From the desk of Carpet Jimmy, to set the stage:
John Schmidt and I have been texting/calling each other. He is making arrangements to come to Richmond to play Mika “The Iceman” Immonen in Battle Royale IV. John is in Tipton, Oklahoma. He is on the road in his RV, in the center of the country, wondering whether to go home to California and fly out at a later date or just to fire up the RV and get his ass to Richmond early. He is concerned about money. He worries about the costs of his travels and he worries that the small stipend Greenleaf’s happily contributes is too much. He feels guilty; like he’s taking advantage of an old friendship. This is John. He is kinda nutted up. In his life and in his game maybe he overthinks. To be clear—we are discussing Mr. 400, John Schmidt, the greatest straight-pool player alive and one of the best all-around players in the game’s melancholy history. He is a World Straight Pool champion, a US Open 9-Ball champion, and a stone-cold road hustler who, for over two decades, has played all comers for the big money. His play is charismatic, fast and decisive. He is a ball running machine. His stories are hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy.
Still, John is nutted up. As great as he is, he is riddled with self-doubt. This may be real or a motivational tool. Either way, it informs his career and is always present. John knows how hard, how unfair, the game is. Maybe it is a preemptive deflection of the suffering that will surely come. John views himself as an under-achiever, a footnote. He is haunted by and feels akin to certain players from the past; legends like Babe Cranfield and Mike Eufemia, now all-but-lost to history.
He is also haunted by a number— 526, pool’s only relevant statistic. It is the highest documented run in history. Established by Willie Mosconi at The East High Billiard Club in Springfield, Ohio on March 19 and 20, 1954. Mosconi’s high run of 526 is an almost mystical marker and a throw-down from history. It is a height to aspire to and a weight to be crushed by. Of the hand full of contemporary players that have a chance at the record, John is the favorite. He has run 400 balls twice and owns multiple 300 ball runs. This is staggering. 526. John chases it. In his quest he has gone through homes, cars, boats, businesses, relationships, friends and money. He is still in his prime. He knows the time is now. It just may signify redemption.
John Schmidt is a pool hustler, maybe the last of his kind, motoring around the country. He is an authentic American anti-hero, a night errant, and a guy I just dig. He is on our wall, on our coasters and soon, will be in our room. Can’t wait. His match with Mika promises to be epic.
I have also been in touch with Mika about Battle Royale IV. What a contrast! I never know what time zone he will be in. Mika flies all over the world, garners fame and money, has all kinds of escapades, and posts selfies with his shirt off. He is stylish, vain, urbane, and looks like a Bond villain. A world citizen, Mika’s politics are nuanced and left-leaning. [By comparison I am reasonably sure that John keeps his shirt on and likes to fish and drink beer. And, I suspect, somewhere in his RV lurks a MAGA hat.] Mika, unlike John, is unburdened with self-doubt. Actually, he seems unaware of the concept. Mika possesses that intangible quality, that combination of talent, will and grit, like Michael Jordan or Roger Federer, that separates champions from their contemporaries.
Mika’s pool resume is glorious. He is a 2-time US Open 9-Ball champion, World 9-Ball champion, World Straight Pool champion, and was voted “Player of the Decade” for 2000-2010. Mika was inducted into the Billiard Hall of Fame in 2015. He has beaten everyone from Toledo to Timbuktu and continues to thrive on the world stage.
It is tempting to view Battle Royale IV as a snapshot of the game itself, of a clash between what once was and what will be; between American history and pool’s new world order. John Schmidt lives in the box, playing for the cash. Mika lives everywhere. The Iceman runs balls as a means to an end. For Mr. 400, running balls is the end. Though direct contemporaries, Mika embodies pool’s future, John Schmidt is a summation of a grand past. They like each other. They also don’t want to lose, even if it is a charity match in a friend’s pool room. They will be performing on Table 1, Tuesday, October 30th at 7pm.