Back in 2010 I received a note from reader Dave Capone, who told me about an encounter with the late Hall of Famer Arthur “Babe” Cranfield. Cranfield, as you may recall, was the only player ever to have won national junior, amateur and professional titles. He also was one of only a handful of humans who may have broken Willie Mosconi’s 526-ball straight pool record, which was set in 1954.
I say “may,” of course, because Cranfield’s claimed record run of 768 was never confirmed. Others, too, have claimed runs higher than Mosconi’s 526. New Yorker Mike Euphemia, for instance, once claimed a 625. But, as the late Billiards Digest columnist George Fels noted in 2010, Euphemia himself was the only start-to-finish witness of this supposedly historic feat.
Mosconi, by contrast, had plenty of witnesses for his 526-ball run and there’s also a confirming affidavit on record at the Museum of American History. Mosconi’s 526 world record is locked down and settled.
I’ve been thinking about all this lately as I watch American John Schmidt make his epic run to surpass Willie’s record. He’s been shooting for days on end at a room in Phoenix, Arizona, and so far has posted up more than 50 100-plus runs, eight 200-plus runs and two 300-plus runs. It’s epic. Maybe he’ll crash through Mosconi’s record and maybe he won’t — but it’s sure fun to watch. You can find a link here.
But, back to Babe Cranfield. Mr. Capone, in his 2010 note to me, described racking balls for the legend and said that in the process, he witnessed first hand as Cranfield plowed through 32 consecutive racks. Capone was dumbstruck by the feat.
I’ve reproduced an excerpt of Mr. Capone’s note to me, below.
I went to Hollywood Billiards in Syracause N.Y when I was 19 years old. I walked in the first time and all the tables were open. I said to the person that was running the place that I would like a table. He said which one would you like and I said ‘I’d like the one in the middle.’ He told me that it was reserved for someone. So I took one two tables over. This older man came with his own billiard balls and took the table I wanted the first time. I started to watch him play and he was runing rack after rack so I stopped playing myself and started watching him play. I didn’t know him at the time so I left and came back the following week and he was already there. I starting playing and he came to me and said (he was) getting bored (and asked if I) would like racking the balls. I got so excited because I was just starting to learn how to play. I said I would love to rack for him. I racked and racked and racked. I was counting the racks. When he finally missed, he ran a total 32 racks. I was amazed!!!!! He told me his name was Babe Cranfield. It really was a treat at my young age to have an opportunity to witness such a great talent.
Before I sign off, I’d like to leave you with one final note, an asterisk to all these high-run descriptions. Charlie Ursitti, the recently departed billiards historian, told me that he once racked for Mosconi during a practice session, and that during it the champ ran a 589. According to Ursitti, this astronomical but unofficial run occurred at a Las Vegas hotel in 1979, just prior to a televised exhibition between Mosconi and Minnesota Fats. You can read both about Willie’s official record run in 1954 and that higher unofficial one in 1979 in The Hustler and The Champ.