Daniel (Danny) Valletto
Career base: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1976, Schlitz National Doubles Championship (Memphis, TN): 1st with partner Ray Fischer;
1978, Pentathlon Champion, East coast;
1984, Masters Champion (trip to England)
1985, Profile of the only year I really put in time with English darts.
New York Open: Open singles, 2nd, Cricket singles 2nd, Cricket doubles – 1st;
US Open: Open singles – 1st, Cricket doubles – 1st, 501 doubles – 3rd;
San Diego St. Patrick’s : Open singles – 3rd
Washington DC Open: Open singles – 1st, Mixed triples – 2nd, 4 man team – 2nd;
Northern Illinois Open: Cricket doubles – 2nd, 4 man team – 2nd;
Philadelphia Open (Schmidt’s): Open singles – 1st;
Dallas Open: mixed triples – 1st;
Jack & Jill (Holyoke Ma.): Open doubles – 2nd, Cricket doubles – 2nd;
Columbus Ohio: Invitational Singles – 1st, Open singles -3rd, Cricket doubles – 1st, mixed doubles – 2nd;
Jersey City NJ regional all star: Open singles – 1st;
W. Palm Beach Fl.: Open singles – 1st, Cricket singles – 1st, 4 man team – 1st, Open doubles – 2nd;
Phoenix AR: Open singles – 1st, Cricket doubles – 1st;
Springfield MA All star area finalist: Open singles – 1st;
Peach tree Open (Atlanta GA.): Cricket doubles – 2nd, Cricket mixed triples – 2nd;
North American Open (Las Vegas): Cricket doubles – 1st.
Other than 1985: Singles wins by place:
Phoenix, Minnesota, Columbus Ohio, Atlanta Ga., Washington DC, Baltimore Md., Virginia Beach Va., Philadelphia Pa., New Jersey, New York.
“I started with American darts after I got out of the service, about 1959 or 1960, I think it was. Before that I played a little pool and hustled some on shuffle board. One night I picked up the darts in a place and just threw them, and a friend asked me if I wanted to play on a team. I said yes and that was the start of it. In the first year they started me then the first thing you know I was the anchor on their team and I had a 42 average the first year I ever played darts. That how I started my career shooting darts and each year I set a goal of picking up two points in my average, and that’s what I did. I went from 42 to 44 to 46 to 48 up to 52. The year I averaged 46 I had a league high four game series of 57, 59, 61, 63 for an average of 60. My highest average was 52.9 across 118 games.
I bent my knees and dipped as I pulled the dart back and straightened up when I shot the dart forward and it was all part of the rhythm of my stroke. Early I did a lot of practice. I’d come in from work and play four nine inning games on my board. I did this every day, and played league darts on Tuesday night and go out and hustle a little on the weekend. I did that until 1969 when I went on the police force and started working shift work, then I cut back on my darts. I was a group player where you tried to put the first dart in a double or triple and lay the other two on them in a group where they all touched, that was called “feathers.” Which is great in American darts but in English darts it could hurt you when you tried to double out, you know? In American darts grouping would keep you scoring six or seven and the triple picking type of player would go for the triple and pick one or two or miss trying for triples only. In English darts when you’re playing for a double you have to be somewhat of a picker but in score you could group your darts for higher scores.
I had a bad accident and hurt my back in 1970 and it seemed like that would be the end of my dart career and after I hurt my back I didn’t practice anymore, I relied on the previous years of practice. But, it so happened that there was a state championship being played upstate for five man teams and I was asked to play in it with Eddie Hall, Dick Yost, not sure if it was Dale Melvin, and Charlie Young. Here Charlie had sent his cousin down from upstate to pick me up and I wasn’t playing because of my back and nerve damage in both legs. They were weak. I did go upstate, being half crippled, and we won the tournament in Glen Lyon Pennsylvania. The top upstate players were John Bobbie, Cam Melciore, Pete Polinski and Lee Breadbenner. In 1968, 1969, John Bobbie impressed me as the best dart player I’ve ever seen, bar none.
Dick Yost, who was the about the best in the city around 1963, grabbed me to play when I was averaging about 45 or 46 and worked on me. You know, come on kid and whatever, and my game would go right off, this is the way he worked on guys. It was a good learning experience though. Of course the day did come when Dick wouldn’t have anything to do with me on the dart board. It was kind of comical because some of the guys brought Lenny Craig, from over in Jersey after me too. We were playing back and forth and not all that well and this Ernie Kline jumped in the game. Well it turned out me and Lenny started coming on and Ernie lost all his money. Me and Lenny pretty much broke out even and that’s when the friendship started.
Little Al, Al Lippman, and I played and we played back and forth until we didn’t want to play each other anymore. He was a pick triple shooter and I was a group shooter. Al would usually win triple games and I would win score games. We were close friends and he was at the top of his game and I guess I was at the top of my game so we started looking for partner games, which we couldn’t get in the city so we started going all over the place looking for games. We went to New Jersey too, but little Al was recognized right from the get go and that was the end of that. It was pretty hard to go anywhere without being recognized.
Then another time around 1971, Joe Pachenelli and Ray Fisher got me to go up state with them to play in the Pennsylvania three man team state tournament, and we beat Pete Polinsky, his nickname is Primrose Pete, Cam Melciore and John Bobbie and I thought that was a great thing because up there you had to toe a 7′ 3″ line, and play with a Decco dart. The line in the city the line was 7’1″ and we used Widdy darts. I think in Jersey they heeled a 7’3″ line or something like that. Playing that line helped me transition into the English game, and it helped the upstaters also.
1970 While I was out of work on disability, with my bad back, I didn’t think it was right to go out playing darts, and it really bothered me to try to play. I wore a mustache for a while to be a little incognito, which didn’t work. That’s when Charlie Young got hold of some literature about a dart tournament in California where they’d pay you money, I didn’t go because of my accident, but that was the start of English darts in the area. I did go to the New York open in 1971 or 1972. That was the first I got involved in English darts. I got my bar in 1972 but was working too much to play darts although I had four or five boards up. Being known in Philadelphia and my friends being top shooters, that became the bar for dart shooters. I’d come out and play for a while, then lay low for a while with my back. The year after Al Lippman won his first US Open I went and it got down to me and Al in the finals. Al had been to England and wanted to go again and I didn’t want to go to because I was tied up operating my tavern, so, Al won again.
After my back problems, when I wasn’t going out to play very much, and not practicing, when I did go to a tournament I got to trying to hard because I didn’t have the confidence. Then, when I went up to Boston, around 1974, ’75 for a tournament and I’m playing for a double, with Tex Blackwood yelling “he won’t miss, he won’t miss,” I couldn’t let go of the dart. I couldn’t shoot it, and that was the start of the “Yips” for me. Yips will take away 50% of your ability, and I ended up with a case of dartitise, or the Yips for a few years. It’s like you’re leaning forward but you can’t let go of the dart and you’re going to fall on your face. I got to the point where I had to swing my arm around to even be able to throw. I believe it was because I wasn’t playing enough and had put too much stress on myself when I did show up. What I did was stop completely for about six months, then I tried again, and once in while I would get the Yips and other times not. I played against Ray Fisher out in California in the finals, the year he won the North American Open, and I had the Yips against him. I tried the best I could but it was very hard. I was playing against Bob Theide over in a tournament in Jersey and he got really upset because I had the Yips.
Conrad Daniels asked me to play with him in a match against Pete Polinski and Cam Melchiore, upstate, which Bob McLoed came in to officiate. We won that match. I saw a phsycologist about the yips but it didn’t help. I stayed away from darts long enough for the “Yips” to go away but other people, like Eric Bristow from England didn’t, I don’t think, and they stayed with him. He was the greatest English dart player I’d ever seen yet in the end the Yips just killed him.
In late 1972 and in 1973 I was working in my tavern from seven in the morning until four in the morning. There wasn’t any time for darts then, but later on I got some help and I could play again. I wouldn’t put up an American board in my place because I didn’t want anyone coming in to challenge me while I was trying to work. There were some people come in and challenge me and I would get upset because I couldn’t take them on. What I did was tell them I’d play for some horrendous amount of money in a couple of weeks because if somebody took me up on it I’d be able to practice for a couple of weeks, but it never came through, they never went along with it. I put up an English board and posters about tournaments around the country so some guys would try it because they could win some money. I really didn’t play much around my own bar. I’d go to tournaments occasionally but didn’t play there because they were all my friends and you don’t hustle your friends. And I had the Yips at that time too. Me and Charlie Cressman, from Quakertown would have matches once in a while. Sometimes he would win, sometimes I would. I’d played against his father in Upstate American darts. The only times I would get involved is when somebody would come in and hustle one of my customers then I’d get in a match with them at a later date.
In 1984 or 1985, sometime in there Conrad Daniels set up a match between me and Rick Ney, who at the time was one of the best in the country with the potential of being the strongest in the world. He was easily handling Conrad and different ones in the area at the time, and I was down the shore with my motel business. I went up to Washington to a tournament and didn’t do well at all, got knocked out early. Rick had got on Conrad because he wanted a match, but Conrad said he didn’t think he could beat Rick, but that I could so without even asking me they announced at the Washington Open that there was going to be a match between me and Rick in Conrad’s bar over in Trenton NJ. I said I wished somebody would have asked me if I was willing to do it, you know? But what happened was, I showed up for the match a couple of weeks later, or whenever it was, in shorts since it was summer time and Rick was all hyped up and was telling me I wasn’t going to be able to quit in the middle of playing, since I was older and might not be able to last for the whole match. We were playing the first to win 26 501 games. So, it was a lot of fun, it was for around $10,000 I was told. Various one from Philadelphia and others from upstate put up the money. It was either 26 to 18 or 26 to 16, I defeated Rick and he was so stunned he almost got into fisticuffs. And after that match I got very close with Rick, he and his family used to come down and stay at my motel, but it bothered me over the years because I felt I’d really hurt one of the greatest American and English dart players and maybe one of the top world players. We’re very close, even to this day, but that’s always bothered me. What happened was, at the peak of his career where he seemed to be undefeatable, even against Eric Bristow, I showed up and he must have taken me too lightly, and his dominance of the game was no more.
A few guys pulled tricks. It was like Norm Findley, sometimes he would stand close to a player and blow cigar smoke at him, as he was getting ready to play. I didn’t use mind games, Dick Yost was a great one for that, he would make you not play your game, too, I didn’t see much of that at tournaments.
Little Al and me played the English game with American darts to start with, then Tex Blackwood gave me one of his many sets which were a set of tungsten darts with little rubber flights on them. I used them until the dart broke and I couldn’t find another set like that. Then I got a set of Unicorn darts. I have a set of darts now that were given to me years ago. I don’t change darts and even flights I don’t change much. The type of dart doesn’t make any difference. Right now I think if I got a set of American darts in my hand I could outplay 80% of the players in English darts but not the top 10% or 20%, even though I haven’t touched a set of darts in the last three years. The last time I played was in the Ray Chesney tournament in Philly and I lost a tough match, 1 to 2, against Ray Carver who, I believe, is one of the top players today. I wasn’t aware of him from not actually playing in the last few years.
In 1984, I think just after I won the Masters, Unicorn asked me if I wanted a sponsor. I think it was because I was using their darts. They wanted me to attend, it was either 12 or 16 tournaments, I just forget how many. I was a single oh player from the sponsor, so I picked up Dave Kelly, from Boston, for a partner. At that time of my life, to be forced to go somewhere when I didn’t want to was tough. When I was in my 20s it was different. Come to think of it, having my air fare and hotel paid for might have had a lot to do with how much I played and won in 1985 and 1986. Whether I wanted to go or not I had the sponsor and had to go, so it was a fun year. I played with Dave Kelly for a partner, who was a great player I first met up in Boston when he was only 21.
I wasn’t into it that much before 1985. I’d play, then not go to any tournaments and when I did show up nobody knew how I was going to play because they hadn’t seen me play in a while. I was a disappearing act. When they had the Champion of Philadelphia tournaments, which were open only to Philadelphia players, I didn’t want to play in it because the other players were my buddies and I thought it was for them so I didn’t want to get in it and ruin it for them. I thought I was a level above most of the players, but that was from American darts because I had the highest average and I’d win high average, high single, high everything, so when the Champion of Philadelphia tournaments started I wouldn’t play, I thought it was for the other guys to have a chance to win. I did get in it the second year and ended up winning it, then the following year when they had it again it was double elimination and I got in the finals with Dave German without a loss, so he had to beat me twice to win. We get down to our match and a I heard some of my friends from Philadelphia cheering for Dave and that upset me so much that I just wasn’t going to make a double. I’d get down to a double a couple of hundred points before him but I just wasn’t going to make a double. He ended up beating me and I never attended another Philadelphia Champion event. The crowd never bothered me any where I played, even in England when the guys from Scotland were dropping their pants, but that time my feelings were really hurt.
There was another time I gave a game up, after not playing for a couple of years. I was playing in Long Island against my partner, Jamie Jordan, who won a New York Open doubles with me, and I wanted him to go on and win a singles event, if he could. Which he never did. I got down to 40 left way ahead of him, but the only way I was going to take the win was with two double tens instead of a double 20. Rudy Hernandez, a top New York player was watching our match and he couldn’t figure out what I was doing. I took several turns at it but kept busting. Finally I lost. Jamie never said anything and lost in the next match. I did go on to win the Cricket singles event against John Part from Canada.
I didn’t do anything special to get ready to go to a tournament. When I got there I’d throw to get in my rhythm but that was about it. If I didn’t get any rhythm I didn’t do any good, I’d be in and out. Sometimes, if I could hang in long enough and my rhythm would come in, then everything would turn out fine.
I preferred to play longer scoring games because the weakest part of my game was the double so if I could get a couple of hundred point lead I’d be OK.
I went to England a few times, the first time was the Pentathlon, they had one on the west coast and one on the east coast and I won the east coast and got to go over. I took Bill Saver with me because I didn’t like to travel alone. That was in 1977 or 1978.
There are pros and semi pros in darts where the pros are the very top players and the semi pros are the ones right below them. And all of them in the top 10%.
I guess my best experiences was when I beat Jocky Wilson one set in the masters in England. It was best of three sets each set the best of five games, and I took a 135 out with a triple 20 then a single and double bull, while winning the first set. He came back to win the next two sets. Then another time was when I beat Eric Bristow with a 170 out in one game at the Pentathlon.
I was an emotional person. I would always go with the underdog and would partner with them to help them. If a friend of mine got hustled I’d make a match and get it back for them, that was the kind of guy I was.
There was a tournament in New York where they brought over 40 of their best players and afterward Ray Fischer played Alan Evans for money. The British asked for a match and we said Theide was too good for Alan, and I had just beaten Alan in the tournament so I didn’t need to play him again, but Ray had been knocked out of the tournament early, so Alan could play him. They played and Ray beat him for a good deal of money. The Brits weren’t happy since in the tournament two Americans were first and second, George Silberzahn won and I came in second, then Ray beat Alan.
I would usually pick a partner that I thought I could help. There was Ray Davidson, from Philly, and it was like, who could he get to put him up in the national spotlight? So I felt, OK I’ll take him as a partner in Washington DC and we ended up in the finals against Jerry Umberger and Rick Nye in the finals of the oh one. We won. Well now Ray Davidson, you’re here, then he eventually went on to win a US Open tournament. I liked Dave Kelly, who I played partners with in 1985 and 1986, because he would psych me up. He’d tell me I need you, I need your darts and then I’d go. We did very well together, yea we had a very good relationship. I loved Ray Fisher as a partner and Frank Ennis as a great friend but only played with Frank one or two times as he was tied up in a sponsorship with Joe Baltadonis, from Mt. Royal New Jersey. I do wish I could have played more often with Frank as he was a great American and English dart shooter. He could easily pick doubles in English darts, which as I previously said was my weakness.
Then there was another tournament in New York where I got my loss back from George Silberzahn and beat him in the finals of the Rums of Puerto Rico New York Open.
Over the years I did find out the lack of preparation hurt me. Other than 1985, that was one year that I did put time in the game and I did start practicing. Then there was drinking, you would drink too much and suddenly that got a hold of you and there goes your game too. At tournaments it seemed like you’d need few to relax yourself, even though when I played American darts I never drank until after. At English darts tournaments, with not practicing, the drinks seem to relax you a little more so I felt I didn’t have to practice, but there were many times I’d get on a hot streak and then the alcohol would get a hold of it and that would be the end of it. In Las Vegas, in 1982 or 1983, I knocked off Jocky Wilson, who just won the world championship, two in a row with seven and eight dart 301 games and got in the finals against Nicki Virachkul. We had to wait several hours until the finals and I didn’t take care with the drinking so I had trouble picking doubles and lost. We’d made arrangements prior to playing to split the money anyway so that didn’t matter. But anyway, in many tournaments over the years the partying and late hours affected the result.
1984 I had just won the Masters tournament to go to England, and the publicity bit didn’t bother me anymore so I thought I’d put a little time in. I got a sponsor, General Sportscraft Unicorn and I went on a little spree of playing steady in 1985 and won in Minnesota, West Palm beach, Atlanta Georgia, Phoenix, Washington Open, New York Open and a lot of other places. It seems like that year and the beginning of 1986 I was hot as anything. When I didn’t let the alcohol get the best of me I was pretty much winning every tournament I got involved in. I got involved with the World Cup in Australia that year. Myself, Rick Nye, Tony Payne, and John Kramer, we had to play the English and we defeated the English 8 to 0 and got the gold metal. I played doubles with Rick Nye and let him down against John Lowe and Eric Bristow, who went on to win. If I’d have played just a little better we would have won because Rick was at the top of his game.
In 1986, what with not playing much and living down the shore, except for going to a few tournaments, and I got tired of the tournaments, I wanted to spend more time with my family. Winning all those times didn’t have anything to do with it. My interests in life were changing so I gave up my sponsorship and retired – again – for about the fifth time. I had just started wearing glasses my thumb hit them when I pulled the dart back and that interfered with my game and timing with my rhythm.
The time came, like when I went to England when I was 50, and I wished it could have been when I was 20 or 30. I’d lost some of the adrenaline, some of the drive. In 1985 I picked it up some but as fast as I picked it up I lost it again. Once you loose the adrenaline it’s gone. I found on Sunday at tournaments I’d be thinking about going home instead of going on and winning, and I wonder if that affected how I played. But I did show up in 1989 in US Open and won it for the second time. Came out of nowhere and beat Ray Davidson. Then I went to Atlantic City Jamie Jordan in 1990 or ’91, and Friday night I didn’t feel good, so I took a couple of aspirin and a bottle of Pepto bismal and it eased off. The doctors told me the aspirin probably open the clot and let the blood through. I played the rest of the weekend, and did fairly well. I went to the hospital and had angioplasty from a heart attack. I’ve had irregular heart beat too and I thought that showing up every couple of years for a tournament might not be a good idea. The extra stress from not being prepared and all wasn’t good. I did show up one last time in Atlantic City because Brian Dougherty, from Philadelphia called me and asked if I would be his partner, so I did. It was a shame for me and Brian because I didn’t play so well, especially in the doubles, and we didn’t play very well together. Brian played a great game against Taylor, from England and beat him in the singles. That would be the last time I played other than the Ray Chesney in Philly in 2000. I didn’t play on Sunday because I didn’t feel well. When I returned home I ended up in the hospital with irregular heartbeat.
So I got into golf, which to me is a more relaxing game and later on in golf, who knows maybe I’ll end up getting in the senior league and play against Arnie Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Wes Keys. Wes Keys? Who is Wes Keys? Just another good American dart shooter out of Philly who was strictly a hustler and not just in darts, but also golf too, in the 1960s.”
Interviewed Sept. 2003
Passed away 2008