(After a two-year hiatus thanks to COVID, we formed a mini-league this spring and began playing again. This is from 2017.)
Maybe it slipped my mind because at some point in my life, especially when he died, I probably did know the real name of Minnesota Fats.
Not sure I would have idolized someone named Rudolf, so Fats it was, and Fats it always will be.
Because Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet as we know it, I also didn’t know that Fats most likely stole the name and the celebrity attached to it.
I learned all this Thursday, when I Googled Minnesota Fats.
Because on Sunday, I begin playing pool in a league. My buddy Jeff has been bugging me to be on this team for the past two years since, one, I am the best pool player in the Western or Eastern hemisphere and two, well, there is no two.
He wants to win and my game comes with a price.
“You shall pay my entry fees and all subsequent fees, along with a minimum of three beers per night,” I texted him.
Texting amounts to a binding, legal contract.
I received no reply text so I’m assuming the contract stands.
Anyway, until two years ago, I played pool probably 10 times in the past decade, random games here and there at the Stumblin’ Inn or wherever a pool table may roam.
Then, Jeff joined a league and got the bright idea of getting a pool table for the sportsmen’s club, of which I am president and king.
“Hmmmm? That’s not a bad idea,” I said and put the idea to a vote and it was sealed.
We play once a month after meetings, sometimes more, but that’s about it. Fun games on a table that continues to warp by the hour.
I played about five times this summer and fall.
Now I’m in a league full of sharks, and my reputation precedes me, though I’m sure not a single player other than Jeff knows that I even exist.
So there it was that I was Googling Fats and discovering things I really didn’t want to discover.
n Fats never won a major pool tournament. Why? Because he seldom, if ever, played in one. He was a traveling pool hustler and would rather shoot a game in a pool hall than in a banquet room in front of hundreds of people.
n Fats may have stolen the name and the character. Ugh. I always assumed the movie “The Hustler” was based on Fats. It wasn’t. Rudolf had been using the name “New York Fats” until the movie, which was based on a book.
Rudolf dropped the New York and began calling himself Minnesota Fats and telling everyone he could that the book and movie were based on him. He was, after all, much like the Jackie Gleason character in the movie, though not quite as debonair.
n Willie Mosconi was better than Fats. Ugh.
Fats was still my hero, at least my pool-playing hero. I was much more into baseball, but for a good portion of my life, I lived and breathed pool.
My grandparents had a table in a small room in the basement and that’s where I would be found every Saturday. I watched Fats’ show, “Celebrity Pool with Minnesota Fats” and watched every time ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” showed a pool tournament.
And I played. And played. I was Fats, though I was nothing but a 55-pound 80-year-old at the time.
It’s how I learned the game and I was a pretty good shooter.
I took my skills into bars later in life and could hold my own against most. Made a few bucks here and there, but mostly we played for drinks.
I’m not a talker, though, and could never duplicate Fats’ way with words.
I just lean back and study the table.
Now after decades of only sporadic playing, I’ll be shooting every week in a league.
I may not win every game but I’m sure of one thing.
I’m a lot more like Minnesota Fats now than I ever was.
At least in the belly area.
Scott DeSmit is a general assignment reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.