While young Arness was just picking up a cue for the first time in the Deep South, The Kid had a very different agenda, being just now 20 years old and too poor for much of anything but to see his beloved Yankees play when he wasn't on the road-shooting pool for bucks.
He'd been a sensation as a youth himself, although for an Italian-American from Philly and not an Irishman, he sure did like potatoes. His dad owned a modest poolroom with a few tables and forbade young Willie from visiting the scene--Willie's folks wanted him to be a vaudeville dancer--until the senior Mosconi caught his five-year-old standing on a stool to shove potatoes about his tables at night and using a broom handle for a cue stick.
And he could likely defeat most all the players in any given pool hall with the broomstick if he adhered a cue tip to one end-and then sweep the joint up after he'd cleaned the place out. Cut to the chase here, Willie got so good so fast he toured the country at the age when Paul Arness was standing outside a pool hall window on Main Street looking in. And what a road mentor Mosconi had!
The Young Player Sits At The Feet Of The Best
Ralph Greenleaf was the greatest that ever was or ever would be. With hands like albatross wings, Greenleaf stood tall enough to reach shots on adjacent tables without a rake, and with a wild but straight stroke that was more akin to buffalo hunting then to what mortals use to pocket the balls.
Greenleaf could at will release his cue utterly through the final forward stroke, tossing it down the line then catching it again before it fouled the balls (or speared some innocent passerby). This reverse slip stroke technique provided tremendous spin and power on most of his billiards shots. He could hit pull off combination wing shots, for gosh sake.
The world champion took the prodigy Mosconi on a road trip of exhibition events-or was it the other way round? The game? The King and Queen of all pocket billiards competition, 14.1 Continuous Straight Pool, the challenge that demands the player break their next rack of balls from wherever the cue ball and last object ball wound up from the previous rack.
Think about that for a long moment if you would. You say left a hanger ball for the end of the rack in the far corner from the other freshly racked 14 balls? Tough! Break from there, if you dare. You say you left the cue ball in purgatario along the rail after you pocketed your 14th ball? Drop dead, chuck you, break it from there, buddy.
Wide-eyed and handsome, Greenleaf and later the young Mosconi could run 100 balls without a miss, that is, 7 racks running, breaking every 14th ball and then keeping on some more past a hundred, and on a 10-foot-long-now-extinct-dinosaur-of-a-table.
And what shots to see for a young player maturing to become the world champ himself! Careful estimates have established that when a pro runs hot to win a significant tournament at 9-Ball or 8-Ball, they are likely leaving cue ball shape of one diamond or so distant from the next shot. In other words, they knock in the 6-ball and the cue comes to rest a comfortable foot away from the seven. Same in Straight Pool, too.
But old Ralph liked to get the cue ball six inches from the next shot, a whole new order of magnitude, requiring the touch of a neurosurgeon and the intestinal fortitude (and will to risk all) of George Armstrong Custer outnumbered at the Little Bighorn. Most humans attempting the like would roll too far much of the time to line up for the wrong pocket on the far end of the table instead.
And Greenleaf spun his cue ball gyroscopically so fast he was fond of having it hit the racked pack of balls, bounce away and return to ram into the pack a second time, by pure ball spin alone without contacting another ball or the rail! This trick as performed by Mosconi later appeared in a charming little motion picture starring Paul Newman.
Married to a little flapper lady who went by the name of "Princess Nai Tai Tai," the recalcitrant "Leaf" drank three square meals a day. Hell, he played better when he was lit and looked to be drunk for many of his 14 world championship wins.
Let The Kid win on tour? Probably not the handsome drunk who was fond of saying F$%^ you to 10-year-olds seeking an autograph. No, Mosconi learned to play his best on that tour.
Our young player stud Arness was going to have a real fight on his hands for once.The Killer And The Mosc, Part I: 13-Rack Ride
The Killer And The Mosc Part II: Roll Two Million Balls
Part III: Pickle Juice Paul
Part IV: Arness Gets A Taste
Part V: Ralph Greenleaf Kicks Willie Mosconi's Tail
Part VI: Mosconi's Madness, The Fire Down Below
Part VII: The Old Man's Three Rules Of Great Pool
Part VIII: The Men In Town To Clash
Part IX: Stand And Fight
Part X: Showdown On Cloth
Part XI: Cue Ball Killing It
Part XII: Willie's Best Bank Shot
Part XIII: Crushed, Snookered, Busted
Part XIV: Rolling Loose
Part XV: Swing And A Miss