Ralph Greenleaf (November 3, 1899 in Monmouth, Illinois – March 15, 1950 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American professional pool and carom billiards player, a twenty-time World Pocket Billiards Champion, whose ability and charisma dominated the sport during his heyday.
The championships of his era were contested in the game of 14.1 continuous ("straight pool"), but varied in format from contest to contest and were not annual events. Championships were challenge matches between two players often played over several days to relatively high numbers (1,500 points for example).
Greenleaf married vaudeville actress Amelia Ruth Parker, a Eurasian known by the stage names "Princess Nai Tai Tai" and "The Oriental Nightingale", with whom he tourned, performing trick shot demonstrations when not competing.
In a pool championship match, Greenleaf was a fierce competitor, winning his first world title in 1919, as well as others, off and on, through 1937. His only unbeatable enemy was considered the bottle, though even his worst bouts rarely seemed to interfere with his performance. In 1942, he came in third place, behind Willie Hoppe and Welker Cochran in a World Championship Three-cushion billiards match.
During this era, the press used euphemisms like "playboy" for sports idols and other public figures who, like Greenleaf, suffered from severe alcoholism. In 1935, the media reported that Greenleaf "fell off the wagon" when he vanished just before a crucial tournament in New York and woke up in Oklahoma under arrest as a vagrant. In order for him to be released, he had to prove to the constable his identity by walking across the street to a pool hall located in front of the jailhouse in Okmulgee by running 87 balls consecutively. Another distinction of this era in the 1930s is that pool games were traditionally played on billiards tables that were 5 feet by 10 feet, as opposed to today's professional standards which have tables that are 4.5 ft × 9 ft, and the (often clay or ivory) balls were bigger than today's synthetic plastic and resin pool balls.
Greenleaf had a hobby that he took seriously which was raising turkeys and chickens at his farm on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, in which he made a profit. His last championship title was in 1937 when he defeated Irving Crane by a score of 125 to minus one.
He died suddenly at the age of 50 from acute internal hemorrhage in the waiting room of a hospital in Philadelphia. He had been ill for several days, but had refused to seek medical treatment by going to a hospital because of an upcoming match he was to have played in New York, scheduled several days after he passed.
World Pocket Billiards Championship titles
- 1919 (December) vs. Bennie Allen
- 1920 (November) vs. Arthur Woods
- 1921 (October) vs. Arthur Woods
- 1921 (December) vs. Arthur Woods
- 1922 (February) vs. Thomas Hueston
- 1922 (May) vs. Walter Franklin
- 1922 (October) vs. Bennie Allen
- 1922 (December) vs. Arthur Church
- 1923 (January) vs. Thomas Hueston
- 1924 (April) vs. Bennie Allen
- 1926 (November) vs. Erwin Rudolph
- 1928 (March) vs. Frank Taberski
- 1928 (May) vs. Andrew St. Jean
- 1929 (December) vs. Erwin Rudolph
- 1931 (December) vs. George Kelly
- 1932 (December) vs. Jimmy Caras
- 1933 (May) vs. Andrew Ponzi
- 1937 (April) vs. Andrew Ponzi
- 1937 (November) vs. Irving Crane
- 1937 (December) vs. Irving Crane
- "Obituaries" The New York Times, March 1950. Retrieved August 4, 2007
- BCA Hall of Fame, BCA-POOL.com. Retrieved June 17, 2007.
- "Billiards Digest 50 Greatest Players of the Century".
- "In Memory of Ralph Greenleaf", by Pauline Masteron, Volume 2, Number 3, 1991, page 28, Snap Magazine. Retrieved August 4, 2007