Strange But True: Beating the Champ

A slim 16-year-old boy walked into the billiard parlor in Springfield, Massachusetts and looked around. There were very few people playing. One man in particular seemed to be just practicing, without much interest in what he was doing. The boy walked over to him

“Want to play billiards?” he asked the man. “Want to pay for money?”

The man nodded, amused.

“How about playing fifty points for ten dollars?” he continued.

The man agreed.

The boy won the right to shoot first. And then he ran off 50 straight points. The man never did get to shoot.

As the man paid the boy with a smile, he said “You should become a professional billiards player. You’re very good at it.”

“Nope,” said the boy. “Baseball is my game. I’m going to use this ten dollars for a bus ticket to Hartford. I’m going to get a tryout.”

Years later, the two happened to bump into each other in New York City. The boy had grown to manhood, and he recognized his former billiards opponent.

“Hello,” he greeted the older man. “I guess you don’t remember me. We played billiards a long time ago in Springfield, Massachusetts. I beat you, 50-0.”

“Oh, yes,” the man smiled. “You said you wanted to become a baseball player. Say, I never did get your name.”

“My name is Leo Durocher, and I did become a major league baseball player,” the young man said with a grin. Durocher played for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s and later managed for 25 years in the major leagues.

“Do you know who I am?” the older man asked.

“Sure,” said Durocher. “I knew who you were when I challenged you.”

The older man was Willie Hoppe, the world billiard champion, and probably the greatest who ever played the game. His loss to the brash 16-year-old ballplayer was one of the very few losses in his long career.

From The Giant Book of Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.

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