Pool Hall of Fame Inductee: Minnesota Fats

Minnesota Fats, aka "Rudolph Wanderone", "New York Fats", "The Fat One"

minnesota fats, walter wanderone, pocket billiards, pool biography, pool history, pool stories, pool achievements, pool records, pool cover story
Minnesota Fars, aka "The Fat One". Photo (c) BilliardsExpert.com

Name and Legend:

Rudolph Luther "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, Jr., a.k.a. "New York Fats"; "Fatty", "The Bank Shot Bandit", "The Fat One", "Triple Smart", "Dean of the Green", "Double Smart Fats", a.k.a. (??). A hustler of many names, Fats was an excellent pool player, though his skills did not qualify him as among the very best. His claim to fame was as a huckster and showman, earning him appearances on international television and in the Billiards Congress of America's Pool Hall of Fame for "Meritorious Service".

Date Of Birth:

Fats was born in 1913 in Washington Heights, a section of New York City, though he never revealed his age when asked. He simply delivered classic Minnesota Fats pool.

Early Years

Born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Swiss immigrants, "Fats" hung around pool halls before traveling cross country as a pool hustler. To his credit, the "Fat One" was ever a consummate showman and pool shooter, even into his golden years. He would challenge entire poolrooms, inviting the audience to take his side for a bet, asking, "Can you believe how so-and-so wants to hustle me?"

To get a tight lock on his opponents, Fats always cried for mercy from his victims before hustling all their cash. He liked to insure his money with a large spot, even from the biggest fish in the pond.

One of the Most Colorful Figures of Any Sport!

Fats died the day before his birthday in Nashville, Tennesse, of congestive heart failure, and left the world a superstar as he spent most of his tragicomic life. A longtime Nashville resident, Fats enjoyed visiting country music nightclubs where bands introduced him nightly, leaving him besieged by admirers.

Never winning a world championship, Wanderone was Pool's top orator, comic, and publicity machine.

A Legend in His Own Mind?

I'll set the record straight here. Minnesota Fats, the self-anointed "greatest pool shooter of all time" would need to move to the rear of a long line of colleagues to contend for that title. His tarnished record was not helped by allegations that "Minnesota" found his nickname after it hit bookstands as the late Walter Tevis's fictional creation.

Tevis envisioned a king of the gamblers called "Minnesota Fats" in his novel The Hustler. In his defense, Fats said Tevis stole the character of Minnesota from his own eventful career as "New York Fats".

A Life of Legal Larceny

In the late 1950's, Fats settled down in Dowell, Illinois, near the site of the infamous Johnston City hustlers' tournaments of the '60s. Propelled by publicity he generated following the success of the movie, The Hustler, Fats hosted a television show, "Minnesota Fats Hustles the Stars" where he challenged Hollywood figures such as Zsa Zsa Gabor to games of pool (and talked incessantly to distract them if they started to defeat him!).

Fats quit playing in tournaments around that time and hustled pool plus made personal appearances at pool related events. He was inducted into Pool's Hall of Fame in 1984.

Not The Best, But He Certainly Could Shoot

Rumors say even young Willie Mosconi dropped tons of green to Fats in one pocket battles in New Jersey. Mosconi studied firsthand Fats' astonishing control that made him a One Pocket genius. Fats loved to shoot the intricate bank shots in the arsenal of the One Pocket maestro.

Fats' career was ever interwoven with that of Mosconi, technical advisor on the set of The Hustler, who called Fats' many bluffs when the two pool titans paired off in a series of matches on ABC's Wide World of Sports in the 1970s.

Mosconi beat Fats like a drum, though Fats typically won the battle of wits and style, becoming a household name.

The Mouth of the South

Fats milked well his skills with gab and his cue. He claimed to have won two thousand dollars (when that was big money!) on a bet he couldn't make a cue ball stop upon a single strand of human hair. He made it on his second of three chances at the cross corner shot.

Style, Start to Finish

Fats could shoot pool with either hand and was known for wearing $100 bills in the handkerchief pocket of his suits.

Upon his passing, Fats' second spouse, Theresa Bell Wanderone, said, "He was the world's greatest. Now he's finally in heaven shooting it out again with [Willie] Mosconi." Theresa said she had an epitaph prepared, "Beat everybody living on Earth. Now, St. Peter, rack 'em up."