Exclusive: "Mr. 400" John Schmidt on breaking Willie Mosconi's record & more
Part of Team USA for 2 Mosconi Cup teams -- those of 2006 and 2014 -- John Schmidt is also a previous winner of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship Championship and the World Straight Pool Championship. Schmidt has further made billiards fans worldwide take notice when he recently broke the record for the highest run in straight pool, with a run of 626 in 2019.
When interviewing Great White guitarist Mark Kendall for Sportskeeda, his friendship with John Schmidt came up and helped me realize that I should be doing a feature interview with Schmidt as well. In turn, below are highlights from my recen Q&A with John Schmidt, who you can learn more about through the East Street Billiards website.
When did you first start playing billiards?
John Schmidt: First picked up a cue at 18 years old. I was working a regular job at the time and had not yet taken billiards serious.
At what point did you transition from playing billiards for fun to it being a career of sorts?
John Schmidt: In 1996, I quit my day job at the advice of Bobby Hunter and began playing money games.
Not a lot is known about the behind-the-scenes world of professional billiards. Are there sponsorships and endorsements like there are with other sports? Agents and managers?
John Schmidt: Sponsorships are rare and usually directly related to products by billiard companies. Up until recently, I have not known of many pool players who had agents or managers. Jeanette Lee may be the exception.
Altogether, billiards is unlike any other sport or game I can think of. Have your skills in billiards ever translated to other activities?
John Schmidt: Prior to playing billiards, I have enjoyed many sports that rely on "hand/eye" coordination... Like dirt and street-biking. I am also an avid golfer, and in my youth, a baseball player. I believe these sports have been a transferable 'bonus' to my skills on the billiard table.
In general, how much do you practice when you have a major tournament coming up?
John Schmidt: Maybe once a week for 3 to 4 hours. I usually practice intensely at the venue site upon arriving.
Your recently-achieved record has been compared to that of Cal Ripken Jr. and Michael Phelps. When did you first set out to break Willie Mosconi's record?
John Schmidt: I have always had a competitive mindset for all sports and after achieving my first 400, I always pushed to "better my own best." Being a straight pool player -- a.k.a. 14.1 continuous -- everyone knows who Willie Mosconi was and the unbelievable record he set of 526. I had always thought of it when I was pushing my own limits and in the last few years, many friends and associates thought I should give a concerted effort to a record-breaking number.
I have to date, managed to run 400+ over 8 times in my career. Recently that included exceeding 526 and finishing with a career marker of 626. The billiard world owes Willie Mosconi a huge debt of gratitude and respect, as that record of "526" stood solid for 65 years.
Are there any other billiards-related records you have your eye on breaking?
John Schmidt: No... Unless someone bests my record and then I will look forward to again challenging "that" number.
Billiards aside, are there any sports teams you follow?
John Schmidt: No, no teams per say.
Is there something you wish more people knew about John Schmidt?
John Schmidt: I am a happy guy who is sometimes a bit intense. When it comes to pool or golf or my other hobbies, I always strive to be the best and sometimes that pressure to achieve is beyond stressful. I have many hobbies and things I do outside of the pool world and I am not one to practice or enter lots of tournaments these days.
I love time with my wife, family and friends, camping, fishing, helping my pops with tasks and mechanical things. I guess you could say I am very diverse... (laughs) Yet dedicated to those I love and especially being American. I am very proud of that.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
John Schmidt: Stay in school, stay out of trouble. Listen to your parents. Above all, strive to be your very best at whatever you do. Good people have a chance in this world... Be one of them. Make a difference by your actions -- not just your words.
If you love a sport, find the best professional player and if given the chance, talk to them, if they tutor, work and get lessons. Always imagine your possibilities, conquer your fears, and make your dreams a reality.