Willie Mosconi, John Schmidt, Jayson Shaw each locked down records of 500 or more balls. Babe Cranfield claimed what could have been the highest-ever run — but it was never verified.

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, however, have broken through. John Schmidt, for instance, ran a 626 on Memorial Day of 2019, surpassing Mosconi’s record by 100 balls. Schmidt accomplished this May 27th feat on a nine-foot table in Monterrey, California. Before Schmidt’s historic run, many believed Mosconi’s official record would stand forever.  However, just three years after Schmidt surpassed Mosconi’s high-run, champion Jayson Shaw beat Schmidt’s run by running a 714. That’s 88 balls more than what Schmidt accomplished, and 188 more than Mosconi’s run.

In all, it took Shaw five days and 122 attempts before he broke through to 714, which came on January 18, 2022, Both Schmidt and Shaw hit their high marks without opponents, and during intentional record-breaking attempts. Mosconi, by contrast, ran his 526 after defeating an opponent in an exhibition match.

There are others who have claimed runs higher than Mosconi’s 526. None of these runs, however, can be verified. New Yorker Mike Eufemia, for instance, once claimed a 625. But, as the late Billiards Digest columnist George Fels noted in 2010, Eufemia himself was the only start-to-finish witness of this supposedly historic feat. 

And this brings us back to Babe Cranfield. Cranfield once claimed to have run an astronomical 768 balls. This, obviously, would surpass anything ever before seen.  But like Eufemia’s supposed high run, Cranfield’s claimed 768 was never verified. (For more about Babe’s run, see writer J.D. Dolan’s observations in the comments field at the bottom of this page.) Mosconi, by contrast, had plenty of witnesses for his high run and there’s also a confirming affidavit on record at the Museum of American History. Schmidt’s and Shaw’s high runs were recorded with video equipment.

No one doubts, however, that Cranfield could put together racks. In his 2010 note to me, reader Dave Capone described racking balls for the legend and said that in the process, he witnessed first hand as he 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 Syracuse 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. My old friend Charlie Ursitti, the now 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.

— R.A Dyer

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