George Rood, one of the great unknowns

Bob Jewett

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The following article is from the free archive of the Dayton Daily News. I'm not sure that the date is right since that would put George turning 83 years old in November, 1997, and I had the impression he was slightly younger than that. I met him in early 2007 at DCC and I don't think he was 92 then.

PUBLICATION: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Tom Archdeacon
DATE: August 17, 1997
Page: 1D

As he sat in a quiet corner of the Airway Billiards Bar and Grill, George Rood told the story of the day Minnesota Fats got a little bit skinnier:
"I'd left home at 15 because of my stepfather. The old man would whip me, curse me, it was bad. The only place I could go to keep warm and find something to eat was the local pool hall we had in Marietta. Called it the Smoke Shop and I began running errands for the gamblers, the card players and bootleggers there.
"Well, I also was pretty much a natural on the pool table and after I got to where I could play well, I was going across the (Ohio) river to West Virginia - Parkersburg, Huntington, Charleston - and playing for money. I was real young looking - looked like a little boy - and I got plenty of action.
"After I graduated high school, I worked at the pool hall. One day this big 16-cylinder LaSalle pulled up out front. Out stepped Fats. He had two ladies in tow and they were both dressed to the nines. Back then Fats called himself New York Fats or Double-Smart Fats. He was loud and obnoxious and self-indulgent. Bragged all the time, but that made him great at stirring up a game.
"He'd heard of me, but never seen me and when he walked in, he said, `Sonny, I'm hunting for Rood.' I said, `He's not here, but I'll play you.' He just laughed, `Kid, you don't have enough money!'
"I ran next door to the bookmaker and came back with a fist full of cash. Fats laughed and we flipped a coin to see who'd break. I won and while he was still over there opening the case of his pool cue, I ran the first rack of nine-ball. While he was dressing the cue tip, I ran the second. He was powdering his hands when I ran the third. I did four and five, too, and that was it. He never got a shot."
As Fats waddled back to his car and headed out of Marietta - his wallet a little thinner, himself quite a bit smarter - he realized whom he had just met. And the lesson the legendary hustler learned that day more than 60 years ago is still being taught around Dayton and Springfield today. When you're shooting pool with 82-year-old George Rood, you better win the flip. That, or keep your car in short-term parking. You won't be staying long.
Nobody knows that better than Todd Recher, who along with Hal Johnson, owns Airway Billiards on Needmore Road. The 43-year-old Recher shoots pool - nine-ball, straight pool or one-pocket - with Rood five, sometimes six hours, every Friday afternoon at Airway.
This past Friday they played on a back table beneath a picture of a pool-playing Mark Twain. On the wall behind them was a large colorful mural showing many of the great champions of the past. It was a perfect setting. Rood not only belongs in the mural, but in a Twain tale. He's got something in common with the best of those riverboat gamblers and confidence men that Twain found on his beloved Mississippi.
"George is from a by-gone era. When you look back at the famous players, he not only has played most of them, but beaten quite a few," said Recher, who held a 1950s newspaper clipping of just such a feat. "His stories are classic. And what's remarkable, he was world-class while only playing part-time. He had a full time job and another life."
That other life included more than 55 years as a nationally-known dog handler. Today, he still judges dog shows across the country, as well as in China, Japan, Colombia and England.
But that's the world of bark and this is a story of George Rood's bite. It comes when he picks up a pool cue.
Like the time he and two pals went to southern Indiana looking for Hubert Cokes, the millionaire oilman and pool hustler, who hung out with Titanic Slim Thompson, a man of such imaginative con, he'd waltz a guy outside the pool hall and lay him $3 to $2 odds that the sparrow on the left would take flight before the one on the right. Turns out Slim had studied sparrows, could tell a male from a female and knew a male almost always flies away first.
Well, Rood was something of a birdman himself. He liked pigeons.
"On the way, we stopped in some little Indiana farm town," he said. "We were just sitting there in a pool room when some bookie walked in and said, `Any you farmers want to shoot pool?' I shook my head, but when he said nine-ball for $50 a game, I said I'd try."
On this day, Rood had to shade his game just enough to barely win and yet make it seem like he was giving his all: "I had to play so bad. I couldn't draw the cue ball, couldn't make spot shots or he'd quit. Ended up winning $2,000 that day and another $2,500 the next night. Never did find Warbucks or Slim."
Beneath the shoeshine and the smile, a money player like Rood is all savvy and skill. He had the latter in reserve as evidenced by his other athletic pursuits: "When my stepdad used to chase me, I'd always go to the river. He couldn't get me there. I could swim that river without breaking stroke. Sometimes, I did it four and five times a day."
Rood became a good enough swimmer that he made it to the Olympic swimming and diving trials in 1936 before being hurt in a diving-board accident. He also played football at West Virginia Weslyan and had a brief minor league baseball stint in North Carolina.
Pool, though, is his first priority. He came to Dayton in 1939 and over the years he owned two pool halls, the Cue and Bridge in the Northside Shopping Center and East High Billiards in Springfield. It was there in March of 1954 that the great Willie Mosconi - whom Rood would beat two years later in an exhibition - set the world record when he ran 526 balls without a miss. The record still stands.
Rood was the nine-ball champion of Ohio for a dozen years and played all the greats - from Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter and Jimmy Caras to Fats again - when they visited Dayton.
"At one time George was one of the 10 best players in the world," said 68-year-old Deeno Gounaris, another of Dayton's legendary players and himself a state nine-ball champion. "He's a guy who's seen and done it all."
Rood can tell you of the time in 1947 he went to Norfolk and won $9,200, only to lose it again when he played Rags Fitzpatrick. He can tell you about calling the bluff of three West Virginia brothers who threatened to shoot him for his pool table deeds and, with prompting, he'll of the time he touched up a guy's nose with a pool cue in Hazzard, Ky.
Although three months shy of 83, Rood still looks as if he could hold his own. He said he eats a handful of vitamins, garlic pills and ginseng every morning, followed by a slug of vinegar "for muscle tone." His only problem, he said, is his eyes. He had cataracts removed, but he said the implants have messed up his depth perception.
"If I could see, I still could play," Rood said.
Recher shook his head and later whispered, "He still can play." That's evidenced by Rood's trips to Springfield - sometimes three a week - to play a guy half his age for $200 a game.
"I wouldn't bet against George in anything, even if it was arm wrestling," said Recher.
That's what a guy in Beckley, W.Va., once learned: "Went to play Bud Hypes, nine-ball, $100 a game. He had me down 15 games. By the next day I was even. Then from midnight to 6 a.m. I ended up winning $6,600 and a Buick Roadmaster.
"Spectators were betting heavy on the side and one guy said, `Alright, now I'll run you a race for $500'. I said, `No, I don't run.' Then I figured whatever I'd suggest he wouldn't go for. That's why I brought up horseshoes and ping pong - I knew nothing about ping pong. The guys said to forget that stuff. Finally, he said, `I'll swim you across the lake out there.' I couldn't get my shoes off fast enough. It was like stealing candy from a baby."
Rood was still laughing at the memory as he returned to his game with Recher - and promptly ran the table.
* CONTACT Tom Archdeacon at 225-2156 or e-mail

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He was born in 1913 so he was 94 in 2007. I met him when he was 83 and he played A speed. Despite having not played for over 25 years, because of the cataracts, and being busy judging and raising show dogs. I was 45 and in great shape and couldn't keep up with him.
I remember talking to Eddie Robin about George, and he told me a story about going to look for him one time to hustle him.
He said he and his partner walked in the pool room, and there was a big game going on in the back , they went and sat down and the guy at the table just kept running out . After 5 racks Eddie said he leaned over and asked the guy beside him if that was George Rood , the guy said heck no , George is giving this guy the 7 ball and killing him.
Eddie said he and his partner looked at each other, then got up and left right after that.
We both had a pretty good chuckle.
I think this is in one of the interviews done on George, but he had won a spot to swim in the Olympics in 1936, but he broke his neck in a diving accident and couldn't go. He learned to swim in the Ohio River, because he had 2 stepbrothers who were several years older than him and a lot bigger, and they would tag team and beat him up. He said the stepfather always blamed him and never did anything .He found out he was a better swimmer than either of them and he would just jump in the river to escape.
George got about as much spin on the cueball as anyone I ever watched play, and he did it with a very short bridge, Maybe 4 or 5 inches for a regular shot and many times he just used a little nip stroke. It was beautiful to watch when he was on.
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