Willie Mosconi Billiard Master
LiveAuctionTalk.com: by Rosemary McKittrick
Photo courtesy of Hunt Auctions.
Willie Mosconi was to pocket billiards what Michael Jordan was to basketball.
From 1941 through 1956 Willie won the world pocket billiards championship 13 times in 15 years. He also won Cushion Billiards world championships (pool played without pockets)--a rare champion in both sports.
In a 1954 pool exhibition Willie managed to land 526 balls in a row without a miss. “The Mosc” as fans nicknamed him possessed a real passion for the sport reportedly practicing six hours a day for seven days a week over a 30 year period. Willie’s long-term sponsorship with Brunswick Corporation gave him the time and space to get great.
Born in Philadelphia in 1913, the young pool shark turned to the game early. At age four he was spotted pushing crates over to his father’s pool table after each shot so he could get a better look at the table top. He was also caught more than once shooting potatoes with a mop handle around the pool table.
Willie’s parents owned a poolroom and the family lived upstairs. They initially discouraged their son from following in the lifestyle. But it wasn’t long before his father realized the boy was a jewel in need of only minor polish. The kid was a prodigy with a cue stick. Standing on a box to reach the table Willie beat even experienced adult players.
A match was arranged in 1919 between Willie and then world champion Ralph Greenleaf. Six-year-old Willie lost the match but helped pack the pool hall and launched his professional billiards career. He became the world juvenile straight pool champion when he was 11-years-old.
In the 1930s after taking a few years off from the game Willie began entering local tournaments as a way to make a living. He said in his autobiography “Willie’s Game” he couldn’t remember losing to anyone and also claimed he never hustled an opponent, playing every game honestly.
Out of his reverence for the game Willie always called it billiards and not pool.
Willie tutored Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason and also had a small cameo in the 1961 movie “The Hustler.” He originally recommended Frank Sinatra for the Fast Eddy part but director Robert Rossen went with Newman instead.
One of Willie’s most publicized games happened in 1978 between him and Minnesota Fats. The competition was televised on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Both men were 65 but you would never have known it by the skill each player demonstrated. Willie’s razor-sharp accuracy prevailed and he won the game.
Willie died of a heart attack on Sept. 12, 1993. He has been called the greatest player in the history of the game.
On May 14, Hunt Auctions held its Important Sports Memorabilia Auction in Chicago. Featured in the sale was a selection of items belonging to Willie Mosconi. Here are some current values.
Art Print; autographed limited edition; pictures three views of Willie; also signed by the artist Harrington; 21 ¼ inches by 26 ¼ inches; $374.
Figural Trophy; from Willie’s defeat of long-time rival Irving Crane; 750-462; 1960; 17 ½ inches tall; $1,840.
Pool Table; Brunswick; Willie’s secondary practice table; retains its original logo marquis on end panel; circa 1960s; $1,840.
Pool Table; Willie’s personal Brunswick pool table; used in his home for years; retains its original logo marquis on end panel; circa 1960s; $6,325.
Pool Cue; Willie’s favored one; produced by Russian master George Balabushka especially for Willie; Burton Spain forearm with four Ebony colored points and five colored veneers; with diamond mother-of-pearl inlays; includes eight shafts; $92,000.