Shoot Pool, not people
Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. McCumber is a world class writer! Another vocation in which I remain a shortstop.Whenever I have heard about Tony Annigoni, I have thought again about a passage from Playing Off The Rail. I have posted it several times now, but maybe some new eyes will see it here. It's the best short thing I've ever read about the appeal of the game of pool (or billiards). Beauty ... heart ... renewal -- it's all there in two brief paragraphs.
Playing Off The Rail, by David McCumber, Random House, 1996, pages 276-277. It is presented as the author's thoughts while watching a masterfully played 9-ball match."Tony broke, and made two balls, and I could see the table unfold in my mind, and I knew he could see it even better, and would run it. As he made the shots I was overpowered by the beauty of this game, at once immutably logical, governed by physical inevitabilities, and at the same time infinitely poetic and varied. This game at its best, as it was being played before me, had the transcendent power of a Handel chorus.I thought about what an impressive mental exercise it was for Tony, after a miserable session against an unremarkable player two hours earlier, to reinvent himself so completely. It was a question of heart, a gathering of everything stored inside a man, a refusal to fall after stumbling. It was a very rare thing for a player to take such advantage of the game's intrinsic quality of renewal, the fresh start with each match, each rack, each shot. Nothing pharmaceutical could ever exceed the jolt of bliss that comes with the self-mastery that sort of play entails: knowing the ball is going in, knowing the cue ball is going to stop precisely where you willed it to, knowing that the next shot is going in too. I thought of Willie Hoppe, running an astonishing twenty-five billiards in an exhibition in 1918, seeing all those rails and angles and spins and caroms in his head like presents waiting to be opened. It was no accident that Hoppe was the most disciplined and controlled player of his era. Power over the cue ball, over the object ball, is power over ourselves. It is the sweetest irony that pool has gathered the reputation of being a game for louts and idlers, when, to be played well, it demands such incredible discipline of movement, of thinking, of emotion."
And in response to those who called Tony a shortstop, I strongly disagree. He was a solid "A" player, one notch below the Champions. Only the best players were favored over him in a match. Tony was in that second echelon of contenders and often went deep (top ten finish) in major tourneys in his prime, like the Sands in Reno.