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Untold Stories: Mosconi Made World Debut by Weird Fluke

Two generations of great pocket players intersected in the 1930s and at the 1933 world championship, including Greenleaf and Seaback (top), Caras (bottom left), and Ponzi (bottom right).

Mosconi remembered Minneapolis was cold as hell, although he apparently warmed up quick, as an early barrage of 85 put his first opponent in a near coma. It also gave Mosconi the high-run record for almost the entire event. Willie always played fast - terribly, terribly fast - and until then had found relatively little use for careful strategy. He was too skilled a shot-maker, too preternaturally talented, to bother much with finesse. His quick high-runs dazzled reporters, who then began commenting on the rapidity of Willie's play, the briefness of his matches, how the Young Turk seemed to "prance" about the balls.

But it was also then that his freewheeling play began to fail him. Sometimes he would ignore the lay of the table, the defensive possibilities (against the two-bit hustlers at Philadelphia's Frankie Mason's, this worked fine) and then find himself behind in the ball count. His powerful shotmaking could still overwhelm guys like Arthur Church, Schliesman and Franklin - players in that year's national tournament now lost to history - but against Charles Seaback and former national champion George Kelly, shotmaking was not enough.

Willie had to show more caution, more brains.

According to the Minneapolis Star, Mosconi could have sailed in as the uncontested and easy winner had he not made a series of inexplicable mental errors that year. Specifically, consider the case of his Nov. 14 loss against George Kelly, in a playoff match. Mosconi had already eliminated Seaback (125-71 in 21 innings), and now "things looked dark for Kelly," the newspaper reported.

"Mosconi registered one run of 25 and took a commanding lead which he gradually increased to the 90 mark," according to the Star's eyewitness account. "Then he left an opening in a battle of scratches, and Kelly took advantage of it to cruise right back into the ball game with a run of 33.

"Mosconi proceeded to blow two more chances to increase his lead, his ball once jumping out of the pocket when there was too much power, and Kelly took advantage of each break to barge into the lead and run out the match." Kelly ended up winning, 125-97, in 29 innings. He earned $550 for first place, the gate receipts, plus a diamond medal emblem. Willie got $450 for second - disappointing, but still enough for a pass to that year's world's competition in Chicago. Seaback's third place finish also earned him a spot.

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