Zany, dauntless, and flashy, Minnesota Fats is considered one of the greatest pool legends of all time.
Born Rudolf Wanderone on January 19, 1913, it didn’t take this ace pool player a lifetime to earn his reputation. By the age of thirteen he defeated the former nine-ball champion, “Cowboy” Weston. Soon after, he also managed to defeat another exceptional opponent “Smart Henry”, giving Wanderone his first nickname, Double-Smart.
However, Wanderone wasn’t a one-name kind of man. Amongst many other nicknames like: New York Fats, Triple Smart Fats, Broadway Fats, and Chicago Fats; the nickname that stuck the best was Minnesota Fats. Wanderone got this new name from the movie, The Hustler, insisting that Jackie Gleason’s character, Minnesota Fats, was based off of him. Although the author of the book denied any intentional resemblance between Wanderone and his character, Wanderone took on the new identity he believed rightfully belonged to him.
Most people refer to Minnesota Fats as a professional hustler, but he thought otherwise. In an interview the legend explains his logic. “I was never a hustler. See, a hustler tries to make proposition. Me, I always play the top-notch player, anything he wants to play. That’s not hustling.”
It’s clear that he was anything but modest. Wanderone proved to be the Muhammad Ali of pool, boastful and confident in his ability to defeat any worthy opponent. In the same interview as the quote above, Wanderone confidently claims, “See, I can really play. I can play whenever I want to on any kind of equipment. I wouldn’t care if the pool table had humps in it or no rails.” Wanderone also strongly believed that he was truly irresistible amongst the people. “Call anywhere on Earth, anywhere I been. They all want me back. Wanna know why? Because I’m 100% pure.”
But not everyone was enchanted by his bold banter. Wanderone was known for having a visible rivalry with the illustrious Willie Mosconi. Mosconi scorned Wanderone’s rough-and-tumble attitude towards the artistic aspect of pool. And although Wanderone was defeated numerous times by his life long competitor, he still managed to always please the crowds and get under Mosconi’s skin.
Minnesota Fats was never the champion of an official pool tournament and he didn’t hold titles that would set impossible goals for the next pool playing generation. So why is this man considered one of the greatest pool players of all time? Not only was he a skilled pool player, he was a fantastic showman, providing entertainment for all of those that watched and loved him. His colorful and pure way of playing the game captured the attention of millions, contributing to making pool what it is today.
FUN FACT: He is rummored to be the father of Grammy Award winning recording artist, Etta James