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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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July: Right Man for the Job
July 2019

Finally, John Schmidt will be known for something more than having been Mike Sigelís opponent during the Hall of Famerís much ballyhooed and ill-fated return to action in the 2000 Billiard Congress of America U.S. Open 14.1 Championship in New York City.

Donít go rushing off to billiard social media sites! Just kidding! Of course, Schmidt is better known for his many competitive accomplishments ó U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, World Tournament of 14.1 Champion, Mosconi Cup winner and more. But that day in New York when the then 27-year-old straight pool fanatic anteed up for the resurrection of the BCAís history-laden tournament and drew one of the gameís great 14.1 players in the first round remains one of my favorite memories. Anticipation was buzzing around Sigelís return to competition, particularly in a straight pool event. He had been in the practice room running racks like heíd never left the game, and the anticipation of watching the stylish lefty move around the table like Fred Astaire and effortlessly run hundreds had a packed house on the edge of its collective seat.

Schmidt looked both intimidated and overwhelmed. You could see him watching Sigelís every move out of the corner of his eye. But Sigel had put too much pressure on himself to play at peak level and, after an unfortunate scratch on a tricky shot, the Hall of Famer jammed the butt end of his cue into the carpet and leaned on the shaft. Snap! Schmidt looked on in astonishment as the shaft splintered like a twig. Schmidt went on to win the match, although he didnít finish high in the overall standings.

What drew my mind back to that fateful match in light of Schmidtís historic 626-ball run on Memorial Day (see page 32), is that it was the first time Iíd ever met Schmidt, and it was obvious even then how much he loved straight pool. You could see in the doe-eyed look he carried around the Roosevelt Ballroom that there was no place on earth he would rather have been.

And, thankfully, Schmidtís straight pool fanaticism has never waned. In fact, prior to his now-well-documented series of dedicated efforts to top Willie Mosconiís legendary run of 526 balls, Schmidt had invested more days and hours chasing poolís scariest ghost than most players play in a year. Six years ago, a thread on AZBilliards.com about topping Mosconiís mark led Schmidt to offer to play 6-8 hours a day, five days a week for a year. He asked for $50,000 as a salary.

At the time, I suggested the industry fund the project and live stream every session. The sponsors of his cue, table, rack, comfy slippers, etc., could have pitched in. I still think it would have been a great industry project. Social media would have exploded when he hit 490 several weeks ahead of the record run. And when he hit 500 on Memorial Day? People would have left their steaks burning on the Weber.

The marketing opportunities seemed golden. The billiard industry being the billiard industry, however, the idea never took root.

That did not deter Schmidt, who kept making time to run balls, rack after rack. His focus was single-minded. Admittedly, Iím somewhat disappointed that the record-breaking run was not live streamed. It would have been amazing to see. Watching it now will be something akin to watching the climbing documentary ďFree Solo.Ē It was hair-raising to watch a man scale the face of El Capitan with no ropes, but I knew ahead of time he made it. Weíll never know the feeling of watching it unfold. The uncertainty. That edge-of-the-seat angst. And Iíll always wonder how much the pressure of knowing thousands of people (and the number growing by the ball) were tuned in would have affected Schmidt as the end came into view.

But that doesnít for a minute diminish my astonishment and admiration for what Schmidt did in Monterey, Calif., on that Monday in May. To me, he was the perfect person to break the record. In fact, he was the only person that should have broken the record. It was his obsession. Nobody put in the time or effort chasing that single record that John Schmidt put in.

He deserved it. And he earned it. I think it was also appropriate that it didnít come easy. How much more do you imagine John Schmidt appreciates his own accomplishment now knowing how many times he failed, and remembering how many times a miss at 380, or a scratch at 409, or that 5 ball he missed at 490 made him want to pull a Sigel on his cue and simply go home. How does one clear oneís head, take a deep breath and start over that many times?

The mental fortitude that it took for Schmidt to accomplish this feat may be the most impressive thing to me. I donít know what lies ahead for John Schmidt. Heís received plenty of attention within our circle, and a little in the mainstream media. I certainly hope there are rewards to be reaped, because ďMr. 600Ē certainly deserves them. He broke a record that stood for 65 years. It was, perhaps, poolís most recognized record. And he didnít do it banking on the big payoff. He did it because he wanted to see if he could. To me, that is the most admirable reason.

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