Monday, September 22, 2014: John Schmidt is called Mr. 400. However, when I interviewed him today, he informed me that he actually ran 400 the first time he got his high run in straight pool (14.1), and then 403 the second time. Therefore, he is more correctly called Mr. 403.
I’m here to set the record to rights and let it be known. I actually met him years ago, back in 2007 at Starcade Billiards in Fort Walton Beach, Florida; he told me then that he had run 403 (I’d forgotten the exact number, however).
“I didn’t hit my first ball until I was 18 years old,” Schmidt tells me — he on the west coast in California and I here in Florida, the landmass of the US between us.
With him on speakerphone it’s almost as if we’re sitting face to face. We hit it off right from the start. Speaking with him is like talking to an old friend: easy and relaxed.
His younger brother, Stan, influenced him to play that first outing. They went to a poolroom called Boyce’s Billiards in California that day. The rest is history.
“I was a baseball player and a golfer,” Schmidt tells me of that time in his young life, and he adds that he really didn’t get into pool in a big way until he was 21. I find this fact amazing, since he now ranks as one of the best pocket billiards champions of all times — on the level with legends in the game like Willie Mosconi.
Schmidt and I talk of the 2014 Mosconi Cup and how he’s a member of the current team, and he regales me on his past experience in the 2006 Mosconi Cup: team USA tied team Europe 12-12, but it was considered a win, Schmidt explains, because team USA had won it the prior year. For that reason, team USA retained the cup. 2006 was the only year there was ever a veritable tie like this, and sets it apart as perhaps the most unique face-off yet.
He speaks of the ‘06 team being a “rookie” team with a younger, less seasoned group that was a little discombobulated and disjointed, although individually they were all great players.
The green core of the team was comprised of Rodney Morris, Corey Deuel, Mike Davis, and Schmidt, although they did have seasoned veterans Johnny Archer and Earl Strickland on board to complete the eclectic menagerie.
Additionally, he states that playing in Europe in front of a raucous, biased crowd placed team USA as a clear underdog yet they somehow, against all odds, pulled out the win with tenacity, grit, and the pride of a nation behind them.
Schmidt recalls, “The Mosconi Cup of ’06 was quite an experience…”
“They do things right, and it was a very extravagant, well run, well publicized, incredible event. I thought that we were pretty big underdogs going over there, because going over there and trying to beat them in Europe is quite difficult… so, I thought for us to go over to Europe and win was quite an accomplishment… and it was the first year that they paid the winning team more than the losing team, so there was a lot of pressure there, and it was just an incredible event, just like this one will be going over to London (for the 2014 event this year). I’m a pretty patriotic person, and I just feel like we have the best country in the world… It’s a free country. You know, you don’t get crucified or decapitated for your religion, or your sexual preference, or your way of life. Yeah, this is the greatest country in the world and for the last hundred years, we’ve had the best athletes, the best teams, the best scientists, best engineers, the strongest currency, the best military, I mean this country has been the best, but it worries me because it seems like we’re starting to not be the best. Our currency is weaker, our military is weakened, our social structure is weakening. I mean, this country’s a mess, and I think that it would go a long way for us to win this Mosconi Cup (2014), because our golfers lose the Ryder Cup, our pool players lose the Mosconi Cup. We’re just getting beaten around the globe at everything, and the reason I say this is the best country in the world is not to be arrogant, but this is the freest country. This is the land of the free, home of the brave. To me, this is a fantastic place to live, a fantastic country.”
Just a few short days before the event, he speaks to what it’s like working with 2014 team captain Mark Wilson, “I’ve known Mark a long time, I mean there’s just no one in the billiards industry that would say a bad word about him. He’s a great husband, and father, and family man. He’s just a good guy. He was one of those kind of guys that was the boy next door, was raised correctly with good moral values. He’s a stand up guy. He’s a straight shooter. I just don’t think you can pick a better person to be the captain of the cup.”
Moving along in the interview, I ask Schmidt about some of his accomplishments as a professional in the sport of pocket billiards. He’s run nine racks of 9-Ball twice, eight racks twice, and seven racks a few times.
He’s also strung together five back-to-back racks of 10-Ball twice. Additionally, he’s run nine racks of 8-Ball before, which he says was easy because of the table layout. Furthermore, he asserts that he’s beaten the 10-Ball ghost (which is taking ball in hand after the break and getting one turn at the table to run out) 22 consecutive times in Pensacola, Florida.
His favorite games are a tie between one pocket and straight pool. He loves them both equally.
For him, his best win came in ’06 when he won the US Open 9-Ball tournament held in Chesapeake, Virginia. The US Open is one of the most coveted, sought after titles in nine ball and pool as a whole worldwide.
Schmidt’s worst loss for him was losing to Danny Harriman 30-28 in a TAR (The Action Report) 10-Ball match. He said he came back to beat Harriman in a later match up, redeeming himself.
Harriman is a master of the game in his own right, running 350+ balls in straight pool on camera. Schmidt maintains the highest video-recorded run of 366 — considered to be one of the greatest achievements in the game.
To Schmidt, Efren Reyes is the greatest all-around player the game of billiards has ever seen and his favorite player is Rodney Morris —Mosconi Cup MVP from 2004, and champion of numerous titles.
“Rodney is just a very friendly, approachable, good guy. He’s loyal,” says Schmidt of Morris. He also adds that Morris looks out for his fellow players, is a good friend, doesn’t take any flak, and yet is respectful when he’s respected.
“I just look up to him in a lot of ways,” says Schmidt, who also says that there are many players he respects and looks up to, with Max Eberle and Johnny Archer being two of the many that he admires.
Outside of pool Schmidt is a sportsman of sorts, informing me that he plays golf just about every day, is into street bikes, dirt bikes, firearms, and fishing
“I’ve owned thirty street bikes and dirt bikes over the years… I believe in the second amendment and I like firearms.”
Schmidt also says that a breakthrough event for him was beating the legendary Efren Reyes to win the 72nd World Straight Pool title in 2012 — solidifying his place in that particular genre of the billiards world, and silencing some of his critics on his not winning that particular title before.
“When I won that, that kind of got the monkey off my back,” he tells me.
Life for a professional pool player is often a struggle financially. Schmidt informs me of what it’s like because of the tournament money and endorsements not being that substantial.
However, he maintains that there’s a lot of freedom that comes with the lifestyle, because he does his own thing in his own time, plays golf whenever he wants, and does pretty much what he wants when he wants.
Schmidt says, “There’s a lot of positives to being my own boss, and obviously we don’t make a lot of money, but our quality of life is very high. Time is valuable and we have a lot of free time. It’s a badge of honor.”
Respectful, humble, courteous, and very amicable to talk to, Schmidt is one of the best, most appealing players in the game of pocket billiards.