Saturday, February 27, 2010

U.J. Puckett, Ghost Hustler

My apologies. I don't have a proper post for today. I'm busy working on a column. But if you're bored and looking for something to read, here's a link to a story about my favorite pool-hustling ghost: U.J. Puckett. Known by some as "Ugly Puckett," the former 9-ball champ died nearly 20 years ago. Now some say he has returned from the grave, apparently drawn by the pretty ladies down at a Fort Worth pool hall. This story might serve as a cautionary tale for the Branch Water Tavern in Houston, which replaced one of Jersey Red's favorite haunts, The Cue & Cushion. Also, at the top of this post, I've attached the first part of Harry Reasoner's famous interview with Puckett.

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A tribute to The Deacon: Irving Crane

Irving "The Deacon" Crane, a 1978 inductee into the BCA Hall of Fame, possessed so much patience that he would sometimes spend quiet hours practicing safeties against himself. But he was also aggressive enough to rack up crazy big runs, including his flawless run of 150 and out against Joe "The Meatman" Balsis during the 1966 U.S. Open. You can see the first part of that run in the video posted above (and the rest of it posted elsewhere on this blog).

Crane, remembered fondly today as "The Deacon" of pool, is the subject a short online tribute this month by his old friend Stuart Jack Mattana. Writing for the first time for the online PoolSynergy project, Mattana describes Crane as "the perfect combination of patience and aggressiveness," a refined gentleman and a fine role model. "Irving’s technical excellence and fundamental soundness helped him maintain world class level performance up to the age of seventy -- of today’s older players, at least for me, only Jose Parica comes close to having duplicated Irving’s prolific run of sustained excellence," opines Mattana.

Crane won major world tournaments or title matches in 1942, 1946, 1955, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1972 -- that is, Crane was named champion during four different decades, a stunning achievement. And he doubtlessly would have won a great deal more if not for having the misfortune of playing during the same era as Willie Mosconi.

Mattana also notes that the Livonia, New York native was one of just a few players ever to run 300 balls on a 5 by 10 table. (Others include Mosconi and Ralph Greenleaf.) "Irving didn’t pocket the balls as well as Lassiter, and his position play was not quite on a par with that of Mosconi, but he managed the table with as much elegance as any player of his or any other era, and showed great imagination in his play," writes Mattana.

Crane died in 2001. You can read Mattana's warm tribute to his old friend at Gail Gazebrook's blog, which you can be find here. You can find the rest of the footage of Crane's 150-ball run elsewhere in this blog. Keep clicking on the "older post" button to view the entire sequence of videos.

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ralph Greenleaf, Willie Mosconi & "The Rocket"

If you've been following along lately, you might know that we've begun a online poll intended to get to the heart of the age-old Greenleaf-Mosconi question. That is: which player really was better, Ralph Greenleaf or Willie Mosconi?

Historian Charlie Ursitti recently picked Mosconi. To support this position, Charlie points to Willie's winnning percentage in world championship competition. "The numbers don't like," he says. To get another view I gave a call over the weekend to author J.D. Dolan. A resident of Michigan, Dolan is one of the nation's foremost experts on Greenleaf. The author's expertise comes as a result of the decade he has spent researching Greenleaf's life as part of his work on a future novel.

And Dolan, perhaps not surprisingly, says Greenleaf was the better player. The author says Greenleaf played fast, and with confidence -- not unlike Ronnie O'Sullivan, the famous English snooker champion. "Have a look at some of Ronnie O'Sullivan's videos on YouTube. His fast and perfect games are just the way people described Greenleaf's," said Dolan.

And so, upon J.D.'s recommendation, I am presenting here an incredibly fast perfect snooker run by "The Rocket."

As an aside, I have found that YouTube is quite annoying in that it prohibits videos of longer than 10 minutes in duration. But O'Sullivan runs these balls so fast that he requires no more than eight minutes.

OK, now tell me again why the cue sports aren't permitted in the Olympics?

-- R.A. Dyer

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jean Balukas on Charlie Rose

Reader Roy Zornow reminds us of this cool video of Jean Balukas, Fran Crimi, Steve Mizerak and several other legends shooting pool on the Charlie Rose show. Roy went looking for the video after coming across the footage of a young Jean Balukas shooting pool on TV, which is also reproduced here on this blog.

Roy writes that there's an interesting magazine article from 1991 that references a televised match Balukas had vs. Robin Bell in Las Vegas at the Women’s Final of the Brunswick World Open 9-ball tournament. You can find the article here.

-- R.A. Dyer