KID DELICIOUS, enormously fat and hugely generous of spirit, may be the gentlest pool hustler who ever lived. So gentle that once, early in his career, when Delicious took pity on a prospective mark, a seasoned hustler admonished him, "You've got a lot of stick, but if you're going to make it, you really gotta get in touch with your inner motherf——."
Delicious never has. Yet even plagued by both a natural kindness and his own insecurities—traits which would have been deadly to a player of anything less than Kid Delicious's extraordinary ability—a world-class hustler he remains. By the time he came off the back roads in his mid-20s, he had won money in each of the lower 48 states, taken 20 grand off the Philadelphia mob and, most important to his fragile psyche, won a series of games against a longtime pro, Tony Ellin, in a South Carolina barroom.
Pool playing is not essential to Kid Delicious as a livelihood (his parents, who run a clothing store in suburban New Jersey, provide a safety net), but it is vital to his self-esteem. In Running, Wertheim, an SI senior writer, gives us a young man—his real name is Danny Basavich, and he battles fierce depression—finding his element and then thriving in it. It just happens that his milieu is edged with con games, high-stakes showdowns and memorable characters, such as all-seeing bookie Greg Smith (code name 007), who finds action in every corner of the country, and Bristol Bob, a lean, aggressive hustler who takes a long road trip with Kid Delicious, an Abbott to Delicious's Costello.
With his exhaustive reporting and sharp description, Wertheim, who wrote an SI piece on Kid Delicious in 2005, renders the trappings of the road player's life—a near ass-kicking in Montreal, a dramatic run of genius play in Akron, the love of a good woman in North Dakota. Wertheim wisely avoids the technical shot description that might have slowed his narrative and sets scenes so clearly that anyone who has banged a few balls in a basement or bar can fill in the blanks. Thanks to Wertheim's shifts in tone (humorous, grim, tense) and, of course, the power of his layered, truly original leading man, readers are taken on a sweet and varied ride, making sure that we never enter the same poolroom twice.