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.

1 comment:

Ron Derouen said...

In 1963 in Houston at the South Shepherd Cue Club I watched Minnesota Fats beat Cannonball in a game of one pocket. First to get five games up for $1500. They began at 8:00 AM and finnished at a little after five Saturday morning with Fats winning. My brother Elden and another gentleman were the only guests watching. The manager !locked the door at 12 midnight. They flew a young man thought 26 from Dallas. He arrived with two tall black men each carrying a 26 inch Pullman luggage case filled with $20 bills. I did not watch any more pool. The two men covered two 5x10 tables in the back up to the cushion one at a time. There may have been several thousand dollars in those two cases.
That night at Oak Forrest Cue Club, owned by Jerry Continue,a straight pool expert and friend of Fats an exhibition featuring Fats and my brother Elden Derouen. Fats broke the straight pool rack and my brother ran 10 racks.
In November 1966 I went to LaCue in downtown Houston to see Fats put on an exhibition. I arrived in time to see his last shot, a three rail shot on the eight ball.I had never seen that shot before and it fascinated me. I went to the men's room and Fats filled me in. He saw the four piece hand carved pool que with a fish including the tail, fins, eyes and scales. He offered me $150 and I told him he could not buy it for $10,000 because I could not go back to Vietnam to buy another one. I did not think to tell him that I watched him shoot Cannonball or that my brother shot him in the straight pool game.
When he made the eight ball shot he said the diamonds are not on the table for decorations. The next day I went to the library and found the diamond system in a book by Willie Hope entitled Billiards copyright 1941 with three pages of graphs and the explanation of the system.
For 37 years I banked the eight ball. Ten years ago I added a five and six rail. Two years ago I added a six rail shot. I do not jump or masse a ball.
I went back to Cho!on, Vietnam for 12 weeks to have six cues carved using mine as a pattern. Craftsmanship can not be matched today because the Carver of my stick was an artist and a master craftsman. I made a 12 day trip to Vietnam three years ago to find the man that could carve the sticks and it took me ten days to find him. I have $7500 in expenses for the two trips. For fifty years I have shot with stick and I still break the rack with it. We're it not for Fats my entire life would be different.
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