Fats made several more visits to the Bicycle Casino, and on one particular visit in December 1994 the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Jim Murray wrote a feature about him for the Los Angeles Times called “Cue Music, ‘Hustler’ Is in Town.”
I can’t improve on Murray’s description of Fats, so I won’t even try: “The things Fats could do with a pool cue were works of art. He could put a cue ball in your ear as well as a corner pocket if you wanted. He did with a pool cue what Babe Ruth did with a bat, Red Grange with a football, Magic Johnson with a basketball, or Ben Hogan with a two-wood.”
Meeting a character like Fats can’t help but leave a life-long impression on you. After I wrote the first article I was fortunate to receive some amazing stories about how Fats touched other people’s lives as well. Here are a couple of highlights:
Earl Burton, a writer for pokernewsdaily.com, shared how his parents owned a truck stop in central Illinois in the early 70’s that had a good pool table. He recalls, “I don’t know how it happened and don’t know how he had heard about the games that had occurred on that pool table, but one night a gentleman pulled up in a huge Caddy and entered the room. In he strolled, coming to the counter to ask my mom, “Where’s this big game at?” My mom immediately knew who he was and sent him to the pool room, where the game that was going on immediately stopped. I was doing homework at the time but, interested, I headed back to the room to see what was going on.”
Earl continues: “It was Minnesota Fats, as I was to learn from watching ‘Wide World of Sports’ over the next couple of years. He shook hands with some of the players, and then announced a challenge. “Who wants to take on the best player in the world?” Some of the men in the room pulled out $20, a couple pulled out a $100, but Fats said, “No less than $500 a game, boys. Otherwise I’m gonna go eat.”
Two men ponied up the money and, while he proceeded to wax both of them, Fats constantly talked. “You know, I could be in Decatur tonight. Probably would earn a lot more.” Another roll of hundreds came out and, surprisingly, Fats lost his first game. “Gotta be something wrong with the table here,” he said.
After that loss, another couple of rolls came out and Fats went back to beating anyone who came in front of him. After a couple of hours of play, no one was left. I had watched it all and was amazed at how he commanded the table, not only through his play but through his personality. As some of the men left the room, Fats saw me sitting on the side. “You want to learn how to play?” he said. I immediately jumped up!
For the next hour, Fats showed me masses, jumps, the angles to the game and tried to teach me how to “talk the talk,” as he put it. “Anyone can play this game, you just got to make it interesting for some,” he said as I struck a shot.
“You’re gonna do OK, kid,” he said to me as he tossed my mom a $200 tip. “He’s gonna do you proud,” he said to her as he left. To this day, I still shoot a decent game of pool. And, I’d like to believe, it was because of Fats.”
I’m sure many others can say the same. Pool enthusiast Scott Kennedy is another such person:
“1971, I was 18 years old and was about to see Minnesota Fats play pool at a pool hall in Cudahy, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. So here’s the Fat Man in front of maybe 50 people and he says, “I understaaaaand (he talks just like W.C Fields really) there’s a young maaan in the audience who thinks he can shooot pool. His naaaame is Scott Kennedy.”
Oh no!!?? Fats calls me down, and we shake hands. He says “Mr. Kennedyyyy, I will let you breaaak ’cause it may be your onlyyyy shot.” I broke very nervously and got something in and maybe made a ball or two. Fats gets up, runs the table and does some trick shot on the 8, and the cue balls goes around the table and scratches. “Wellllll, Mr. Kennedyyyy, looks like I lost.” I just had the thrill of a lifetime.
After the exhibition was over, a crowd gathered around a small table where Minnesota Fats was sitting and signing autographs. I was not prepared and got a small piece of paper from someone and approached Minnesota Fats. He used a rubber stamp instead of a pen to sign. I asked him to please sign this for me because none of my friends will believe I met Minnesota Fats, let alone played pool with him. He signed the paper, “I played pool with Scott Kenedy, Minnesota Fats.” He spelled my name wrong but I didn’t care.”
Now for the story how Minnesota Fats changed my life forever.
After he passed away on January 15, 1996, I received a call two years later from Fat’s widow T-Bell who said she missed the pool tournaments and asked if she could visit for a few weeks. A few days later, she asked if one her relatives named Charity, who loved pool, could come, too. I said, “Sure.”
I ended up marrying Charity, and we had three beautiful children who are now my life. And it’s all because of Minnesota Fats. Our paths were destined to cross, and my life is better for it.
Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino and billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.
In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.
Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert Turner can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for consulting, marketing and teaching.