Sunday, November 7, 2010

Inflation-Adjusted Heart

Lassiter & Fats: Big Bets in Today's Dollars

9-ball genius Luther Lassiter
This is what Luther Lassiter said about Norfolk, Virginia, back in the 1940s: "Greatest pool town that's ever been. You had five or six people there who were really gambling. People had lots of cash, and players from all over the country -- anybody that played for money at all -- came to Norfolk."

Lassiter was a prince among the Norfolk hustlers during his World War II Coast Guard years. During one particularly memorable  straight pool match-up Wimpy took $5,000 from a club owner. You can read all about it in Hustler Days.

The size of that $5,000 wager -- and the heart Lassiter needed to win it -- got me to thinking. That amount of money is a lot, even today.  After all, many of the regional tournaments even now pay less for first place. Shane Van Boening  also recently won $10,000 from Mika Immonen, but it took him three days to do it. But Lassiter won his money during a single game in the 1940s. During those years $5,000 was a king's ransom.

You can find various inflation calculators on the Internet. Here's a link to one. It's from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics. So how much is $5,000, wagered in 1946, valued in today's dollars? According to the inflation calculator: $61,000! During a 100-point game of straight pool Lassiter's opponent was within just two balls of taking the cash. That's when Lassiter ran 92 and out. Talk about heart.

There are other references to historic wagers. For instance, Minnesota Fats won about $20,000 from Richie Florence and two others in Johnston City, back in 1971. You can read about that encounter in The Hustler & the Champ. How much would $20,000 be valued today? More than $117,000, according to the  inflation calculator. However, unlike Lassiter's score, it took Fats a couple of weeks to win all that money.

I've also came across a reference to a $250 wager between Alfredo De Oro and Charles Otis back in 1916. It was a private bet between the two players before their championship billiards match held in Havana, Cuba. In today's dollars, the wager would have amounted to more than $5,000. De Oro, then considered the greatest player ever, was said to have put up his own money. Otis was staked.

Have a story about a particularly memorable wager from yesteryear? Send me the details, and we'll plug it into the inflation calculator.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fats in Johnston City

Minnesota Fats was a fixture in southern Illinois during the 1960s, which was the heyday of the Johnston City tournaments and the pool revival I described in Hustler Days. The famous tournaments were created by George and Paulie Jansco, who are both members of the One Pocket Hall of Fame. I got to thinking about George and Paulie and Fats after receiving a letter the other day from Gary Carlson, a former graduate student from Southern Illinois. In it, Gary describes a chance encounter he had with Minnesota Fats. It was a small encounter, and yet the sort that appears to have taken on added meaning for Gary as he has learned more about Fats. That's because it quietly reflects some of the great qualities of Fats: he loved playing pool, he loved being around people and -- despite his hustler reputation -- there was a certain kindness about him.

Here's Gary's note:

From 1966 to 1969, I was a graduate chemistry student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. I used to research my project from time to time during the wee hours and then go to a small hamburger place on the north side of Carbondale where they had 2 or 3 pool tables. I was usually the only one there and after a hamburger, I’d shoot some pool. I was only a fair player. One night (late 1968 – mid 1969), there was a guy sitting at the counter talking to the owner – I paid little attention to them. I had my hamburger, got a cue off the wall and began practicing.
Before long, the guy at the counter strolled over, watched a bit, and asked if I wanted to play a couple of racks. I said OK and asked if he wanted to bet a dollar a game. He laughed and said “A whole dollar”? I didn’t know if he was mocking me or couldn’t afford a dollar so I said “OK, how about 50 cents then”? He smiled and just said “Let’s play a bit for nothing and we’ll see what happens.” Well, he beat me several games with no trouble, shook my hand and left. The counter man said “Do you know who that was”? I told him I didn’t – and he told me it was Rudolph Wanderone – Minnesota Fats. I just said “Oh”. I had no idea who he was. Later, I saw a picture of him somewhere and realized who he was. Later still, I learned he was living not too far from Carbondale.
You asked for some remembrances of the man. That was mine. Recently I’ve read about him and from everything I understand, he was a pretty nice fellow.

Thanks to Gary. And, like he notes: I'm always looking for memories of the great ones. If you have one, send it in. If you'd like to learn more about Johnston City (or see another Johnston City video), check out my separate blog on the topic, which you can find here.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, April 9, 2010

Childhood home of Minnesota Fats

At the upper left is a photograph of the apartment building where Minnesota Fats grew up. It's in upper Manhatten, the neighborhood of Washington Heights. I managed to track down its location and take this photo during a trip to New York City in the summer of 2005. I knocked on the door but nobody was home. I used the research from that trip in The Hustler & The Champ, which also describes Fats' rivalry with Willie Mosconi. Some years later I made contact with one of Fats' nephews, Doug Corwin (shown at upper right), whose mother Bertha Wanderone lived with Fats at this home. Doug also provided me some really cool childhood photos of Fats, which you can find by clicking through this Untold Stories column.

-- R.A. Dyer

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fats vs. Mosconi: The Great Pool Shoot-Out

You read it about it The Hustler & The Champ. Here's the video proof of the most watched pool match in U.S. history. Picture and sound quality is pretty lousy, but it's the only copy out there that I have come across. You can read about the pool match in detail in my book (that's it there to the right). The famous televised pool match was put together by pool promoter Charles Ursitti and the guys from Wide World of Sports.