained about a promoter adding money after the tournament started.
But Barry was always three sentences ahead in the conversation. I'm not sure he ever even heard any of my suggestions.
He could be as frustrating and confounding as any man I've ever met, and I wouldn't have wanted him to change one iota.
That's the thing about flaws. To an extent, they make us who we are. If we all got rid of all of our flaws, we would all be a lot less interesting.
Barry's death seemed a particularly cruel twist of fate. On the heels of the successful 40th U.S. Open last October, he announced his intention to step away as promoter of the tournament and turn over production and promotion to Accu-Stats Video Productions President Pat Fleming. He also expressed interest in selling Q-Master Billiards, his 72-table room in Virginia Beach, Va.
Only because I am turning 70 in April," he said, along with some minor health issues as of late, it's time, after 44 years of being in business, to completely retire and sell this huge part of my life's work."
As for the Open, Behrman said, It was the best U.S. Open Championship ever. And I always wanted to go out on a high note."