Meet Willie Mosconi (AKA Mr. Pocket Billiards)
The list of greatest pool players is quite long, and it will probably keep getting longer as the game continues to develop. But few of these pool greats have contributed more to the development of the sport than Willie Mosconi.
Willie Mosconi, or “Mr. Pockets Billiards” as he was fondly referred to, was an exceptional pool player that also played a crucial role in popularizing the game.
For over half a century, Willie Mosconi was a household name in pocket billiards. Most billiards historians agree that he was one of the reasons pool became popular again post World War II.
In this article, we’ll explain why Mosconi is one of the greatest pocket billiards players ever. We will also explain what makes him famous, his greatest achievements, and his most famous match.
Who is Willie Mosconi?
William Joseph Mosconi was born on June 27, 1913, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Joseph Mosconi and Helen O’Reilly. His father was a former boxer and a billiards parlor owner, and his mother was a housewife.
His father owned a pool hall, but kept his son away from the game. After closing the pool hall, he kept cue sticks and billiard balls locked up.
But, the young Mosconi showed interest in the game from an unusually early age and had to find ways to play. He would practice the game using a broomstick and potatoes.
Soon, his father realized he was talented in pool and would not pursue a career in traditional entertainment, as he had hoped. He decided to let Willie play, and even supported him in becoming the best billiards player.
Mosconi’s dad would arrange challenge matches for him. But Willie was still quite short and needed to stand on a box to reach the pool table.
One of his most notable matches at a young age was when he faced Ralph Greenleaf, the reigning champion, in 1919. Willie was just 6 years old when he played the exhibition match. He also became the youth straight pool champion in 1924 when he was just 11.
Willie Mosconi started his professional career in the early 1930s during the Great Depression. Besides his great love for the game, he also went professional to help his family during these difficult times. But, it would be almost a decade before he won his first title – the 1941 Pocket Billiards World Championship.
What is Willie Mosconi famous for?
Willie is famous for his pool-playing prowess and for making billiards more popular. People knew him for his exceptional precision and shot-making ability. These skills saw him set records for consecutive ball pocketing, as well as straight pool championships.
In addition to his success as a pool player, his contribution to the sport also made him famous. He promoted the game through his work as an exhibition player and demonstrator. Willie would travel across the United States showcasing pool to different audiences.
His demonstrations and exhibition matches popularized the sport and helped introduce it to new players and fans. Also, he taught pool to players at all levels as an instructor and wrote several books on billiards.
Pool fans and players worldwide still celebrate his contributions to the sport.
What Pool Cue Did Willie Mosconi Use?
For most of his career, Mosconi’s cue of choice was a custom-made Balabushka cue. This type of cue is from a line by the master cue maker, George Balabushka, who is renowned for making some of the best-performing cues of all time – but especially in Mosconi’s era.
Mosconi’s Balabushka cues were one of a kind, specifically tailored to suit his specific preferences and playing style. The sleek and elegant design included a beautiful maple shaft. They were also equipped with an Irish linen wrap and custom ivory joint for great balance and enhanced playability.
While Mosconi used mostly Balabushka cues, he also used a Rambow cue for his record-setting straight pool performance. Rambow cues were popular with top players, and even pool hustlers like Minnesota Fats used them.
Herman Rambow, another famous cue maker, designed the cues. In 1968, Herman Rambow was the first cue maker inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame.
All Rambow cues had a brass joint and were famous for their playability and performance. Many players that used them also praised their feel, balance, and control.
Role in “The Hustler”
Mosconi also played a role in making “The Hustler,” a 1961 movie that was instrumental in popularizing pool. He was the technical advisor for the movie, with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason playing the lead roles.
Mosconi was tasked with teaching Paul Newman how to handle himself and play the game like a real pool hustler. With Mosconi’s help, Newman pulled an award-winning act that saw him get an Academy Award nomination. Newman had never played pool or even held a cue before making the movie, making this feat even more amazing.
Mosconi also made a cameo appearance in the film as himself. He was acting as Minnesota Fats’ stake holder.
Besides The Hustler, Mosconi has also made appearances in several films and TV game shows like Super Cue Men and I’ve Got a Secret.
Mosconi’s Greatest Achievements
- Won World Straight Pool Championship 15 times between 1941 and 1957
- Set the straight pool world record – He made 526 consecutive balls without missing during a practice session in 1954 in Springfield, Ohio. This record stood for 65 years.
- Inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame in 1968 at the age of 55
- Posthumously honored with membership into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006
- Posthumously inducted into the Straight Pool Hall of Fame in 2015
The Legendary Match – Mosconi vs. Minnesota Fats
The legendary match between Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, dubbed “The Great Pool Shoot-Out,” was played on February 14th, 1978.
The match still holds the record for the most-watched pool game in US billiards history. At least 20 million Americans watched the match.
This match pitted one of the game’s greatest champions against its most renowned hustler. They played the match over 3 days in New York City, and Mosconi won all 3 sets. The sets included 9-ball, 8-ball, and rotation, which Mosconi won 5-2, 5-3, and 5-2, respectively.
Mosconi was undoubtedly the better player, but Fats was clearly a hustler who focused more on being an entertainer and trickster than a champion of the game. Mosconi’s skills and artistry impressed fans, but Fats’ bravado and theatrics kept them entertained throughout the match.
Watch the legendary match below!
Willie Mosconi is undoubtedly one of the greatest pocket pool players ever. Mosconi’s achievements are hard to replicate, from his record setting world straight pool championship titles to his famous 526 high run.
But, perhaps his greatest achievement is his success at promoting and popularizing the game when interest in billiards was declining. Mosconi helped introduce the game to new fans and players and will be celebrated forever for it.
The sport was lucky to have such talent and someone that truly loved the game at a time when it needed him most.
As Always, Happy Shooting!