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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.


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Best of Fels
 
February: The Old Lion & His Pride
February 2021

By George Fels
[Reprinted from June 1997]


Dan DiLiberto strides into the searing South Florida noonday sun without so much as squinting and points to a chain link fence bordering the strip mall that houses his billiard room, maybe 100 yards away. “See that fence?” he chirps brightly. “Sixty-two years old…”

“What, the fence?”

“No. me. Sixty-two years old, and I can still chuck a golf ball over that fence from right here. Still got the whip.”

One might be tempted to challenge both the plausibility and the marketability of this particular claim, until one remembers that the puny interval is probably 10 yards less than the width of the nearby Intercoastal Waterway, by whose banks Danny D won the identical wager from no less than the New York Yankees late greats Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The years have been astonishingly good to the man, and not merely his throwing arm.

Indeed, what makes Danny D singular among professional pool’s elite is how interesting he is away from the table. A former bowler who once rolled a 300 game and ran 200 balls on the same day, DiLiberto also played minor league baseball at the Double A level and went undefeated in 14 pro fights. And beyond the apparently limitless athleticism, there is refreshing dimension to him too; he has been profiled in Sports Illustrated and hobnobbed with Fred Astaire; he knows good music, good food, sports, fishing, the real world. He has the energy, looks and mannerisms of a Borscht Belt comic; now and then he might look a little tired, but nowhere else is there the subtlest hint of his age. He is a superb pool teacher, guiding students through bona fide playing concepts instead of mere table layouts. He gives clinics and exhibitions and plays tournaments across the state he loves, with his home base being an unusually player-friendly room called Congress Billiards. These days the sun shines on Danny DiLiberto both literally and figuratively.

Knowledgeable pool players and followers rate DiLiberto’s game as one of the most consistently aggressive and imaginative among all his peers, especially at one-pocket. He has beaten Efren Reyes, successfully spotted Reyes’ only slightly less terrifying countryman Jose Parica 10-8, and is eager to play the universe yet today. His credentials are creative in and of themselves: four major titles won in each of pool’s four major disciplines in each of four different decades and a piddling high run of 362. He is also in the category of his own regarding tenure at the game; while he tore off a precocious 96 at age 16 after just six months at pool, DiLiberto did not begin serious play until he was a relatively creaky 29, having sown the aforementioned wild oats in bowling, baseball and boxing.

Uniquely and charmingly, DiLiberto is one of the very few players who can both compete at the top rung — seniors or otherwise — and still relate to the crowd, win or lose, keeping his audience on its toes with such trenchant observations as “Position while you wait!’ (referring to object balls rolling favorably after the cue ball has stopped) and “Never a doubt!” (for shots which give the rail and the pocket jaws three or four big sloppy wet kisses before falling). Playing a nationally televised Canadian snooker exhibition with world champion Cliff Thorburn, DiLiberto took their match all the way to the penultimate pink ball. He and the champ took turns leaving each other long until Thorburn meticulously asked the referee to remove a hair on the ball before completing yet another safety. DiLiberto just missed thinning the ball and instantly acknowledged the sudden-death defeat with a cheery, “Son of a gun! If he’d left that hair on the ball, I’d have been okay!” And a crowd that had been about as animated as a House of Wax whooped as though they were watching Hellzapoppin’.

Those in DiLiberto’s inner circle, of course, will note that the “son of a gun” is a virtually unprintable expletive when you consider the source. He is more distanced from vulgar or profane language than most priests; under stress, “son of a pup” might replace “son of a gun,” but that’s about as salty as it’s going to get. He is easily among pool’s most articulate, and his patient, quiet delivery, absent of the slightest cussing, seems an odd meld with an ex-prizefighter who has never, ever backed down. Mantle and Maris showed scant interest in paying off until DiLiberto casually advised them that they could try getting even either with their fists or by sending in a pool player. Without raising either his hand or his voice, DiLiberto once purged the Arizona billiard room where he worked of both drug dealers and motorcycle gangs. And this same Coeur de lion had been his staunch ally at the table too. “I’ve lost some of my shot-making edge,” he admits. “But I’m probably a better player overall. It’s more than made up for by what I’ve gained in wisdom and staying relaxed at the table.”

What’s the secret?

“Largely, the realization that you won’t go to the electric chair if anything bad happens.”

DiLiberto also has a knack for saying what no one else will. When the modern era’s first player organization, the long-defunct Professional Pool Players Association, was formed in the mid-’70s, only Danny D would publicly opine that the group had very little idea of what it was doing. Only Danny D would openly decry the unending bluff and bluster of the Great Pretender, Rudolph Wanderone. “I’ve had a great career,” DiLiberto says, unabashedly. “And it’s not over. You know anybody who wants to play some straight pool or one-pocket? I’m ready to play some people right now.”

Most will have the same chance as that chain link fence.

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