MONMOUTH — In my recent pool article, I mentioned “Big Bertha,” the 5-by-10 foot table Monmouth pool legend Ralph Greenleaf played on a century ago that’s still in use today.
Those 50-square foot “green monsters” are largely a thing of the distant past.
The next-best pool player to come out of Monmouth, Maynard “Rip” Parish, revealed why.
“Ralph is the reason they stopped playing on those tables,” said Parish, 79, who was born and raised in Monmouth and now lives in Pennsylvania. “Nobody could beat him on a 5-by-10. He was too good. So they made the tables smaller.”
Leveling the playing field by making it easier for everybody else?
Check out:Monmouth native was a world billiards champion and is mostly forgotten. Find out who here
“That’s exactly what they tried to do, but he beat them all anyway,” said Parish, who never met Greenleaf. “You can’t really compare the players of yesteryear to today because of equipment changes and all that, but Ralph was probably the best that ever played the game.”
The new boy marvel
Three years after Greenleaf died in 1950, Parish came on the scene as a young talent in Monmouth.
“Me and a friend of mine were in a bantam bowling league, and we’d walk by the pool hall on our way home,” he said. “One day I went in and picked up a cue, and I started pocketing balls. Not on every shot, but quite a few. It just came natural to me.”
If Parish was going to make pool hall visits a habit, he needed a source of income, so he started selling the Monmouth newspaper on a street corner, buying them for a couple cents apiece, then charging a nickel. In a week, he’d make around $3.
“Then I’d go in the pool hall, and the old men would beat me out of my $3,” he laughed.
That didn’t last long.
“I started playing when I was 11, and by the time I was 13, I could beat everyone in town,” he said.
When Parish reached that level, it was time to take his show on the road.
“Some of the older guys would take me around to different towns,” he said. “When I was 14, I was making $500, $600 a week. They all figured anybody that young wouldn’t be able to beat ’em. I had to give all the money to my mom, of course.”
Before long, Parish’s reputation preceded him, and it was hard to find decent players in the area who didn’t know that the young kid from Monmouth would take their money.
Enter Steve Mizerak of Miller Lite commercial fame.
“By this time, I had backers who supported me and world-class players would come to play me,” said Parish. “I played Mizerak, and I beat him. He was a hell of a player, but I was playing awfully good.”
Another Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer, Eddie Taylor, came to town and also lost to Parish in both straight pool and three-cushion billiards.
Recalling that victory in a 1990 newspaper account, Parish said, “After that, I truly believed there wasn’t anyone walking that I couldn’t beat. I was on top of the world, and that’s when I really started to realize how good I was.”
A Hall of Fame field
Not long after, Parish went into the kind of slump he says most players experience at least once, but he broke out in a big way in the mid-1960s.
In 1967, after two runner-up finishes in Illinois, he won the Iowa state championship, which qualified him for that year’s US Open. Keying the Iowa win was a run of 140 consecutive balls (an impressive feat, but less than half of Parish’s best-ever run of 287).
At the Open, Parish competed in an all-star 48-player field, including the six BCA Hall of Famers who won the first 10 Opens from 1966 to 1975 – Irving Crane, Jimmy Caras, Joe Balsis, Luther Lassiter, Dallas West and Mizerak .
Parish placed a very respectable 12th, only trailing players who won a world title. Interestingly, more than 40 years earlier, Caras, the 1967 champ, had defeated Greenleaf in an exhibition when he was just 17. Among players behind Parish in the standings were Hall of Famers Lou Butera, Danny DiLiberto and Rudolph “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone.
Read more about ‘Fats’ here:A popular face in billiards was Rudolf Wanderone
Honesty about ‘hustling’
After serving in the military, Parish went back on the road, playing pool across the country. Tournaments were nice, but the real action, as depicted in the 1986 Paul Newman/Tom Cruise movie “The Color of Money,” came in the games outside the events. Arriving in a new town was much like assessing the layout of balls following a break – it was essential to come up with a logical plan, a logical order.
“You want to keep away from the best player in town,” said Parish of not showing his talent too quickly. “You want to beat all the lesser players first. Then you beat the best player last.”
And then, just like “The Color of Money” or its prequel, “The Hustler,” you cruise on to the next town.
“I wouldn’t call myself a hustler,” Parish said. “My whole thing was, if you tell them the truth, they won’t believe you. They’ll think you’re lying. That way, you don’t get in any trouble. If you hustle, people take offense to that, and you can get in some nasty places you don’t want to be.”
One opponent who was surprised by Parish’s talents was “St. Louie” Louie Roberts, who would go on to win the 1979 US Open 9-ball title.
“I beat him for $1,000,” said Parish of a meeting in the 1970s. “All of the guys kept separate travel money that they’d need to get back home. He went out to his car and got that and I beat him for another $500. His girlfriend was bawling and crying. He had a bad trip. But I gave him enough money so that he could get home.”
For a period of time, Parish said he ranked among the Top 15 or so players in the country on bar tables, which are two feet shorter than the standard 4-1/2-by-9 tables used for tournament play (and less than half the square footage of tables like “Big Bertha”).
Due to family commitments, Parish never quite became a household name in billiards households, but the talent was unquestionably there.
“I couldn’t go to a lot of tournaments, but when I was playing good, I was good enough,” he said. “I still play pretty good today, but when you’re 79, you start to lose a little bit of your stuff. But up until about 10 years ago (when he defeated another Hall of Famer, Mike Sigel), I was still very good.”