Happy Hump Day Obots!
With a nickname like “Strawberry”, I think its mandatory that you become a pool shark.
Melvin “Strawberry” Brooks
In his 73 years, Melvin “Strawberry” Brooks was many things — an Army veteran, an operator of after-hours social clubs, a ladies man with at least nine children, an unpredictable but often loyal friend, a criminal twice jailed on drug-related charges and a Muslim convert called Askia El Amin.
Brooks, who died of lung cancer Dec. 17 (2006) at his home in Washington, also was very much a celebrity of the one-pocket pool world. When he entered a pool hall with his trim, muscular build, he had a confident strut that one friend described as “Frank Sinatra walking into a restaurant in 1958.” He was inducted Jan. 9 2007 into the One Pocket Hall of Fame in Louisville.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, before he went to jail the first time, Brooks had few equals in Washington as a one-pocket pool hustler. The game, often compared strategically with chess, involves two competitors trying to sink eight balls into a designated pocket while blocking the other player from doing the same.
At his peak, Brooks made and lost tens of thousands of dollars a trip while traveling on the professional pool circuit. “If there’s a dollar in Chicago, ol’ Berry’s gonna come back with at least a quarter of it,” he bragged to one of his ex-wives before a trip to the Midwest.
Rarely entering official contests, he preferred after-hours matches against such major pool talent as Grady Mathews, Richie Florence and Bill Staton. He also was a favorite at private, invitation-only games filled with millionaires looking for gambling action.
Steve Booth, a New Hampshire-based one-pocket player who administers the OnePocket.org Web site, wrote in an e-mail: “Top players like Strawberry are not to be confused with low-stakes ‘scufflers’ that are the kind of guys that slip into a bar and clean out the locals for $5 or $10 a game.
“Guys like Strawberry went after the very best high stakes players they could find — fellow hustlers that were good enough themselves that it was no sure thing that ‘Straw’ would win, but of course much more often than not, he would.”
Until the late 1960s, black players were widely prohibited from professional tournaments. Booth wrote that “even when the color barrier was finally broken, many of them, like Strawberry, still avoided making the switch to tournament play because frankly, they could make a lot more money ‘undercover.’ “
Brooks’s signature at the pool table was patience and a tendency to avoid an easy shot if it meant long-term advantage. Those who knew him best said that, when not at the table, Brooks’s temperament veered wildly from crass and angry to suave and generous with his money.
“He was good as gold, and if you cross him, he could be as mean as a snake,” said a friend, Dennis Wilson. “One extreme to the other.”
Mathews, a one-pocket legend, said of Brooks: “His background wasn’t easy. He spent time in jail, admitted he did wrong and paid his debt to society. He was always kind of a warrior at pool, and he had a gruff personality. But he donated to charity, he raised a family. And if someone does that, in spite of problems, it’s all the more to be admired.”
At his wake, Brooks was placed in a coffin with an unscrewed, custom-made pool cue worth thousands of dollars and a folded American flag.