- Luther Lassiter
Luther Lassiter (
November 5, 1918– October 25, 1988),MyFamily.com Inc. (1998-2006). [http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi?lastname=lassiter&firstname=luther&nt=exact U.S. Social Security Death Index Search] . Retrieved December 5, 2006] born Luther Clement Lassiter, Jr. [R. A. Dyer (2004). [http://www.hustlerdays.com/wimpy.html Wimpy Lassiter] . Retrieved December 5, 2006.] and nicknamed "Wimpy", was a world-renowned American pool player from Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The winner of six world championships and numerous other titles, Lassiter is most well known for his wizardry in the game of nine ballat which he is widely considered one of the greatest players in history,The New York Times Company (2001). Obituaries section: [http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0710F835550C748EDDA90994D0484D81 Luther Lassiter, 69, Billiards Star Who Captured Six World Titles] . By the Associated Press, October 27, 1988. Retrieved December 5, 2006.] if not the greatest.Billiard Congress America (1995-2005). [http://www.bca-pool.com/industry/hof/ind77-84.shtml BCA Hall of Fame Inductees: 1977 - 1984] . Retrieved November 22, 2006.] [CNN/Sports Illustrated (2003). [http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/features/si50/states/north_carolina/greatest/ The 50 Greatest North Carolina Sports Figures] . Retrieved December 5, 2006] [Dragon's Journal at AZBilliards.com (2006). Buddy Hall quote reported by Professional, Charlie Williams. Retrieved November 22, 2006.] He was inducted into the Billiards Congress of America's Hall of Fame in 1983. That same year he was also inducted into the North Carolina Sport Hall of Fame. [NC Sports Hall of Fame (2005). [http://www.ncshof.org/inductees_search.php North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame listing for Luther Lassiter] . Retrieved December 5, 2006.]
As a young man, Lassiter showed signs of uncanny
hand-eye coordination, both in the areas of pool and baseball. In the sandlotgames of his youth he was an ace pitcher, and according to his friends, who affectionately referred to him as "Bud," he was the player everyone wanted on their team. Lassiter's younger brother, Clarence, spoke of his talent as a pitcher: "Coach was always trying to sign him up. You know, Bud could "pitch" a ball. But by then, pool had caught him and he didn't care about the athletic end of things. The coach pestered him and pestered him and tried to get him to play, because he had a natural talent for baseball. But he didn't use it; he was trapped by pool." On the subject, Lassiter himself said, "Oh, sure, I played some baseball. In fact, it was at some little old ball game that I once ate twelve hot dogsand drank thirteen Cokes and Orange Crushes, and everybody fell to calling me Wimpy" (after the Wimpy character of the Popeyecomic strip of the same name, who loved to eat hamburgers). So instead of baseball, Lassiter focused on pool, and began developing his game at City Billiards in Elizabeth City. The owner of the room, Speedy Ives, would allow Wimpy to come in the back door and shoot whenever he wanted as long as he would clean the floors and sweep the pool tables.cite book | last = Dyer | first = R. A. | year = 2003 | title = Hustler Days: Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America's Great Age of Pool | location = Guilford, Connecticut| publisher = Lyons Press | pages = | id = ISBN 1-59228-104-4]
Also as a young man, Lassiter became afflicted with a condition, which he termed as "the swolls," that would follow him throughout his life. This was a condition in which, when an attractive member of the opposite sex approached him with affection, Lassiter's lips would puff up and become red and swollen. This condition first showed up in the early 1940s when Lassiter was in
Norfolk, Virginia. Minnesota Fatsremembered, " [Lassiter's] lips would be all puffed up and at first I thought it was from wiping off the lipstick. But there was nothing he could do about it, so he finally gave up on tomatoes across the board by remaining a bachelor. Evelyn told Wimpy he should fall in love and get married, but Wimpy would always say, 'Bless you, Mrs. Wanderone, but I'm already in love - I'm in love with pool.' And he really was."
During the early 1940s, following his discharge from the
Coast Guard, Lassiter's main running buddy was Rudolph Walter Wanderone Jr., best known as Minnesota Fats. Their town of preference was Norfolk, Virginia, which was known at the time as the highest-rolling place to be for pool hustlers, card players, and gamblers in general. Lassiter became the "undisputed king" of the pool hustlers during these years, reportedly winning over $300,000 between 1942 and 1948 (including $15,000 in a single week) from gambling on pool games. He often accepted money games involving extraordinary sums, often around $1,000 a game. It was during this time that Lassiter developed the confidence and skill necessary to begin to compete on the professional level with the greatest pocket-billiard masters of the time, including Willie Mosconiand Irving Crane.
After the sudden decline of the gambling action in Norfolk around 1948, Lassiter was forced to begin competing professionally in pool tournaments held across the country. His first major tournament was the World Straight Pool Championships in 1953 held in
San Francisco's Downtown Bowl; the player who knocked him out was Willie Mosconi, who would go on to win the tournament and the world title.
It was also during this time that Lassiter formed a partnership with
Don Willis, a player who, while never having won any world titles because he never competed in any of the tournaments, had beaten some of pool's greatest players, including Jimmy Moore, Ralph Greenleaf, and Willie Mosconi, all in straight pool. And in 1948, Willis had even beaten Lassiter in nine-ball(Wimpy's best game) on Lassiter's home turf, Elizabeth City. Indeed, Willis' talent for nine-ball was the primary reason for Lassiter forming a partnership with Willis rather than a rivalry. Together they would go on the road and hustle pool rooms across the country, sometimes winning anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 over a period of several days.
The last "challenge match"
In the nineteenth century and up through the mid 1950s, a common way for world billiards titles to change hands was by a challenge match, meaning a challenge was issued to a championship titleholder accompanied by stake money held by a third party. Lassiter's successful defense of his title at the World Pocket Billiard Challenge in 1966 against Cisero Murphy was the last title challenge in billiards. At that match Lassiter showed his talent at Cuegloss|Shark|sharking; that is, performing some act with the intent of distracting the opponent. Reportedly, Murphy was on a great and long Cuegloss|Run|run of balls. In response, Lassiter pretended to fall asleep. When Murphy noticed Lassiter sleeping he promptly missed. Lassiter, who was wide awake, jumped out of his chair and ran out the match for the win. [cite book | last = Shamos | first = Michael Ian | year = 1993 | title = The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards | publisher = Lyons & Burford | location =
New York, NY| pages = Page 46 and 183 | id = ISBN 1-55821-219-1]
After his official retirement from pool in 1975, Lassiter continued to play in some low-profile
tournaments, but due to years of hard living while on the road and marathon gambling sessions that would last into the early hours of the morning, he often was not able to play quite as well as he had in his younger days. Even so, many pool players during those years claim he was still one of the greatest players alive, and a force to be reckoned with on the pool table. Lassiter did come out of retirement, along with many other pool greats, to compete twice in "The Legendary Stars of Pocket Billiards Tournament," once in January 1982 at Harrah's Marina Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, and again in 1983, at the Claridge Hotel and Casino, also in Atlantic City. The players who competed in the 1982 tournament were Lassiter, Joe Balsis, Babe Cranfield, Jimmy Moore, U.J. Puckett, Irving Crane, Minnesota Fats, and Willie Mosconi. In 1983, the line-up was the same minus Balsis and Cranfield, and with Jimmy Carasadded. These were round-robintournaments, in which each player would be matched against the others in a single match, with each playing the same number of matches, and receiving a set number of points for each match won. Each match consisted of one seven-ballset, race to four games, one nine-ballset, race to four games, and in the event of a tie, one eight-ballset, best two out of three games. At the 1983 tournament, which was televised on the then-fledging ESPNnetwork, Luther Lassiter pitched a shutout. He won all six of his matches for 20 points each, amassing a perfect score of 120 points and the first place prize of $10,000. After Lassiter defeated Willie Mosconito put the exclamation point on the tournament, current WPA World Nine-ballChampion at the time and commentator for the match, Allen Hopkins, remarked to co-commentator Chris Berman, "This is no surprise to me; Wimpy's a great nine-ball player. I watched him play, and he looked like the young Wimpy, from years back. He played great. The way he played this tournament he could have beat anybody, including [today's players] ." After defeating U.J. Puckett earlier in the same tournament, Lassiter said in response to Berman's praise of his playing, "Well, I'm the youngest and I'm still lucky." ["The Legendary Stars of Pocket Billiards," 1982/83, Television Broadcast, ESPN network.]
Luther Lassiter spent his final days practically broke, living alone in the house of his childhood in Elizabeth City, on a pension provided by oil tycoon Walter Davis, who was a life-long friend of Lassiter's. When they were children during the
Great Depression, Lassiter would give Davis, who came from a poor farming family, a couple of dollars whenever he needed it, which often meant the difference between eating and not eating. Davis never forgot Lassiter's kindess, and repaid him by taking care of his necessities in his last years. To escape his loneliness, Lassiter would often ride his bicycle a couple of blocks away to his younger brother Clarence's and his wife, Barbara's, house, and hang out and play with their two sons.
October 25, 1988at age 69, Lassiter died of natural causes in his hometown of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He was found by his nephew next to his pool table where he had apparently been practicing. Lassiter was interred in Hollywood Memorial Park in Union County, New Jersey. [Find A Grave, Inc. (2003). [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7129436 Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter] . Retrieved December 5, 2006.] and was survived by two brothers and three sisters.
Clarence's wife, Barbara, said after his passing, "I knew two or three people in my life who I thought would go to heaven - with no doubt - and [Wimpy] was one of them. He treated everybody like they was supposed to be treated."
"I watch a man shoot pool for an hour. If he misses more than one shot I know I can beat him." [ISearchQuotations.com (2006). [http://www.isearchquotations.com/authors/luther_lassiter/page1.html Quotations for Luther Lassiter] . Retrieved December 5, 2006.] [Cyber Nation International, Inc. (1997-2003). [http://www.cybernation.com/victory/quotations/authors/quotes_lassiter_luther.html Quotations for Luther Lassiter] . Retrieved December 5, 2006.]
"Man is the strangest of all the Lord's creatures. The trouble with man is he doesn't know how to live ... I'm a pool player, so they ask me, 'Haven't you done anything with your life except shoot pool? Haven't you ever worked?' I always tell them, 'Well, no, sir, I can't say that I've ever worked.' That always gets those rascals, 'cause they always ask, 'But how have you managed to live?' Oh, Lawdie, that's so silly. I tell them, 'Sir, I live like a tree – 3 percent from the soil and 97 percent from the air.' You know, that's true." - to Tom Fox at McAnn's Saloon in
New York City, 1967, during the World 14.1 Continuous Championship, which he won after defeating Jack "Jersey Red" Breit, with a score of 150-73.
"I don't know why so many people love to play pool. Might as well ask why a hen lays eggs or a cow stands still while a farmer burglarizes her."
When another hall of famer, 'Champagne' Edwin Kelly was asked who was the toughest player he ever played against, he responded that it depended on the game but that if it was "9-ball, it would have to be Luther Lassiter...Wimpy was the best...He was the best shot-maker that I ever saw." [AzBilliards (2006). [http://www.azbilliards.com/interviews/edkelly.cfm AZbilliards interview with 'Champagne' Edwin Kelly] . Retrieved December 5, 2006.]
Lassiter authored a number of books on the sport including:
*"The Modern Guide to Pocket Billiards". Fleet Pub. Corp. (New York, 1964), ISBN 0-830-30008-2; [Amazon.com, Inc. (1996-2007). [http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NOYVS0 Modern Guide to Pocket Billiards] . Retrieved on August 12, 2007.]
*"Billiards for Everyone".
Grosset & Dunlap(New York, 1965). ISBN 0-448-01519-6. [Amazon.com, Inc. (1996-2007). [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0448015196 Billiards for Everyone] . Retrieved on August 12, 2007.]
*1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1969,
Johnston City Nine-ballChampion
*1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1969, Johnston City World All-Around Champion
*1962, 1963, 1964, 1970, 1971, Johnston City
*1969, Johnston City
*1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, World
*1971, Stardust All-around Champion
*1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, World
*1969, BCA US Open
17. "In Memory of Luther 'Wimpy' Lassiter", "The Snap", June/July 1990, p. 30
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Wimpy
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American pool player
DATE OF BIRTH=
November 13, 1913
PLACE OF BIRTH=
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
DATE OF DEATH=
October 25, 1988
PLACE OF DEATH=
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
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