JIMMY “Pretty Boy Floyd” MATAYA
Richie Florence was a great nine ball champion and gambler in the ’60s. Later on in his life, he produced several major tournaments.
Players of that era always dressed the part of success and Richie was no exception. He always donned an expensive shirt, nice slacks and shiny fancy shoes. This helped to generate confidence and inspire other people to do things bigger and for larger amounts. In addition, Richie had a great personality and was a smooth talker who only operated first class. His energy was such that he made you like him. In fact, many people loved him, as he always exuded positivity.
By 1980, he was well into the downside of his playing career and decided to promote a pool tournament. However, a Richie Florence Production had to be the biggest and the best. He worked hard and sold his concept to the best casino in the world at that time – the beautiful Caesars Tahoe in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Entry fees for the Caesars Tahoe Billiard Classic were $3000 the first year and $2500 the following year. That didn’t stop the best players in the world from entering his event. Enormous prize funds were created – $30,000 plus a new car for the winner – as well as many more cash payouts. He even lined up a fledgling sports network – ESPN – to cover the last matches of the event. This event would be the first time 9-Ball was shown on television.
Richie’s events always attracted many big stakehorses and backers to watch and participate in the event. Pool players of all skill levels flocked there too, as spectators and players – this was going to be a great party.
Naturally, he also had the largest Calcutta ever in pool. A Calcutta is an auction of each entrant that allows everyone – especially non-players – to become monetarily involved. It consists of open bidding on each individual player and all of the money generated goes into a separate prize fund for the owners/purchasers of the top finishers. Calcuttas always generate significant fun and interest among the spectators while giving them serious excitement – the sums of money was significant.
Forty two players entered the most expensive tournament ever and I was probably number 40 in skill. The field consisted of the sport’s premier players – Buddy Hall, Mike Sigel, Steve Mizerak, Jim Rempe, Nick Varner, Earl Strickland, Jimmy Mataya, Allen Hopkins, Louie Roberts, Larry Hubbart, Kim Davenport, Jimmy Reid – pure killers – only with a very expensive entry fee.
The Calcutta had many super high rollers in the audience and the top players went in the mid $2000’s. Even I went for $700 – one of the lowest prices. Sigel was tops at $2600, Buddy $$2400, Miz at $2100 – finally getting to Jimmy Mataya. Jimmy is a star player that played in an era of mostly gambling. He would often have many thousands of dollars from gambling or he might be broke – back and forth.
The auctioneer said, “OK, guys! Here’s a player that won the Stardust Open and has to be one of the absolute favorites in any field. Who will kick this off for $500?”
The bidding began and went back and forth until stopping at $900.
The auctioneer admonishes the audience saying, “You guys are really making a mistake here. He’s playing great. Letting Jimmy go this cheap is criminal when you could own him. This guy can absolutely win this event and will definitely finish in the money.
Still, nobody bids, despite a couple more sales pitches.
The auctioneer says, “OK, everybody. We’re going to sell him at $900. Going once, going twice…”
Jimmy raises his hand and loudly drawing attention to himself, bids $1000.
The auctioneer stops and says, “Alright, look guys! Jimmy recognizes a steal when he sees one and he’s playing his best. Who’ll give me $1100 for the great Jimmy Mataya?”
Complete silence despite a little more urging from the auctioneer. Finally, he said, “OK, Jimmy has himself for $1000. This is ridiculously low but, going once, going twice, going…”
Jimmy yells, “$1100!!!”
Everybody started laughing because at the last second he raised the price despite already owning himself. The auctioneer – laughing with the audience – reopened the bidding and now was telling everyone that this guy really believes in himself and they’d better not let a steal slip by but nobody bites…
“Going once, going twice…”
Jimmy hollers, “$1200! I play better than this!!!”
He then went on to make last second $100 bids until he was at $2000 – putting him among the elite players. Jimmy was always bigger than life and memorable.
Years later, Jimmy left pool, went to Detroit and began booking sports bets for high stakes. He amassed substantial money and purchased a custom built palace for himself complete with a circular drive around an enormous fountain. Inside the entry foyer to the home, he had built an inset in the wall that held an enormous sculptured bust of his own image – similar to something Julius Caesar might have had created. Only Jimmy – always full of bravado and charisma – would also have such love for himself to create something so grandiose.
Even today, I laugh out loud thinking of Jimmy creating a bust of himself for his home because I love that brash self confidence. He even refers to himself in the third person of his alter-ego saying things like, “the Floydster wants to get a bet down on this match.”
Nobody has had more fun going through life than Pretty Boy Floyd.