'em up with
Leonard 'Bugs' Rucker, Part 1
Ranked right up there with Eddie Taylor as a banking genius, 'Bugs' was also a dominant after hours One Pocket player. He was honored in January as part of the first class of inductees into the One Pocket Hall of Fame. In recent years Bugs has been suffering from the progression of diabetes, which limits his activity. This interview includes major contributions from fellow Chicagoans John Henry, Sylvester Duncan, Glenn Rogers and Freddy Bentivegna -- all regular companions and competitors who know'Bugs' very well.
© 2005 Steve Booth, OnePocket.org
1P: So, John Henry here took you on your first road trip?
1P: How old were you at that time?
Bugs: About seventeen or eighteen.
1P: So you were already a strong player by then?
Bugs: Yeah I was almost a champion at seventeen or eighteen.
1P: How did you get to be so good, so young?
Bugs: Well, my uncle had a poolroom, but I wasn’t old enough to get in it. I used to slip in there when there wasn’t nobody there, and he let me hit some balls around. Then I got interested and started playing, and I came up around good players.
1P: When were you born, Bugs?
Bugs: August 18th, 1938, that means I’m 66.
John Henry (JH): I didn’t really tell him about the road trip when we went to Baltimore…
Bugs: I didn’t even know I was going! I was like seventeen, and I’m scared to death; I had never been out of town. I said, ‘Where are we going?’ And John Henry said, ‘We’re going home.’ Then we passed a sign for Ohio, and I said, ‘This ain’t the way home!’ And he says, ‘We’re going home; we’re just going to make some stops first.’
JH: You were on the road and you beat everybody.
Bugs: Once I started playing I forgot all about that I was away from home; I beat on people pretty good. I didn’t lose a session.
JH: We went to Philadelphia, he beat a guy named Joe DiMaggio. He beat him 15 straight games. We went to Atlantic City, he beat Atlantic City Herb 14 straight games.
Bugs: I won all the pennies and everything.
JH: We went all over Atlantic City and he never lost one game. He beat guys from 12 to 13 to 18 straight games and he never lost hardly a game all while we were on the road.
Bugs: If you asked me how I did that, I could never tell you how I did that. I never lost a game. I think I lost one game. You remember Chick beat me my first game and I was mad because he wouldn’t raise the bet.
JH: Yeah, some guy named Chick beat him. We went to St. Louis; we went all over.
Bugs: Now he’s got me on the road.
JH: Yeah, me and Paul Jones. We went everywhere.
Bugs: Yeah, the first guys who ever took me out of town.
JH: But he was so easy to get along with. There was one night me and Paul were arguing all the time and I said, ‘Aren’t I right, Bugs?’ and Bugs said, ‘Yeah, man.’ And Paul said, ‘Aren’t I right, Bugs?’ and Bugs said, ‘Both you all are right.’
Bugs: You were arguing so much, I couldn’t keep up.
1P: You were just listening in the back seat?
Bugs: That’s right, I got tired of you all arguing, but they never did shut up. All the way to Baltimore from Florida to Chicago and they’d ask me, ‘Tell him, Bugs.’ and I’d just say, ‘That’s right.’
JH: He saved my life and probably his own life. He was playing a set with Eddie Taylor. You heard of Eddie Taylor, right?
1P: Oh yeah.
JH: Well he and Eddie were playing 8 to 7 one-pocket. They were playing a race to three and Eddie had him two games to one, and a big lead in the fourth game. Eddie had every ball near his pocket but two balls. The guy that was backing Bugs was a gangster that had two guns; he had killed a man before. Anyway, Bugs got ready to shoot, and he grabbed Bugs’ stick and said, ‘What you going to do?’ Bugs said, ‘I’m going to shoot.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not. I want you to try to play safe.’ Bugs said, ‘I can’t play safe; can’t you understand, there is no way to play safe.’ And the man says, ‘I don’t care what you do; I don’t care if you lose but don’t shoot at this ball; you’ve got to play safe.’ Bugs tried to explain to the man that he has to shoot at this ball.
Bugs: Man, that was a tough shot!
JH: You had to kiss off a ball. If you don’t make that shot, this guy…
Bugs: He might have shot me.
JH: He might have taken Bugs out.
Bugs: Because he had told me up front, he told me not to shoot that ball.
JH: The man said, ‘Look, whatever you do, do not shoot that ball.’ But Bugs says, ‘Look, I got to shoot.’
Bugs: I got to shoot at the ball!
Bugs at the Derby City Classic 2005
with player Darrell Abernathy;
that's John Henry in the center background
JH: Bugs shot the ball and kissed it off another ball into the pocket and went seven and out. That made Bugs tied two games apiece. The next game Bugs broke the balls and made a ball on the break and ran out. So Bugs won the match. This guy that was watching, he had a $20,000 watch, he took it off and gave it Bugs.
Bugs: You know, he was going to buy me the Lincoln Continental; that was when it came out in 1969.
JH: Eddie Taylor called him the greatest player in the world.
(continued with John Henry)
1P: So you took Bugs on the road a few times?
JH: For 30 years I took him on the road. I had a poolroom; a guy named Bob Jones owned it and he and his wife gave it to me to run because he was out of town working on a train. So I took care of the poolroom and hired people. Then when we got ready we’d go on the road. Me, Bugs and a guy named Chicago Paul.
1P: Oh I remember Paul; I played him once when I went to Chicago.
JH: That was Paul Jones. Bugs was my hero. He was the greatest player I’ve ever seen. The reason I say that, when there was somebody in a town that nobody could beat, we’d take Bugs and nobody could beat him. I never saw Bugs cry about a table and he would always just go to the rack and pick out a stick; he was a champion that never owned a cue stick.
He’d come in here; he’d shoot with this stick. He’d come in tomorrow, shoot with that stick. He doesn’t care about no stick and no table. He’d just go to the rack and get a stick. In my book, I don’t understand why there is no picture of him.
When he couldn’t get in the tournaments, he started playing people for money. He went to New York and played Johnny Ervolino; he won $80,000. He turned around and went to Florida and played Sam Blumenthal and he won $70,000. He played Squirrel and beat him by a lot. He was the only guy around. He got so he didn’t want to play in the tournaments. He said, ‘I don’t want to play no sociable event.’ He got to not be a tournament player. He never played in no tournament. He was just a pool player.
The only time he’d go to a tournament was to gamble. He’d go up to the guy that just won the tournament and say, ‘I’ll give you a ball if you want to play.’ Larry Johnson won the one-pocket tournament in Johnston City and he give him a ball.
1P: But when you brought Bugs down to Johnston City for the first few years they wouldn’t let him play in the torunament?
JH: When all these guys came down, they wouldn’t let none of the black guys play.
1P: Like Marvin Henderson?
JH: And Cannonball from Chicago; he tried to play. Youngblood, he’s a great player from Chicago and they wouldn’t let him play. Cicero Murphy, they wouldn’t let him play. The guy from New York, James Evans, came down the first year they had it and he wanted to play. They told him he could play, he was real light skinned, if he would sign his name like he was Italian. But he said, ‘If I can’t play as a black guy, I won’t play.’ He went back to New York. He wouldn’t play. Him and Marvin were both light skinned, but they wouldn’t do that to play.
1P: I think I heard that story before but I didn’t realize it happened in Johnston City, I thought it was in the World Straight Pool Tournaments.
JH: At that time the World Tournament was Johnston City. That’s why Cicero [Murphy] went in the Hall of Fame, because he was the first black guy to win a major tournament. That was something like 1967, the first time they let a black guy play.
John 'Cannonball' Chapman
Photo courtesy Ken Cook
1P: Well, it seems like the BCA painted themselves in a corner because they only recognize the tournament winners, yet they wouldn’t let the black guys play for all those years!
JH: I know in 1963 when Kennedy got killed and they passed the Civil Rights Bill where anybody could play anywhere, I remember we were down there and tried to play. The Jansco Brothers got a hat and went around to all the players and they had to decide, do you want them to play. It wound up more votes for no than yes. And we didn’t get to play in 1964. We didn’t get to play in 1964, 1965, 1966 and then in 1967 they finally let a black guy play. They let Cicero play. And Cicero played Irving Crane in the finals and wound up winning. Did you ever see Bugs play?
1P: I saw him once in Washington, D.C. when he played in Strawberry’s Tournament. I also watched Bugs and Grady play a little after hours, too.
JH: That was the only time I ever knew Bugs to quit playing pool for money. He played Grady for so many years. I was there that night. That was in ’92 or ’93 or something like that. Bugs had stayed up all night and after three days he played Grady and he just completely quit because he couldn’t walk around the table. In Detroit he beat Grady. He offered him a ball, but Grady said he wouldn’t take the ball. He says, ‘I’m the best player in the world; I cannot take a ball. Even if I know I can win $20,000 off you I wouldn’t take a ball.’
You had guys like Joey Spaeth, a great shooter and nine-ball player. Jersey Red, he was a good player. They could out shoot Bugs, but they couldn’t beat him because he made all of those banks.
Another thing was he was the best guy I ever seen shoot off the rail. He could shoot from rail to rail better than anybody; that helped him out. He made all kinds of banks and long shots off the rail. He wasn’t so talented or smarter than the rest of the people but when his time came to play or shoot he was the most dangerous player that I’ve seen play the game.
1P: So he had a killer instinct? He would make those shots that if you make it, you can win the game, but if you miss it, you lose?
JH: Bugs was the most deadly shooter for the money and the bigger the bet got up there, the better he was. He was the greatest money player I’ve ever seen in my life.
If we had $1,000 when we’d go hustling, the first thing Bugs would do is put up $1,000. If we won he’d say, ‘Do you want to bet $2,000?’ We were in Johnston City when he played Fats. We had $1,100. He played Fats a set of banks for a $1,000. So he beat Fats the set of banks and then he played him ten-eight for $2,000. So he winds up winning the $2,000. Now we got $4,100. So Fats said, ‘I’m not going to play anymore banks.’ So Bugs said, ‘I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to throw these balls [the cue ball and one object ball] on the table and wherever they stop I’ll bet you $4,000 I bank it.’
1P: He would bet the whole $4,000 on one bank shot?
JH: At first nobody would bet, but then he threw the balls on the table and when they stopped it was in such a bad spot that now everybody jumped up and wanted to get in. They said, ‘You said wherever those balls stop?’ So Bugs says, ‘That’s what I said.’ So now everybody wanted to bet! So Bugs got down and made the ball straight back for the $4,000. He had more heart than all these guys playing pool. He’s my hero. He’s part of me.
He had no friends; he never really had a friend. I took him on the road all my life. I ran the poolroom and we played 1000 times. He always gave me the hit and a pick. The only reason we quit gambling was a man came in one time to shoot me because he found out that me and Bugs was the best of friends and he had staked Bugs playing me, two hit and the pick. But when Bugs was playing good, I don’t care what he was playing because you can’t beat him because he gets out every time you make a mistake. But somebody told the guy staking Bugs, ‘You can’t do that; they’re the best of friends. He takes him on the road wherever he goes.’
1P: Did Bugs learn from being around Marvin Henderson?
JH: No, he never knew Marvin. It was a guy named Youngblood; he was the greatest bank player that I’ve ever seen play the game. You’ve heard of Eddie Taylor?
JH: He’d be there with Eddie Taylor at his home trying to beat him. Youngblood was the greatest bank player. Have you heard of him?
1P: I’ve heard the name. That’s his nickname; what was his real name?
JH: His name was, I’ll think of it in one minute. [later recalled as Javanly Washington]
Javanly Washington at Johnston City in the fall of 1962
Detail of drawing from Sports Illustrated Feb 25, 1963
He got a little nutty and went to the nuthouse. One time he escaped and he stayed out four years before they caught him, so when he went to court the judge said, ‘If you had enough sense to duck the police for four years we’ll turn you free.’
He was the greatest of all the players when Bugs came up around here, and he taught Bugs to play bank. Even when Bugs was a champion going around the country playing, Youngblood gave him ten-eight. He did that for like ten years. I remember one day finally Bugs beat him playing ten-eight, and Youngblood quit. I said, ‘Bugs, the guy’s been spotting you for so long, why don’t you play him even?’ Youngblood said, ‘I’m not going to play him even; if he wants to play me he’s got to give me ten-eight for ten years.’
I remember when Mosconi was doing his $100,000 tour thing. When he came to town they wanted somebody to put on an exhibition with Mosconi, so one time they picked Youngblood. He went down there and anybody that beat Mosconi got a pool stick, about a $300 pool stick. So Youngblood went down to play him. They played nine-ball; Mosconi won. They played banks; Youngblood won. They played straight pool; Youngblood broke the balls and Mosconi ran 150 and out. So now Youngblood went up to get the stick and they said, ‘Look, you didn’t win the stick.’ They said, ‘You had to beat Mosconi playing straight pool.’ Now who could beat Mosconi playing straight pool? Youngblood said, ‘That ain’t what you told me. You said if you beat Mosconi, you got the pool stick and I did beat him. Not only did I beat him but if he wants to bet something and play banks, I will play him. I did beat him and I will beat him.’
He was a great player. All the great players came to Chicago. ‘Blood played all the good players in the early 50’s, up in to the 60’s. About 1964 Bugs was a good player. But Youngblood was older than him. He came up in the early ‘50’s. Bugs is younger than I am. I’m 75, Bugs is 67, and Youngblood is like 87.
1P: Is he still living?
JH: Yeah, he’s in the home. I talked to him for about 20 minutes before he knew who I was. He said, ‘Do you know Paul Jones is dead?’ Paul Jones had been dead for many, many years! Paul and Youngblood were best friends. Everything ‘Blood do, Paul tried to do. Youngblood was Paul’s hero.
1P: So what kind of style of one-pocket would he play?
JH: He was a shoot-out. He was the greatest shooter that I’ve seen play the game of pool. What Bugs could do with one shot. He wasn’t like a man named Joey Spaeth or Jersey Red. They knew Clem [Eugene Metz]. They know everything about the table. But they never could beat Bugs because Bugs could get out from different places they couldn’t get out from. Bugs would make that bank. He could cut that ball. He could shoot from the rail better than anyone I’ve ever seen.
1P: You’re talking about Bugs or Youngblood?
JH: I mean Bugs, but he learned all this stuff from Blood. See Blood was Bugs hero. You ask him about Blood, I bet you he’ll say that. He was always scared of Blood. When he played Blood he was scared of him. Blood was like his hero. But from playing Blood, Bugs became the greatest player who played the game. Bugs started playing maybe 30 years after Blood and Bugs started getting better and better. So Bugs maybe became a better champion than Blood was. Bugs he don’t talk that much. You ask him a few things about Youngblood.
That’s the story on Bugs. He went all over the country playing everybody that played pool.
(continued with Sylvester Duncan)
Sylvester Duncan ( SD): I know Bugs from – over 30 something years. I followed him to Johnston City, I followed him to Dayton when he was playing in the 70’s. He played one-pocket about as good as anybody. Those two games, bank and one-pocket, I don’t think anybody ever played those two games better than he did.
I was there when he played Boston Shorty. Boston Shorty said, ‘How can you play me?’ Bugs said, ‘I can give you 9 to 8.’ Boston Shorty said, ‘Well you know I’m short; I have to get up on the table and play.’ Bugs said, ‘You can get yourself an arm up there Shorty!’ So to make a long story short he beat him like five games in a row real quick.
In Dayton he played Joey Spaeth. Joey Spaeth said Bugs can always throw that bank at him and shoot him some balls off. At time that the shark movie was out – they are talking about the shark in the ocean, you know the big white shark. Joey says, ‘Look at this; this is what you call baiting the hook. Bugs banked that ball and grabbed me and snatched me on the hook like that Jaws!’
He played a guy named Geese; he gave him 9 to 7. I used to go to school with Geese and I thought he was one of the best one-pocket players I’ve seen and Bugs gave him 9 to 7!
The last person he beat was Jersey Red. After Bugs beat him Ronnie Allen came in and Jersey Red told him, ‘Ronnie, you might as well go ahead and play him; he beat all of us.’ He beat like five different players.
Bugs said, ‘I’ll take 8 to 7 from you Ronnie.’ But Ronnie said, ‘You’ve already beaten me out of $30,000 that way. I can’t give you no spot.’ So he didn’t play Ronnie then. But when they played in Detroit that was some of the best one-pocket playing you would ever see. I think Ronnie Allen beat him – they were playing a race to five. I think Jones had Bugs staked. The first set Ronnie beat him in like 30 minutes. He made everything he shot at.
Johnny Ervolino and
Benny 'Goose' Conway
These two photos courtesy Mark Griffin
So now Bugs is down $25,000 from the first set and Jones says, ‘Play him another set Bugs, you didn’t get a chance to shoot that game.’ So anyway Ronnie beat him four in row the next set, but then he broke the balls and scratched in the fifth game. Bugs says, ‘My shot right?’ I think this is one reason why Bugs got diabetes now. He put that cue on the table, went in the men’s room, and pulled out one of those big bottles of Robitussin AC and came back with the stuff still on his mouth. He says, ‘It’s my shot, right?’ Then he beat Ronnie nine in a row. He erased that first four and beat him five more, so he won that set.
SD: So Ronnie says, ‘What the hell happened? I was running balls and all of a sudden it’s like I got hit by a bus.’ Then he says, ‘What’s that stuff on your mouth, Bugs?’ And Bugs says, ‘Even Popeye’s got to have his spinach.’
Weenie Beenie and Ronnie Allen with Bugs
at their One Pocket HOF induction
So Bugs told him, ‘Look, you won the first set and I won the second set; we should play the next one for $30,000.’ He didn’t even ask Jones but Jones says, ‘Yeah, I’ll go for that.’ And Ronnie Allen says, ‘You just got done beating the best one-pocket player of the last 35 years nine games straight, and you’re looking for more action?’ And they didn’t go back then. But in Austin they played again and Bugs says, ‘You’re not going to have it your way this time, Ronnie. We’re going to play four out of seven.’ So Bugs beat him three sets of $20,000.
1P: And this was playing even?
SD: So the next time I saw Ronnie it was at Strawberry’s Tournament and Ronnie saw me and he said, ‘What room is Bugs in?’ So I told him, ‘He’s in room 275.’ And he says, ‘Tell Bugs if he gives me 8 to 7, I’ll play him for $25,000.’ I hurried up and knocked on the door and told Bugs, ‘Ronnie said if you give him 8 to 7, he said he’ll play you for $25,000.’ Bugs had his pajamas on but he got his cue. I said, ‘Bugs, aren’t you at least going to put you’re pants on?’ He was in such a rush to play. Anyway, when we got down there to the poolroom they had thought better of it. They remembered what had happened in Austin, Texas and said never mind.
1P: So they backed off?
SD: Yeah. But Bugs played some of the best one-pocket in Detroit. I’d say of all the players in those two games, one-pocket and bank, he’s probably the best player playing those two games. Of course you don’t know about Youngblood, he was one of the best bank players.
1P: I heard that he was the guy that Bugs learned from.
SD: Yeah. He learned a lot from Blood.
1P: And he’s still alive?
SD: Yeah, he’s 84.
1P: But not well?
SD: He’s in a hospital. I stayed there a whole day at the park and I never got a chance to see him. But Bugs was just a very colorful player. He played his best game in the ‘70’s. He played one-pocket jam up and of course, he turned out to be one of best bank pool players of all times.
1P: He kind of took that over from Eddie Taylor. It was Eddie Taylor then it was Bugs.
SD: And Youngblood. Blood played Taylor at a time when Taylor was banking a lot of balls. See Blood would never miss a ball. He would break the balls and tell the guy he’s playing, ‘When a ball fall, you know I’m out.’ They don’t want to hear that. So Bugs learned a lot from him and he learned a lot from a guy named Hank Montague. A lot of people don’t know about him.
1P: No, I never heard of him.
SD: He helped make Bugs a champion because he made Bugs come off the rail a lot. He taught Bugs to shoot off the rail.
1P: Because he would always leave him on the rail?
SD: Nobody would ever want to play Hank because he would keep the balls froze. Or you would have to take a scratch.
1P: I know Freddy talks about the Chicago style of One Pocket and part of that is you’re always up against the stack.
1P: Was he one of the guys who developed that style?
SD: I’d say Hank and a guy named Artie. They played the same way. That’s how Freddy learned. He learned from a guy named Artie Bodendorfer and that’s how Bugs learned to come out from that groove when you’re on the rail and everything. If he’s shooting off the rail, you’re not safe when you’re playing Bugs.
1P: Did Artie and Bugs play?
SD: They played a lot. Artie always got 9 to 8 from Bugs. Artie told me that the last time they played he was two games up on Bugs and Bugs won the next three games and Artie quit. He said that bank always saved him out of a lot of stuff.
1P: And I guess he used banks a lot when he was running the balls. Other people play more of a straight pool pattern, but in Bugs’ patterns, bank shots are part of the patterns.
SD: You’re exactly right.
Bugs, the original owner of Chris' Billiards, and 'Tough Tony'
Photo courtesy Bruce Perry
1P: From pretty much anywhere.
SD: Some of the best one-pocket that I’ve seen in Chicago was when Bugs played Efren Reyes. That was some of the best, because they both shoot out a lot.
1P: Was that when Efren first came over in about ’86 or something?
SD: No, this was like in the 90’s when Efren was playing real good.
1P: Okay, so Efren had already learned how to play One Pocket.
SD: Yeah, he knew how to play. He learned under Freddy. Freddy used to try to give him a ball and after a little while Efren was giving him a ball. I used to ask him who the toughest players were and he put Bugs over all of them because he said Bugs does stuff with more common sense. He can bank balls to his side of the table killing the cue ball on the rail. He does a lot of common sense things that none of the other players do playing One Pocket. And of course that bank is so strong in that game. But Efren is just a kick artist so it didn’t make a difference! But Bugs told me if he caught him in his prime when he was young, he said I don’t think he would have got me. When Bugs was in his prime he was like a machine.
1P: It got to the point where it was hard for him to get a game, wasn’t it?
1P: Is that why he laid off now and then?
SD: Right. Well, he always seemed to have to give a spot up. When he gave a spot up in Chicago, he always gave one hit and the pick. So when he got out playing the champions, he shot out from everywhere.
1P: I’ve heard Grady said that he’s the best at coming out of the break of anybody that he’s ever seen in one-pocket.
SD: He’s never in a fix where he can’t get out of. Sometimes he banks a ball into the stack and makes balls shoot out. He always gives himself a chance to get out, be offensive, you know. It was a pleasure watching him all of these years.
1P: He went to the first Johnson City when all it was just One Pocket?
SD: Yes. It was One Pocket but he was mostly playing bank then. He didn’t really play one-pocket until later on. I’ll tell you how he learned to play One Pocket -- by playing Joey Spaeth a lot. Joey Spaeth spotted him in One Pocket and Bugs was giving him a spot in bank to even it off. Pretty soon it got to the point where he’s playing One Pocket, jam up.
1P: So that was in the 60’s?
SD: Right. But in the 70’s, that was his best years. He was just unbeatable.
1P: So like Eddie Taylor, he played banks before he switched over.
SD: In the beginning, banks was his road game. But now in the 70’s One Pocket started to be his road game. That was his bread and butter because he banked so good. That helps your One Pocket game when you bank that good.
1P: Because the balls on the other guy’s side of the table become your balls.
SD: Exactly. I heard Jose Parica say that Bugs is one of the most aggressive players he’d ever seen. Well, he can afford to be aggressive because he’s always shooting at his pocket, giving himself an edge.
1P: John Henry was saying that for a while Bugs had a bet where he would throw out the cue ball and one object ball and he’d bet all the money that he’d bank the ball.
SD: Right. He learned a lot of banks from Blood. He learned a lot from the great pool players in Chicago. We had a lot of good ones there. With Bugs, he always had an advantage over Blood and Hank because he was younger than they were and he was coming up. He knew he had to beat those people and go out on the road and beat other people. He learned a little bit from all of them. That’s what made him a great player.
1P: I understand that even though Bugs is a big guy he wasn’t intimidating in his demeanor.
SD: Right. Guys were intimidated by the way he would get out. The reason why they called him Bugs is he would get down and he’s always looking at all the angles. He had a unique style where he would get down under the stick and he could see the shots, as opposed to Eddie Taylor who’s kind of like a stand-up. He knew where to hit the balls. He could make it with any shot. It was a pleasure knowing him, watching him play.
(continued with Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna and Glenn ‘Piggy Banks’ Rogers)
1P: You guys were both around Bugs for years…
Freddy Bentivegna (FB): Bugs was like Eddie Taylor; he just played with any stick off the wall. When he got a game, he’d just reach over and grab whatever his hand landed on. One time Bugs was playing and one of the sticks was broke or something so he went and grabbed another stick and he took about three or four shots before he realized it didn’t even have a tip!
Glenn Rogers (GR): He had an effect on people, intimidating in his own way. One time, he was playing one of the great pool players in New York somewhere. And the guy was beating Bugs real bad, had Bugs down to his last money. So Alfonso says, ‘Well, we’re going to have to walk home; we don’t have any money nowhere.’ So he made a phone call back to Chicago and called Billy Cardone [Incardona] and said, ‘Hey, Billy will you tell this guy who he’s playing.’ Once the guy found out who he was playing, Bugs beat him about 20 straight games. Now, he’s ruthless like that.
FB: Alfonso tells the story about when Bugs was playing Mizerak in Mizerak’s basement on his own table, and they were giving Mizerak 8 to 7. And he’s robbing him. So Mizerak says, ‘You got to give me 9 to 7.’ Mizerak, the world champion, wants 9 to 7, which is ridiculous! So Bugs says, ‘You got it.’ Alfonso is with him and he says, ‘You can’t give him that, Bugs,’ because he knows Mizerak. He says, ‘Are you kidding me or what? Play him 9 to 7 on his home table!?’ Bugs said, ‘The man is dead.’
But Bugs could do that, and would do it. He was a good hustler. He’d beat guys with incredible spots. The fact that you had the nuts didn’t make no difference! When he caught you starting to go bad, starting to tremble and shake and maybe you might say, ‘Give me another ball,’ he’d give it to you, but not the next time you played. But when he had you on the run he’d keep on pounding you until you were broke; he’d just apply the pressure and keep hammering you. He could do terrible, terrible things.
1P: I never heard that about Bugs.
GR: He had the psychology. Like you, Freddy. For years I learned from you; I always looked up to your game. They used to call you Hippy Freddy. Do you remember that, Fred? Back when you had the long beard. A friend of mine named Apple, he’s dead, he told me, ‘You can beat that guy.’ He always believed I could beat you. So Freddy said, ‘Okay I’ll play you, son, for $30 a game or $40 a game.’ I was the most nervous person in the world being on the hill against Freddy because he’s going to find a way to squeeze you off the hill. I was confident with four balls but when I get on the hill I was frightened.
1P: And that’s the kind of thing that Bugs would take advantage of?
FB: Bugs could smell fear. And he was the greatest recovery man I’ve ever seen – because Bugs had a couple of different speeds. He could look pitiful; so pitiful that you’d feel bad. I played him enough times where I would be playing him and I’d say ‘I feel ashamed for this guy, I’m beating him so bad.’ And then I would just show a little tiny bit of mercy instead of putting him away, and oh boy, he would turn it around and come back to life; a complete utter reversal and break me. There’d be no mercy for me! He showed me no mercy. So I had to really be careful playing him. I saw him do it to a lot of guys. Guys he played the first time maybe. They’d say, ‘This is the guy they say is Bugs? He can’t play!’ He was missing balls and struggling and dogging it. So they might let up just a hair or cabaret just a hair and give him one chance they shouldn’t have given him, miss one game ball or something.
Glenn 'Piggy Banks' Rogers, Bugs and Marco Marquez
Photo courtesy Diana Hoppe
And the thing about Bugs, the most important thing, Bugs used to get all the way out. That’s the key. He’d make that super phenomenal shot, an unbelievable trick shot, but then he would get out. He’d get all the way out. You could put the balls underneath the table, he would get out, all the way; I’ve seen him do it over and over.
He did it to me. He put an out on me. I’m playing him at the Four Bees Club and the situation is impossible to get out. I put the balls there, because I know who I’m playing and I know I’m going to make it real hard. The balls look impossible because there’s four balls on the table. No, actually there were three balls on the table. I’m playing safe, and if you saw the lay out, what I’m trying to do to keep him from having, you wouldn’t even believe it. You’d say, ‘What, are you kidding; you don’t want him to have that?’ No, I didn’t want him to have that. I shot a ball on my side. I’m trying to put the cue ball on the rail and it didn’t quite get there. And it got in the position and you say so what. When I saw that position, I said, ‘That’s it, I’m dead.’ There’s the table. There’s a ball over here just a little bit out of the pocket. There’s a ball on the rail about a diamond and a half up from the pocket. I got a ball in front of my pocket about half a diamond up and the cue ball is like here. So what did you do? So I know I’m dead when I see it. I know this is not good. Here’s what he plays. Cross corner, the cue ball goes one, two, three, four lays on the back rail, cross corner. Now, still this ball over here is only, this is the pocket, it’s only like this. And so he drags the cue ball up the rail. The shot is still a three to one shot, but I knew it was gone. I knew once he did the first shot, the rest of it is just history. Sure enough, bing it goes in. I knew I was a dead goose. You just couldn’t give him no chances where he can see all the way out.
Part 2 can be found here
Photos by Steve Booth (except where noted); all rights reserved.
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