Baltadonis, Joe

BALTADONIS, JOE (Bag-a-doughnuts)

Career base: Mt.Royal NJ (Philadelphia, PA suburb)

 

Accomplishments

1971-72 US Open Champion

Member of 11 man US Team for England Vs US match in England.

Joe was the only US Player to win his match.

Did not play in the News of the World championship (no position was open for an American competitor at that time)

1973- US Open Champion runner up

Competed in the England Masters Tournament, in England, and finished second.

News of the World championship American position was taken by Al Lippman (US Champion)

1975- Member of US All Star Team in England Vs US Match in England

Record: Won every match.

Challenged the winner of the News of the World Championship, the challenge was not taken up by the World Champion but was accepted by the runner up to that title. I won.

 

“I think my best memory is of the banquet after the 1975 England Vs US match. Each player was introduced to the crowd and walked across the stage. I was the last American and received a standing ovation; it was as good as sex. The team that went to England was a hand picked team from everywhere, not just New Jersey and Philly. Bob McLeod organized it and there were people from Chicago, Washington DC and Ohio and all over.

I have to say, my wife, Rose, and my brother, Ed, really helped me win because going to tournaments, which were all on weekends, cost a lot of money and took me away from the business. My brother minded the business while I was away, which was tough pulling 16 hour shifts. Rose supported me and went to tournaments with me. She played a big part in my winning so much.

When I got to England in 1975 I went out to play in some of the Pubs and there was a poster that said “Beware of this American,” that had my name on it and a picture. That was a good feeling. I guess that came from all the guys I beat the last time I was there. The night after I played in the match [England Vs US] and challenged the World Champion I went to the place where everyone was and the guy that came in second in the world championship said he’d play me. I wasn’t wearing my regular shoes and had to find someone who wore size 10 ½ that would let me borrow them to play. Some guy was really nice and lent me his shoes. I won the match, best of three. After I’d won the match people ganged up around the stage and when I leaned over to sign an autograph for some girl she took my darts out of my shirt pocket and ran out with them. The cops caught her and brought them back but she almost got a souvenir.

I started playing when I was nine years old, in my father’s bar. I wasn’t allowed in the bar but had a dart board in my room and got some of the old darts from the bar to use. I used to shoot bulls eyes a lot and after a while I was allowed in the bar for one hour a day to play darts. I hated to loose. I got barred from playing because the men started arguing over who would get me for a partner. When I was 16 we moved to Mt. Royal and I started playing in bar Vs bar matches, there weren’t any leagues until later. This was American style darts, there wasn’t any such thing as English darts. Basically, I think I won because of the desire I had to win, at anything, even on the football field in high school. I hated to loose. That and I practiced a lot, sometimes ten – twelve hours a day, before I even went out to play darts in the evening. I had people who worked night work come in my bar at seven in the morning to play darts, that was they’re night time, and we didn’t have very many customers at that time of day, so I’d play with them. When they left there were guys come in at lunch time and they’d want to play, then there were the construction guys who quit early in the afternoon. When I was in high school I went to a place called the Cozy Corner, where the owner knew my dad and would let me in, I had to drink soda of course but somebody would always want to play for some kind of bet, not much, maybe ten cents, that was the price for a draught beer, or a quarter a game, but something. That sharpens your game, playing for something. I didn’t play for a lot of money until I got into English darts, then it got up as high a hundred dollars. We did pre set matches, but they were mostly set up by someone else and they’d call me to play. After the match if the looser wanted a rematch you’d make arrangements for that too. I played money matches because I liked to beat the guy. Of course while I’m playing I’m spending money at the bar and to come home with a couple of hundred extra dollars too was really good (chuckle, chuckle). Money matches made you concentrate harder because if you lose in a tournament you think, so what, it’s just another tournament and I’ll go to another one and do better. If you lose money it’s gone and sometimes when you play somebody they’d say, I’m not going to play you anymore and if you’d lost you couldn’t get your money back. To begin with I didn’t want to lose, then I didn’t want to lose the money, so it made me a better player. When we went to New York for tournaments we’d go out at night to find money games and Nick Verachkul had a place in Soho where players would all go. Me and Frank Ennis went one time and after a while we’d lost about a hundred or so and Frank called it a night but I decided to stay some more. They had a sign up list where people who wanted to play put up their initials and when your turn came you played who ever had won the game before that, sort of King of the Hill. There was a heater duct by the dart board and one of my darts fell into it. They had to take the duct apart to get the dart, which caused a commotion, but the best part was when I left that night. The bar tender asked me if I would take a check instead of the cash I had. All the players had been getting money from the cash register and the bar didn’t have any money left, I had it all. When I got back to the hotel room I pulled my shirt up and money fell out all over the place. My wife, Rose, made such a racket that Frank came from next door to see what was the matter. I told him, see I told you not to leave!

I had the determination to win and I just hated to loose. Then came the recognition from the people as I got better and started to win more. Getting a sponsorship inspired me to play well too, because you didn’t have to worry about the cost of going to tournaments and with the sponsor we had we got to keep what ever money we won.

Bob Theide got me interested in the English style darts. I toed the 7’3″ American dart line and it made it easier for me to move back to the 8′ English line. That’s what it was then, 8′. Later they moved it up to 7’9 3/4″. He put an English dart board back in the pool room and said, come on, give it a shot, so I did. I started playing the game but didn’t know what I was doing until Bob came down and showed me a little bit about how to play it. Then one day he told me they were playing for money in some places in New York and we could make out up there. So we went and they were playing everything counts games because they didn’t know anything either. We were knocking them dead when we found out they were going to hold an open tournament. Me, Bob & his wife and George Silberzahn went up there. George just went to see what English darts was and not to play, but ended up trying it anyway. I was just playing and kept winning and winning and winning and never got into the losers bracket and at the end of the evening I met Bob Thiede in the finals. Bob won the first game and kind of let me win the second game by helping me with my out shot. He told me what to shoot for, and every thing he told me to hit, I hit it. After that game he said, you’re on your own now. One of the players overheard him and told me he’d help me and he did, and Bob had 40 left when I took out 48 and won the thing. That kind of burned Bob up. People were picking me up and stuffing money in my pocket and everything else, and hugging me and all. It was a great thrill and even so, my buddy George Silberzahn, on the way home in the car, with Bob Thiede’s wife crying and all, leaned over and said, you don’t even know what you won do you? You don’t realize what you did! Well, I thought yea, I won a tournament but the next day I get a phone calls from a reporters from United Press and True magazine, and doing interviews where he asked me what kind of training I went through. They were trying to find out if I had a training regimen and how many hours a day I practiced and worked out, physical stuff. I told one guy from True magazine I quit my job to practice darts all day, like a joke, you know? It ended up printed in the magazine. I got a laugh at all that stuff.

At tournaments I used to drink a little to settle my nerves and calm down and I never ate before a match. My metabolism would make me want to take a nap if I ate. At a tournament, when you win a couple of matches and start to move up in the bracket your adrenaline would really start flowing and I’d think, I can’t lose now I’m getting close to the top. My darts got better and better.

As far as practice, Theide would hang a dart board on the hotel room door and I’d practice on that when we were at a tournament. I’d get down to the place where the tournament was going to be played way early. If the doors opened at 9:00 I’d be in there at 7:30 and practice on all the boards in all the rooms, just to make sure they were OK. When I was working in my bar at home I’d work the day shift and somebody would always come in and want to play, if there were three of them I’d get in to be the fourth so they wouldn’t leave for some other place. Then at night I’d go out to some other place to play and after they’d close we’d keep on playing, so I’d be playing practically all day. Sometimes I’d get home in time to open the bar, and when Mom came in I’d run up to change into my work clothes. I played all day and all night at lot.

Even when I practiced by myself I would shoot to a point where I got bored and would stop, because you’re not going to get any better, you’re going to get worse. When you practice with somebody else you won’t get bored. To sharpen up on double outs I timed myself to see how long it took to hit every double around the board, from the double one back around to the double 20 then finish with the double bull. I didn’t run back and forth, I just shot normally and the best I ever did was 15 minutes. I figured the center of the board would come. I didn’t learn to count and figure out shots because I didn’t need to. At tournaments there were always fans who’d ask if I wanted them to score for me and they’d help. In partner games my partner would help. Most of the time I’d hit so many tons and ton forties that I’d be so far ahead I could miss out shots and still have a couple of turns to go out. When I’d be a little off the 20 I’d switch to the 19 and score there.

The English dart game is fair because of the chance a weaker player has to beat a stronger player in 301. In American darts an exceptional player would play six, seven and eight around the board and the weaker player would only hit fives and fours. They had no chance. So in that way the English game is more fair.   

My bar, the Mt. Royal Inn, became the Mecca of darts in southern New Jersey because I think some people wanted to learn about darts and others wanted to knock me off my pedestal. Even though I wasn’t a really good teacher of darts people would ask me how to play and I’d show them, like they would hold the dart wrong, or have the wrong leg out and stuff like that. The Mt. Royal Inn became the place to learn darts or be in a dart league, and stayed that way. We started the South Jersey English Dart League. We held some luck of the draw tournaments, and that helped too. George Silberzahn played in my place until the league started but we split the good players up to other teams that were starting. He became the President of the league to help it get going. Darts has been really good for business.

To show them this new English dart game, me and Rick Wobensmith went to the American dart league meeting with an English dart board stand, and all, but they said that game would never get anywhere. Now look, American darts is hardly around. But, all darts is not what it used to be either.

The heyday of darts was when I first started, there were fancy affairs held at the end of a season where trophies were handed out for different things. They recognized people for different things, like best player, most improved player, winning team and thing like that. It seemed like your chest would pop out when you were called up for high average and things like that. There would be anywhere from 300 to 400 people there and everybody got dressed up, it was like going to a wedding, everybody was in suits and ties, all the women got corsages and there was live music and it was in a nice place. There were door prizes of TV sets and microwave ovens and things like that. The banquet was a big thing that everyone looked forward too. It was almost like that was the reason for the league, sometimes. It was all fun and everybody would visit from table to table. Of course there were politics of trying to coax a player to leave a team and come to your team, but it was all in good sport. There used to be dress codes, too, before they started wearing ripped clothes and sneakers and that stuff. Shoes affect how I play. I play better in a dress shoe, with a heel, than in sneakers.

Going to tournaments was like one big happy party and there were no fights or anything like that, even with some people drinking too much and the competition. The closest I ever came to fisticuffs was in Chicago, but nothing came of it, except the next morning I found dead flowers hanging from my hotel door knob. Nobody could figure out how I could play so much better the more I drank, but I did. Not many people could tell though because I wasn’t a drunk, like those guys that stagger around and get loud and nasty, you know? DUI laws have hurt darts. We need to drive to get other bars and cops will notice a car that has been sitting outside a bar all night, then figure the person must be drunk if they spent the whole night in the bar. I have one guy that drinks water all night, until after the league is over, and then he’ll have a couple of beers before he leaves. Now there aren’t as many bars with teams as there used to be. A lot of places have more than one team to cut down on driving.

That first round in a tournament everybody is nervous and I’ve seen a lot of players knocked out in that round, including me. You draw someone you’ve never heard of from St. Louis or somewhere and think, oh boy I didn’t draw somebody tough then the next thing you know you’re out and wondering what happened. I didn’t think there were any good players from anywhere but certain parts of the country that I knew about and when somebody did show up you weren’t ready. Your first match is a tough one. I never ate because I was too nervous. I think if I ate I would have thrown it all up. There was a guy named Hughie O’Neal from Philly that seemed to draw really tough people in the first round every time he went to a tournament. He told me he wanted to go to at least one tournament where he could get past the National Anthem before he was knocked out.

I think being sponsored hurt my game. I was a pro player for Laser/Fansteel darts. My signature dart was the diamond back 21 and 24 gram ones, I called it the Snake. I made a mistake with the darts I picked for my signature darts. I should have gone right to tungsten, instead of brass. I didn’t think people would put out $75 – $100 dollars for a set of darts, but would buy brass darts for $25 – $30 and I found out they would after I switched to my “snake” tungsten darts, but that was kind of too late.

The sponsorship was going on nine years and I could kind of see the handwriting on the wall when Fansteel sold out to Laser darts. Frank Ennis and I were the original team members and we had travel and room paid. I was told I didn’t have to win to be on the sponsor’s team but was expected to be like a salesman, and dress right, and spend time with kids at tournaments so they would buy Fansteel darts. So I didn’t have to win and I think that took some of that killer instinct away. I used to do trick shots like shooting cigarettes out of people’s mouth at tournaments, too. My best trick was shooting a dime off a person’s tongue but I didn’t do that much. Laser darts was going to get people from their own community, Chicago, and instead of calling me and Frank Ennis, they called a guy from Canada and a guy from Chicago. I didn’t do as well as I might have which left the door open for guys who were doing better to suggest to the sponsor they should be tried in place of me or Frank.

I tried to set the pace of a match when I played. I shot in a rhythm and wanted to force the other guy to go off his darts by forcing him to throw at my pace. I heard people say, I got wise to Baltadonis, slow him down, because when somebody slowed me down I got off my darts. I’d stand there waiting to shoot thinking, come on, come on, throw the dart and then I’d try to get in my rhythm and I’d mess myself up. Like Conrad Daniels. I’d take about eight seconds to throw my darts and he’d take maybe 20 seconds. Even when we played as partners he’d drive me nuts.

We you get knocked out of a tournament it’s a real downer, you know? A bummer. Especially when you’re playing well and the other guy is just a bit better at that time. Then you have to wait until the next year to do better. You think about how you lost, did I not try hard enough or how did he get ahead of me, things like that. Another bad thing is when someone you’re with tells you to shoot at something you don’t want to, and you do it anyway. Because of coming from playing American darts I’d play for 51 with a single and double 17, or 54 with a single and double 18 and I’d make it, but later I was told to go for an 11 then double 20 and things like that. That’s when you want to blame the loss on them.

You have to really like darts to be successful at it and you have to play it to understand it and love it. The game is really fair, too!

There has to be chemistry between partners. When George Silberzahn and I were partners nether one of us ever blamed the other for a loss, or a win, it was a team thing, and we never had to talk about that, it just was. But we seemed to be bridesmaids, never brides, for some reason, and couldn’t get that “big one.” I got so I’d try to set my partner up for his best out shot and my partner would set me up for mine. Like Frank Ennis liked the double 20 and I liked the double 16. Sometimes Frank Ennis would leave me on double 20 but that was because I could hit the double ten without a problem since it’s in the same location on the board as the double 16.

Now I just play in the league, I have four teams that play out of my bar. I have to open at six in the morning, which means I have to get up at four, and that keeps me from playing as much as I would like. That plus I’m getting up in age. I think the last tournament I played in was in Virginia Beach in about 1998, 1997, something like that. I lost the sponsorship, and my wife got cancer so that put a damper on the traveling, I’d like to play more, but I’m not practicing anymore and my game’s down, so it would be more or less a waste of time to go. I haven’t lost interest in the game, but you think you can still do it when you can’t. I’ll never quit the game, just taper off.

If there is something I’d tell anyone who is thinking about getting into darts it would be: you have to love the game and you have to practice, if you practice and you aren’t getting any better and you get whipped all the time, hang ’em up!!”

 

Interviewed Nov. 2003

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