40th Anniversary : HE CALLED THE SHOT
It may be hard to imagine a time when something as enjoyable and harmless as pinball was illegal, but living in Colorado over the past couple years it’s now not hard to imagine what happens after a silly law prohibiting personal freedom is finally “run out of town”. Roger Sharpe played a pivotal role in building the case against the prohibition. Below is an excerpt article from Pinball Education and a message from Mr. Sharpe about where and why you should consider contributing to Pinball EDU, a non profit organization that believes Pinball can be a powerful therapeutic tool.
Pinball had been officially banned by New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia as a form of gambling since January of 1942. Claiming pinball robbed the “pockets of schoolchildren in the form of nickels and dimes given them as lunch money”, he ordered them seized and destroyed. Other cities, including pinball’s home city of Chicago, followed suit but pinball did not disappear. Rather, it was kept alive over the next thirty years in primarily underground, seedy locations that were often subject to police raids.
During this time the machines changed significantly. The introduction of the flipper in 1947 dramatically altered the way the game was played, adding a new and distinct skill component. By 1976 the Music and Amusement Association (MAA) successfully lobbied the New York City Council and was granted a hearing to re-examine the legitimacy of the ban. Their goal was simple — to prove to the Council that pinball was a game of skill, not chance.
Roger Sharpe, a 26 year-old magazine editor and renowned pinball player, was chosen by the MAA to demonstrate this skill. Sharpe gave a compelling speech arguing that pinball did not rely on arbitrariness or luck, but instead was a predominantly player-controlled game. Surrounded by journalists, photographers, and City Council members, Sharpe began to play. Despite an impressive game, the anti-pinball contingent was not swayed.
Then, in what he has compared to Babe Ruth’s called shot to center field, Roger Sharpe pulled back the plunger and, pointing to the top of the playing field, declared that he would shoot the ball through the top middle lane. He released the plunger and the ball followed his prescribed course. The Council immediately overturned the ban in a unanimous 6-0 vote.
On August 1, 1976, Sharpe’s birthday, Mayor Abraham Beame signed the new law making pinball legal once again.