The 24th annual Mosconi Cup starts in Las Vegas today, pitting Team USA against Team Europe. While I don’t like to indulge in nationalism I am cheering for the American team, partly because this is where I live, and partly because the Europeans have won seven years in a row. Earlier this year the Americans made a surprising announcement that they hoped would turn the tide: this year the team coach is Johan Ruijsink, who’s not only Dutch but also a former Team Europe coach.
The great thing about his appointment, aside from his experience, is that it emphasizes the international nature of the Mosconi Cup. Baseball has the World Series, which only includes one Canadian team, U.S. football–not to be confused with soccer which the rest of the world calls “football”–has the Superbowl, and basketball has, I don’t know, some thing where the best teams play for a giant shoe maybe. Granted the Mosconi Cup is not pool’s biggest event, nor is it truly international. Unlike, say, the World 9-Ball Championship which is open to men and women and draws players from the entire globe, the Mosconi Cup only has two all-male teams from the US and Europe. Still it is a big event and named for one of the game’s best players ever. Willie Mosconi, whose parents were Irish and Italian, also wasn’t just a great player. He also worked hard to bring respectability and decorum to a game that was all too often associated with gambling and alcoholism. As another great pool player, Dan McGoorty, who was, admittedly, also quite a hustler, used to say, “Gentlemen play billiards. Bums play pool.” He was referring to a now mostly obsolete distinction between “billiards”, games like balkline or three-cushion, played on tables without pockets, and games like 9-ball, played on tables with pockets. Willie Mosconi, who hated hustlers and cheats, was one of the players who tried to change that perception of pool. He was very competitive, but also believed strongly that the best player should win. It’s fitting that the event that bears his name is a 9-ball tournament and that it’s as cooperative as it is competitive, that players have to work together as teams.
So, while I’m cheering for Team USA, out of respect for the individual whose name is on the cup, I also say, may the best team win.