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In Memory of a Legend

Sonny Springer

Sonny Springer

as told to Mike Heppe

"One time in Rex's Billiards in Memphis, in comes Earl Schriver, who promptly calls me aside with a sad tale about his wife and kid outside in the park. He didn't have a room. He wanted me to stake him playing Cleo Vaughn (Blytheville, AR) five or six no count; I forgot which; to Cleo's eight in One-pocket. Earl was real persuasive, so I staked him. We go bust. On our way back to Memphis, he convinced me that he could win. We go by a machine shop and had four slabs of iron cut to use to level up the table. In the meantime, I get the money for the venture. After Earl levels the table to his satisfaction, they begin to play. We lose several more games at two hundred dollars per pop. I had to "pull" Earl up. Earl was one of the best, however, he and others told me, that he and "Wimpy" had won some serious money playing in Norfolk just after the war. We are talking in terms of one hundred thousand dollars or more.

Later after Cleo had moved to Mobile, I went down to his poolroom where he "booked". I had been playing bar tables for two weeks in Houston, Texas. I was ten thousand winner. Back then bar tables had not been out long. You could win till you give out and I had to go to bed. Everybody bet ten or twenty, at least. Some more! There were tables in everywhere a place had a room. Any way, here I am in Cleo's place. The World Series is on. I had never bet baseball, but since I was good winner I got my feet wet until I lost seven thousand. I never won a bet. I would switch teams and whatever to change up my luck. Later, I took Ronnie Allen to Mobile to play Junior Moore some One-pocket. Junior played Ronnie eight to six. Ronnie shot one-handed; Junior didn't like it.


Sonny (seated)

Photo courtesy Mike Heppe


"Pug" Pearson, "Amarillo Slim" and "Sailor" were in Johnston City one year. They could play pretty good, but couldn't compete with any of us. They would gamble on the side and play cards. In fact, "Slim" and "Pug" went on to win the Worlds Championship Poker Tournament at Binions in Las Vegas. I remember one thing that I learned from "Slim". A penny when flipped would land on tails more than heads. This occasionally was nice to know when flipping for the break.

Several money sessions stand out in my memory. Most notably there was a two hundred per game one-pocket between "Squirrel" and Cleo Vaughn. As "Squirrel" was screwing his cue together, I asked if he wanted to give up half of the action. He said, "Sonny, I've already got someone in." I said "OK but since I am going to watch the session. How about a ten dollar "sweat" bet?" He said, "You got it!" After ten or twelve hours, Cleo quit. After they settled up, we all went to our motels. I said, "Hey Squirrel, did you forget me?" He said, "I sure did, how much do I owe you?" I said "one hundred fifty dollars!"

Another long session occurred one night when Ronnie Allen matched up with Eddie Kelly. Eddie came in 'high' after been out drinking. I bet Ronnie until Eddie played himself sober, then I switched over. Eddie ended up winning. Unusual, I win both ways!
Another high gambler was Hubert Coats "Daddy Warbucks". He didn't like to play for less than one hundred dollars per game. If he matched up, several of us enjoyed watching him use his Zippo lighter to "shark" his opponent or distract his shot by snapping the lighter to light his cigar. Apparently, he had trouble keeping his cigar lit. He was a nice man; we got along fine. He wasn't friendly with just anybody.

Gordon Hart had his display of Viking Cues in the tournament area at the Stardust Casino. On a nearby table, two of the "big wheels" were playing nine-ball at one thousand dollars per game. Neither man could run three balls, but it was interesting because they were playing so high. One of them was using my Viking cue. Nancy (Gordon's wife) and I went to supper on her American Express Card. I was broke. (picture enclosed). When we returned, the match was just over. The guy, who borrowed my cue, returned it with a one hundred dollar bill. For those who don't know Gordon and Nancy Hart, they own Viking Cue Company.
After the 30 days at the tournament, most of us were broke. I know I was but one of the hustlers promised me ten thousand dollars if I would return to Los Angeles with him for thirty days. After playing one week, I returned home with three thousand dollars.

At the Jansco's World All Around Tournament of 1967, I came in ninth place in Nineball and seventeenth place in One-pocket. After the first night’s play, the local news coverage the next day said "The major upset of the night was fashioned by Sonny Springer, who beat Eddie "The Nashville Bear" Taylor - 4 to 2." Taylor was known as one of, if not, the best ever one-pocket players. At Jansco's Starburst Tournament, I did just the opposite. I placed seventeenth place in Nineball and ninth place in One-pocket. Prior to Jansco's Tournament, I have only participated in only three tournaments. I won the Mississippi State Championship, fourth place at Columbus Georgia One-pocket, and fifteenth place at National in St. Louis Straight Pool.
It was in the Georgia Tournament, that the Mayor and his party came down to see "Fats" play. It so happened "Fats" and I was playing in the quarter finals. "Fats" eliminated me. The Mayor gave each of us a miniature key to the city. Nice!

Later I played "Fats" all night for four hundred dollars per game at Richard Austin's Place in Memphis. I win four games. "Fats" quit because the sun was coming in on the tables the next morning. Later Richard was indicted and convicted of hiring a man to kill a "snitch" because of the gambling. Today Richard is still the longest man on death row in Nashville. The guy who did the killing didn't do much time. A real likeable top player, "St Louis Louie" was the house pro there for a while.

The year Richie Florence put on his tournament in Lake Tahoe, I'll never forget. I bought a pair of alligator boots and belt to match. I gambled all day and night. When I went to my room, I couldn't get my boots off! I went back down to the lobby and gave the first person I saw fifty dollars to come to my room and pull my boots off for me.

At present, I am the rightful age of ____years, married to Ursula for _____years. Tammy and Tommie, daughter and son. I live in a small town, Mantee Mississippi. Couple of stores, a bank, and a used-car lot owned by me for over twenty-five years makes up a comfortable simple life 'down' here." would like to thank Mike Heppe for submitting the above article

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