All the Angles
By Mason King
BD’s Managing Editor since 2002, King has been around the world and back covering billiards — and around long enough to have an opinion.
Welcome to Hopkins, Fleming
April 16, 2008
|Hopkins’ first big win was at the 1977 World Open 14.1 Straight Pool championship.
IN ADDITION to my day job at Billiards Digest, I also was in charge of the BCA Hall of Fame election this year that produced two worthy inductees — Allen Hopkins in the Greatest Player wing, and Pat Fleming, the man behind Accu-Stats Video Productions, for Meritorious Service. (See our story in Headstring News for details.)
I have a couple thoughts to share, and then I’ll follow up with excerpts from my interviews with Hopkins and Fleming.
• First, let me say congratulations to the great state of New Jersey, which produced both of these legends. In fact, both still live in its confines — Hopkins, 56, in Port Republic, and Fleming, 59, in Butler (at least, that’s the HQ of Accu-Stats).
I’ve put in a couple calls to the Star-Ledger in Newark — the state’s largest newspaper — but haven’t heard anything back yet. I’m sure they’re all on a leadership retreat, or something. I’ll keep trying.
I bring it up because both Fleming and Hopkins will make tremendous feature subjects for some lucky newspaper, and the sport could use some good ink. Hopkins played championship-calibre pool for three decades, and was as accomplished in the action room as the tournament arena. This is exactly the kind of guy who should represent pool — an industry veteran with incredible credentials as a tournament player who doesn’t shy away from discussing back-room action, the very thing that interests the public the most about pool.
Fleming, both as a player and as head honcho of Accu-Stats, has likely seen more great players and matches over the last 25 years than anyone alive, and has more stories to tell than the complete, unabridged edition of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.”
• The second-place finisher on the Greatest Player ballot was 73-year-old Danny DiLiberto, who has the distinction of winning major events in straight pool, 8-ball, 9-ball and one-pocket over the course of several decades. My perception of DiLiberto may be colored a bit by my affection for him (Is there a more charming and knowledgeable commentator in all of sports?), but I believe that there’s a strong case for his inclusion.
Unfortunately for Danny, several high-profile and highly deserving players will enter the candidate pool next year, including Johnny Archer, Allison Fisher and Ralf Souquet. The first two are slam-dunks, obviously — I wouldn’t be surprised to see both receive enough votes to enter the Hall in the same year — and Souquet’s stellar resume also shoots him to the top of the class. DiLiberto might be best-served by the newly created Veterans and Pioneers wing of the Hall, specifically designed for players and other significant figures who deserve the nod but either get overlooked when placed against contemporary candidates or who played at a time not easily comparable to the modern era. We’ll be looking at candidates for that category in 2009.
OK, now for some interview excerpts from the new Hall of Famers:
BD: You had been nominated five times before, which must have been pretty frustrating.
There are a lot of good players out there, and who knows when you get elected. There are top players on the ballot all the time, and any one of them deserves to be on there. It’s just a matter of time.
BD: Is this something that you thought about your whole career?
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I used to play in a place called High Cue Billiards in Elizabeth, N.J. My main thing was to get into tournaments and do well and try to become the world champion. I joined the BCA when I was 10 or 11 years old. It was like $5 to join, and I joined it through the poolroom there. That is how you got into the U.S. Open. You would play in BCA-sanctioned events. My goal was always to be the world champion, to be a U.S. Open champion, and someday to get into the Hall of Fame.
When I was 12, 13 years old, I knew I was going to be one of the best players at this game. When I was 12, I ran over 110 balls. Not many 12 years olds can say that. I just had that feeling. Just from playing people and beating people around there, and growing up with players like Jack Colavita and Ray Martin and Steve Mizerak and Petey Margo, and other players around me, like Onofrio Lauri and Cisero Murphy. I just grew up in a great era of players, and be able to stand and play with them is a feat in itself.
BD: What do you think your strengths were as a player?
I think my knowledge has a lot to do with my strength. I learned to adapt to games and I also learned to adapt to different equipment. I don’t know if I picked it up from traveling on the road all the time, or if it was just a gift given to me. I’ve played on small tables, big tables, snooker tables, tables with different sized balls, tables with holes in the cloth. I think that comes from traveling and making a living playing pool. I made a living at playing pool for 10 to 12 years. And I did it all on the square, by the way. But I learned a lot.
I also am the kind of person who enjoys games. My whole life I’ve been playing games. Ever since I was a kid, I liked to play different types of games — board games, card games, all kinds of different games. I’m still doing it. And on a pool table, I always loved the proposition bets, the challenges, stuff like that.
I’ve had two poolrooms in my life. And when you own poolrooms, you also learn a lot. I’d have players come in from New York City and from all around, hustlers come in trying to hustle you in some way and try to get you in a prop bet. And to tell you the truth, you learn. I paid my dues too. There are times that I would get trapped too. But a lot of times I shot my way out of them. I think that is where I got my reputation. I would shoot my way out of traps. They would go, “God, how could you do that?” They see your stroke and think right away, “He doesn’t have much of a stroke.” And I say I can do whatever anyone else can do with their long and fancy stroke. It may not look as pretty, but I can do it.
|Fleming planted the seeds for Accu-Stats in the early 1980s.
BD: Congratulations on your pending induction.
It almost seems too soon. It’s really a surprise.
BD: Well, more than 1,000 taped matches on record is a pretty significant accomplishment.
Now that I look back, it has had more of an impact than I thought it did along the way. The impact has been pretty substantial, since there is nothing other than that — other than matches posted on the Internet in the last couple years — nothing historical that you can view. I wish there was something like that when I was growing up. I probably would have been a better player. I was so much involved in pool that anything else didn’t matter in life. And if there were videos to watch, I would have been watching them religiously. Now that I look back, I think that it has a pretty big impact. Fortunately, you don’t have to make a lot of money to get this award. (Laughs)
BD: How did Accu-Stats come about?
I was a statistics guy ever since I could remember, even when I was a kid, counting different makes and models of cars on the corner. When I was 9 years old, I had a pad, and every car that would go by, I would indicate what kind of car it was, stuff like that. And when I played pool, I kept records of all my runs and how much I played and practiced and everything else. When I was in my early 20s, I thought about how I could figure out what we’re doing wrong when we’re at the table and keeping records of that. That brought in the statistics, like how many errors you have. I did that to improve my own game, and the guys in the poolroom were interested.
And then I played in some tournaments and kept records of other people. It was really interesting, because everybody else could only say that a guy really played well, or that he never missed a ball, and all that stuff that isn’t quantitative, and I had the actual numbers. It was really cool, and that really brought it to the forefront.
I would go to tournaments and have scorekeepers and was losing tons of money, because nobody was buying it — they just liked the information. When we got rid of some scorekeepers to cut expenses, we brought in some cameras to record matches. We were erasing these matches after we recorded them, because we only used them for statistics, and then somebody said, “You erased it? I wanted to buy it.” And then a light went on, and I said, “Maybe I shouldn’t destroy these things.” It became obvious that keeping statistics alone wasn’t going to make me a living, but the videos were. And all of a sudden people started buying videos, even though they were one camera with no commentary — stuff that wouldn’t sell today. But it was the hottest thing.
We’re still building the business, making a better product. It’s something that I don’t foresee stopping.