Legends of "Buster"

"Buster" vs. Owens

"A Match Made in Heaven," as the late-great Mayor Harold Washington, of Chicago, Illinois often-timed said.

For five years running, (1972-1976), Freddie Owens had finished in 2nd place behind "Buster at the APCA Tournaments." And for the most part, it was by the narrowest of margins-2 points. One could, perhaps, sense the frustration building up in Mr. Owens as the finally tally was computed, and he would come up short time and time again. I was one of those officials who had the responsibility of staying up half the night to help make sure the tally was correct. And each time, Mr. Owens’ (zero loss) performance would not be enough.

Out east, he was called the "Hawk," perhaps for his aggressive play. But, many of us, here in the Midwest, had never heard of him, and his precise play, until he burst upon the tournament scene, I think, in 1972. Even in losing to "Buster," in those five consecutive years, Mr. Owens would oftentimes go undefeated in the whole tournament. That was considered remarkable, when you keep in mind, the eventual winner would usually have lost, at least, one game.

And so on a date, lost in my memory, the gentlemen from the East invited "Buster" to come to Baltimore, Maryland, Freddie's hometown, for a showdown match. It was, by some accounts, a Pool Checkers Match for the Ages. Playing his signature game called the "Pitch and Squeeze," it's said that Mr. Owens tied up, our own Carl "Buster" Smith, game after game, until such time as "Buster" had to stop making the ‘Hit," as we in the Pool Checker's world would call it. Many say "Buster" was lucky to escape with a 3-2 loss after 14 games.

Of course, the kibitzers of Chicago, was not about to accept that "Buster" had lost to Freddie. And so the spin was on. Van "Vansky" Penn said, It didn't happen, it couldn't happen, and it would not have happened had it not been for the weather. "I took 'Buster" to the airport, and the snow was three feet deep," he deadpanned. "Yea, chipped in, James 'Variation James" Adams, "and when he arrived at the airport in Baltimore, it was even deeper than that." "Buster" was simply to fatigued to play," my good friend Mr. Penn would end up.

But, Freddie Owens did defeat Carl "Buster" Smith in that historical match. And it was no fluke. I know because our own, Mr. Fred D. Shurn has shown me the games (especially the pitch and squeeze games many times). And so the cry went out, "Bring Freddie to Chicago." But, it never happened.

We were ready to declare Mr. Owens the king of the American Pool Checkers’ universe-notwithstanding "Buster‘s" five straight APCA Championship wins. But, Freddie then made his ill-fated trip to Detroit, Michigan to play Mr. George "Lil George" Ramsey a 20 game match. This was another battle of the titans (more about that match later). Mr. Owens lost that match, and we were now back to square #1. Who was the best Pool Checkers player in American?

Eventually, the Russians would change the whole equation. And the questions about Freddie and "Buster" would become mute. Who was the very best, would then become abundantly clear -- as the Legend continues… "Buster" meets the Grandmaster, as his woes grow. But eventually, he would bow out in a ‘blaze of glory.’