Irving Crane (November 13, 1913 – November 17, 2001), nicknamed "the Deacon", was an American pool player from Livonia (near Rochester), New York, and ranks among the stellar players in the history of the sport. Considered one of the all-time greats, he is most well known for his mastery in the game of straight pool (14.1 continuous) at which he won numerous championships, including six world billiards titles.
Crane's fascination with billiards started at age 11, sparked by play on a toy pool table his brother received as a Christmas gift. Showing interest and ability, his father Scott Crane, a trial lawyer and sportsman, and his mother, a high school teacher, soon replaced their dining room table with a 4' by 8' pool table. He soon ventured out of the home to practice a couple days each week at Olympic Billiards, a room that was part of a bowling alley in Scottsville, a suburb of Rochester, New York. Crane stated in 1998: "Other kids, you know they'd play for twenty minutes or half an hour and they'd say, 'let's do something else.' I could play all day and never get enough. I couldn't wait to get home from school to play."
Crane's status as a wunderkind was quickly evident; although he was entirely self-taught, at 14 he ran 89 balls in straight pool at a local pool room, calling each shot in advance, as is mandatory in straight pool. Following this feat, his parents replaced the smaller table with a full size tournament table. Over the next ten years some of the best players of the era, including Willie Hoppe and Andrew Ponzi, came to practice with the promising champion. Despite consistent play throughout his teenage years, Crane did not enter any tournaments until he was 23 years old.
In February 1939, at age 26, Crane ran 150 balls and out against his opponent in an exhibition straight pool match on a difficult 5' by 10' table in Layton, Utah. While this was impressive in and of itself, at the crowd's urging, he continued his run, ultimately pocketing 309 consecutive balls thus shattering the previous world record of 244 consecutive balls.
This coup was soon followed by his first world title in 1942. Over the following three decades, Crane won almost two dozen major championships, including the World Crown in 1946, 1955, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1972, the Ballantine International Championship in 1965, the International Roundrobin championship in 1968, and the World Series of Billiards in 1978 at age 65. Of these triumphs, his win at the 1966 World Crown is the most celebrated. At that tournament he ran 150 and out in the finals, never letting his opponent back to the table after an early safety battle; an accomplishment that has never been equaled. Crane also holds the record for the most runner-up finishes for the World Crown with 13.
Despite his mastery and world renown, Crane found it hard to make a living solely playing pool, and in 1957 began working as a Cadillac salesman at Valley Cadillac Inc. 333 East Avenue in Rochester, New York. He continued there for 17 years. According to Crane's daughter, at Rochester's annual auto show his dealership's exhibit featured a pool table at which Crane would run balls while answering questions. "Working" for a living was purely a choice of survival. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1969 Crane said "If I had to make a choice between selling cars and playing pool, I'd choose pool... The only time I've ever been really happy is when I was at a pool table."
Described as a "tall, lean man with the imperial bearing of the headmaster of Eton," Crane earned the appellation The Deacon because of his gentlemanly ways, his very cautious approach to the game and his impeccable dress, never approaching a pool table except in a conservative suit. Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray once said Crane "would make Henry Fonda look furtive." Highlighting Crane's both cautious approach and mastery, Mike Sigel, one of pool's most illustrious players, reportedly asked Crane to play one day when Sigel was a young player. Crane assented and after Sigel broke, Crane ran 200 balls and then played a safety.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Crane's wife of 64 years, Althea, stated "A lot of people, if it was a hot day and there was no air conditioning, they'd take off their coat to play. But not Irving Crane." Rudolph Wanderone, a/k/a Minnesota Fats, once opined, "Irv Crane would have been the only guy to notice the horse under Lady Godiva," while professional rival Willie Mosconi who had criticized Crane for his cautious style, stated in his 1993 autobiography, Willie's Game, that "Crane wouldn't take a shot unless his grandmother could make it."
Crane was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America's hall of fame in 1978. In 1999 Crane was ranked as number eight on Billiard Digest's fifty greatest players of the century. In his entry there he is lauded as having been, along with Mosconi, the "best in the world, flat out" between 1941 and 1956. In 1980 Crane retired from professional play. He stopped playing entirely in about 1996. On November 17, 2001 at age 88, four days after entering a nursing home, Crane died of natural causes. He was survived by his wife Althea, son Irving, daughter Sandra, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
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- "Irving Crane, 88; Pool Champ Brought Dignity to the Table". Los Angeles Times. November 30, 2001. Retrieved 2011-04-13. "If I had to make a choice between selling cars and playing pool, I'd choose pool," Crane said in a 1969 Sports Illustrated interview. "The only time I've ever been really happy is when I was at a pool table." Although Crane quit playing professionally in the 1980s, his daughter said, he gave exhibitions for charitable causes. One of the items offered at fund-raising auctions for the local PBS affiliate was a pool exhibition by Crane at the donor's home. [Irving Crane]: Minnesota Fats once observed that Crane, nicknamed the Deacon, "would have been the only guy to notice the horse under Lady Godiva."
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