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Minnesota Fats Passes Away: A Tribute to Rudolf Wanderone Jr.

A short tribute to Rudolf Wanderone Jr. (Minnesota Fats) who recently passed away at age 82. This article was originally published in the February 1996 edition of pool & billiard magazine "Players Choice", under the title "A Tribute to a Fat Man".


Minnesota Fats Passes Away: A Tribute to Rudolf Wanderone Jr.

Minnesota Fats Passes Away: A Tribute to Rudolf Wanderone Jr.

Quick ! Name a pool player!

Okay, let's see. A few fanatics named Steve Mizerak. It looks like about a fifth of you said Willie Mosconi. But the vast majority of you blurted out the name "Minnesota Fats." That should tell you the magnitude of this individual's importance to the game of pocket billiards.

We lost The Fat Man, whose real name was Rudolf Wanderone, on January 15th 1996. He died quietly at his home in Nashville, Tennessee. His wife, Theresa, said he would have been 83 on Friday. Many would disagree. There are birth records that show that he would have been 85. But wait a minute! Fats himself told everyone that he was born in 1900!

That sums up the character of this great individual. You see, Minnesota Fats wasn't the greatest pool player around, even in his prime. Heck, he might not have been in the top twenty! But he was an expert at hustling.

Take his popular moniker. Most folks believe that the book The Hustler, and the subsequent movie by the same name, were based on the exploits of this man. Well, that simply wasn't the case.

When Walter Tevis wrote the book, he based the character of Minnesota Fats on a montage of several pool sharks that he was familiar with. When the book was made into the wildly successful movie, a hustler who had come up in the fancy pool rooms of the depression, and who was known as New York Fats, took notice.

He saw an opportunity to ride the wave of pool mania (due to the movie, The Hustler) that was sweeping the country. So, he suddenly (loudly) started calling himself Minnesota Fats. Soon, he was popping up all over the world at pool exhibitions, proclaiming that the movie was a lie, that he had never lost a match for money in his life!

His popularity soared along with that of the game's. Soon, he was the most famous billiards player in the world. All this, when the name Minnesota Fats hadn't even existed three or four years earlier!

But you know what? Nobody minded. Pool needed Minnesota Fats. You see, no sport prospers unless it has a superstar. Baseball has always had plenty, which is why it continues to thrive even though the powers that be are turning it into a mockery of what it once was. Professional soccer's popularity was on a rapid rise in this country when Pele played. Look at it now. How big was hockey before Gretzky?

The game's greatest players appreciated what Fats did for them. There was no way that they could have had those huge tournament purses that suddenly became available without the help of the game's "superstar."

Fats himself wisely avoided most of these tournaments. He was happy playing in exhibitions for guaranteed money.

There was a series of matches on TV in the seventies that pitted him against Willie Mosconi. Mosconi, as you may recall, waxed The Fat Man. He handled it well, though. "I have never been beaten when there was a bet on the game!" he proclaimed. The public believed it (we wanted to, for Pete's sake!), and his popularity continued to soar.

There is also the story of how he took down a major star of the game in the sixties. This star, who shall remain nameless, had just won the title of World's Champion Straight Pool Player. He was partying in Vegas, loudly proclaiming that he wanted Fats. Fats showed up, but not until the challenger had drunk himself into a happy, but not sharp, state (Minnesota Fats neither drank nor smoked). The Fat Man proceeded to take about a thousand bucks from him. Small money, really. The champ set up another match for the next night.

The following evening, he was sober and ready when Fats sent his regrets, saying that he would not be able to make it after all. Well, the champ took it in stride, having a few drinks and getting loose. When his world started looking rosy through an alcoholic haze, Fats suddenly walked in. After a few games, he walked out with another thousand bucks or so of the champ's money.

This pattern continued for three weeks or so, with the result being that Minnesota Fats ended up hustling better than 25,000 bucks from the World's Straight Pool Champion!

There doesn't appear to be anyone on the horizon ready to take up the title of World's Greatest Pool Hustler in the same way that Minnesota Fats did. We, and pool, are going to miss you, Fats. You had a great impact on the game, and your influence will continue long after your untimely death.

Players mentioned in this news article include:

  • Title: Minnesota Fats Passes Away: A Tribute to Rudolf Wanderone Jr.
  • Author:
  • Published: 2/1/1995
  • Last Updated: 3/6/2022 7:20:54 AM
  • Last Updated By: billiardsforum (Billiards Forum)

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