One Last Shot

At age 64, pool hustler Danny DiLiberto is one of a dying breed. He's not ready, however, to hang up his stick.

"All of a sudden my flare was gone," he says. "I was a dull person." Shortly after DiLiberto recovered from the illness, his brother died of a heart attack. "I'd been through that, I'd broke up with a woman; life was horrible," he says.

He dealt with the situation by getting back into pool. He again became a force on the tournament circuit, winning a series of prestigious competitions in the early '80s. Danny D. knocked off opponents in eight ball, straight pool, one pocket, even nine ball (supposedly a young man's game).

DiLiberto is hoping pool will prove an anodyne once more. He is still looking for one last hustle, one last road trip. Despite prostate cancer (from which he expects to make a full recovery) and cataracts, he has long-shot dreams of another run at pool glory. Just three years ago, he points out, he was the top finisher on the senior's tour, on which many of the best players compete. The bravura, at least, is still there: "There's nobody on earth that knows more about this game than I do," DiLiberto says.

Although pool requires little of the physical rigor of most other sports, age can take its toll. "As we get older our eyes go," says Mizerak. "As we get older our nerves go. As we get older our coordination goes." The adage is particularly true for nine ball, by far the most common tournament format, in which the ouctome of a match is often decided by the snap of a muscular break.

Every day, in between shifts at the dog track, DiLiberto is in the pool practice room. He tries to hustle up some action, but there are few takers. Everybody knows the speed at which Danny D. plays, and they are loathe to give him their money.

On a recent weekday afternoon, DiLiberto manages to arrange a $20 game of one pocket against one of the Gold Crown regulars. One pocket is a glacier-paced game in which each player has one corner pocket in which to make balls. Defense predominates. Even for a $20 game Danny D. must give up weight: his opponent only has to make seven balls to win while DiLiberto must pocket ten.

"Tough game," he laments. "But it's the only game I can get."
DiLiberto talks of going on the road again. "Every now and then action will spring up, and every pool player will try to get there," he says. "Like in Baton Rouge right now, they're betting sky high." Before that the action was in Bellflower, California, and before that, Detroit. In Charlotte, North Carolina, DiLiberto says, people are always playing for high stakes at a place called Mother's. "What creates this usually is one main guy who has lots of money and isn't afraid to gamble it," he explains.

DiLiberto also talks of competing in the Camel Pro Billiards Series. He says that the year 2000 will be a big one for him. He wants to win a major tournament in five different decades.

The year 2000 will be significant for another reason as well. DiLiberto will start receiving the first regular income of his life: a social security check.

Contact Paul Demko at his e-mail address: Paul_Demko@newtimesbpb.com

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