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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
 
January: Fly on the Wall
January 2023

By George Fels
[Reprinted from June 2002]

Even if it meant being invisible, wouldn’t you like to have been around for:

• Mosconi’s much-heralded run of 526, and/or any of the runs claimed to have exceeded it?

Yes, your buns would risk petrifying in the witnessing, but who couldn’t fade modest discomfort in the name of watching a guy run 37 ˝ or more racks? You can always reclaim circulation with a brisk, if unattractive, rub.

Several different versions exist as to what happened on ball No. 527. I personally heard Mosconi tell one interviewer that he simply quit in exhaustion. Others said he got stuck on the side of the rack after yet another break shot, and called some vainglorious combination shot out of the rack without success. Still others said he rattled a legitimate open shot. Unless any of those Springfield, Ohio, spectators are still with us today — and the feat was accomplished 46 years ago — we’ll probably never know for sure.

In writing on this subject a few years ago, our own estimable historian Mike Shamos pointed out that those witnesses are key to the record’s being sanctioned. For such a cue-games attainment to be granted official recognition, someone besides the claiming player must see every single ball pocketed, from the first to the last. That was not the case for New Yorker Mike Eufemia’s claim of a practice 625. (I’ve always found it interesting that that particular total is a numerical anagram, Mosconi’s run backwards.) Nobody but Ohio’s late Tom Parker saw him complete his famed 642, although plenty of sweators saw plenty of Parker’s 200-plus and even 300-plus runs on his own turf (he was not nearly the same player away from it). And, apparently, we have no one to confirm BCA Hall of Famer Art Cranfield’s all-time granddaddy claim of 790 consecutive balls pocketed…even though that’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Cranfield authored an otherworldly run of 420 on a 10-foot table in a Syracuse exhibition that was witnessed by scores of people.

• The late Ruth McGinnis in competitive mode? Since McGinnis was long gone from the game before Jean Balukas was even born, we are destined not to know which competitor was the greater straight pool player. But in McGinnis’ era, women were not only expected but practically mandated to stay home and keep house. Those who did not, and had the temerity to compete at sports instead, were usually regarded just as the late Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias was; one ignoramus of a sportswriter penned, “The reason she’s so good at sports is that she can’t get a date.” And there were similar murmurings about McGinnis, too.

But even though the time frame in which she competed only made her an even bigger oddity, McGinnis was still the real deal at pool. As it’s been nearly 50 years since she was seen with a cue, just about anyone who did is gone now. But I knew a few old-timers who saw her play, and they agreed that it wasn’t like seeing anyone else. Apparently, her playing pace was close to the Keystone Cops frenzy that would later bring fame to “Machine Gun” Lou Butera. Her strict Irish upbringing obviously had taught her that ladies do not bend forward for very long, or, for that matter, very far; her stance was near upright. To complete her exoticness, she was left-handed.

• The late “Jersey Red” Jack Breit, when he was in a mood to teach other top players? As hustlers go, Red was unusually generous about sharing his knowledge. He taught Eddie Robin the jump-into-the-stack break shot that intimidated Mosconi himself so badly that the champion refused to play an exhibition with him. And Red taught both “New York Blackie” Al Bonife and Johnny Ervolino, New York’s best 9-ball and straight pool players, respectively, how to play one-pocket. Now those would have been some teaching sessions to see. The transformation was particularly visible in Bonife, widely regarded as one of the best pure shot-makers ever but a non-thinker, whom Red deigned to teach largely so the two could engage in some high-stakes partners action. Once the lessons took, the duo was virtually unbeatable and surprised some highly prestigious tandems.

• A losing session for Norman “The Jockey” Howard? He played in the first few hustlers jamborees in Johnston City, Ill., without accomplishing much, and on his greatest day might have been accorded shortstop status in the New Jersey area from which he hailed.

What Howard will always be best remembered for, however, is the manner in which he faced defeat, breaching the emotion barrier most men never even approach except for the fortunate (and fad-conscious) few who have gotten in touch with their feminine side: actual tears. The tiny fellow would begin to squirm in his chair maybe a third of the way through his opponent’s run out. The initial shedding of water would commence as soon as the last stymie in the table layout had disappeared. By game ball, poor Normie would be in full flow; so deep were his squalls that he would become unintelligible. With gushers from both eyes and dried strings of spittle at both corners of this miniaturized mouth, little Normie would blubber away miserably, demonstrating with impotent mini gestures just how the dastardly balls had betrayed his love and ruined his karma.

Wouldn’t you give just about anything to have been there?

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