The Poet of Pool
Mike Sigel is a pool player who enjoys his cigars.
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So the Professional Billiard Tour Association now does its own bidding. With newfound independence, the players stage their own trade shows and tournaments, even produce and televise their own events. In World Team Billiards matches they play televised nine-ball, games infused with flag-waving nationalistic fervor against teams from Germany, the Philippines, Puerto Rico.
They have even elected a commissioner of pool--Don Mackey, a man who doesn't suffer fools gladly. A handful of the best players make between $100,000 and $200,000 with industry endorsements and purses in a good year. They are eager to pocket the steady money they deserve. It is reflected in their conversation: talk that is sprinkled with references to commercial spots, corporate sponsorship and exclusive television rights. World Wide Collectibles, a California company, has even begun a series of pool trading cards. Gone are the prom-night tuxedos with white ruffled shirts that players were told to wear to upgrade the image of pool.
Image is still important, however. Many of the players are trying to cultivate the appearance of respectability and enhance their marketing potential. Pro players no longer drink at the hotels where they play and stay. Drinks are not forbidden, mind you; players are simply told to indulge away from the public eye.
So men's pool looks toward a brighter horizon. "We've accomplished more in the last year and a half than in the previous 20 years," says Sigel.
And Sigel will admit to getting a few rolls. At a New York party in 1985, he buttonholed Martin Scorcese with an offer to advise Paul Newman and Tom Cruise for The Color of Money. Under Sigel's tutelage, Cruise looked like a respectable player in the film. "Cruise was polite," Sigel recalls. "He always called me 'Mr. Sigel'."
If pool pros only drew that kind of respect from the rest of the world, they'd be shooting stars.
Kenneth Shouler is a sportswriter and author from White Plains, New York.