Photo by Joyce Ravid
Among wrestling fans, Mick Foley is seen as a “hardcore legend.” Wrestling as Cactus Jack, Foley earned a name for himself in Japan, wrestling in matches featuring barbed wire and thumbtacks. He worked his way up to the WWE, wrestling under the name Mankind and earning mainstream recognition during a “Hell in a Cell” match in June 1998, when he fell off the top of a steel cage through the announcer’s table.
After years of tormenting his body, Foley retired from the active roster in 2000. Out of the limelite, Foley turned his attention to writing. He penned two autobiographies, three childrens books and is currently trying to break his way into popular fiction. His first novel, Tietam Brown earned him some critical praise, but it seems his newest book, Scooter might just be the breakthough novel Foley has been searching for.
The book has already impressed Richard Price, the best-selling author of Freedomland and Clockers. Price is quoted on the back of the book as saying, “In turns ashcan realist and operatic, lurid and heartfelt, sentimental and hard-nosed, Scooter is an absorbing tale of one kid’s growth into young manhood via sports; sports as an instrument of love, of revenge, of celebration and of destruction. It also, most compellingly, offers an athlete’s contemplation of pain, and the unique brand of salvation that can come of its forbearance.”
Foley also plans on returning to wrestling. He signed a new contract with the WWE to return to the ring part-time and he appeared as a special guest on last night’s special “Homecoming” edition of Monday Night Raw. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to speak with Foley about his writing, his wrestling and the evil empire that is the New York Yankees.
Willie McCovey, and more importantly, his bat play a huge role in this book. Did you choose him for a specific reason or did you just pick a name of a former great?
Two reasons. One, the first story that kind of came to seed for this book was of a New York city cop coming home after a few too many drinks in the Long Island railroad bar car and playing stickball with the neighborhood kids and having a good time until he realized he was swinging with a McCovey bat. He seemed to have a great big problem with the neighborhood kids playing with an autographed model of a black athlete’s bat and he set about trying to destroy that bat against a tree. So, I fictionalized that story and used it for Scooter.
McCovey’s name is also important because I was trying to find a famous major leaguer who could hit the ball a long way and pulled everything. McCovey was a name that my friends offered me.
We know you did a lot of research for this book. What was that process like for you?
I started this book as a short story when I was in route to China for some volunteer work. I thought two things – one, I had the potential for a novel and two, if I didn’t really have my baseball knowledge down that the baseball fans would be unforgiving. So, I set about reading nothing but New York history and baseball history for about six months. I really wanted the story to sound as if it came from a guy who knew the game.
Did it work for you? Has the response from baseball fans been positive?
Yeah, even people who write about baseball for a living seem to think the baseball is pretty solid, with the exception of my having the Mets taking the field in the bottom of the 14th at Shea, which is impossible, and spelling Bobby Thomson’s name with a “P,” it seems like I’ve done pretty good.
We have an important question for you. Are you actually a Yankees fan?
Yeah, I grew up a huge Yankees fan. For a few years in the late 90s, I thought it would be good for baseball if the smaller market teams had a shot at the series title. I now think it would be good for baseball if the Yankees won another series title.
We thought you made Scooter’s dad a Yankees fan because you were looking for another way to make the character less likeable.
(Laughs) It’s kind of tricky because most Yankees stories don’t take place during the lean years, but I really was intrigued by the fact that the Bronx and the team were crumbling simultaneously.
Speaking of dads, we noticed you snuck your father into this book. What made you decide to include Dr. Foley?
My father was a very interesting character who was respected and feared in the halls of my high school. So I decided that it would be more interesting not to fictionalize him at all. The mountains of magazines on his desk are pretty much exactly as they would have been years ago.
One of my big fears was that my dad would take issue with being a character in the book and I kind of held my breath when he was reading it. I was really happy that he not only liked his depiction, but was really touched that I dedicated the book to him.
Did he have any idea beforehand that you were going to put him in the book or did you just spring it on him?
(Laughs) Yeah, I figured I’d take the gutless approach.
Photo by Courtney Vickery
What are your plans for your next novel?
There’s something like 50,000 books published a year and I guess everybody has their own unique style, so I don’t see any pressure to stop being a first person narrator. But, I am intrigued by being a different narrator in each book.
Tietam Brown had a 17-year-old year old kid growing up in upstate New York in the 80s. Scooter was a little more ambitious in that he was a narrator at four, nine, 13 and 17 growing up in the Bronx in the 60s. My next project, I’m going to attempt to be a black woman in her 30s growing up in the segregated south in the mid-1950s.
Have you started working on that book yet?
No, I’m in the research and imagination phase. I’m trying to find her voice and actually the voice-finding process is going pretty good. I hear her voice – not in a literal, psychotic sense, but in the imaginary, literary sense. It’s going to involve a lot of work because I really want my research to be legitimate and get a feel for what this kid would have been going through as he takes this monumental trip through the segregated south to meet Mickey Mouse.
What kind of expectations do you have for a book like Scooter?
I’m pretty realistic as far as sales. It’s very difficult to find new readers and I’ve come to accept that wrestling fans, though they may actually love me, are not necessarily going to change their lives for me. Reading fiction is a lifestyle change and it’s a very rare book that comes along that actually brings new readers to the table. I’m not sure that Scooter is going to be one of those. But I do think that people who pick it up and have an open mind will enjoy it regardless of whether they are a wrestling fan or a baseball fan. The most important thing is that the people who do read it like it. But, of course, big sales would be a close number two.
You said wrestling fans? You were some sort of wrestler before, is that right?
No seriously, we know you were part of the Hardcore Homecoming reunion show in Philadelphia. What was it like to be a part of such a phenomenal show and did that, and the WWE-ECW show, play a part in your wanting to come back to wrestling?
No, they didn’t, because I had actually been talking with the WWE about playing a very limited role before those shows were even on the table. I enjoyed both shows. Hardcore Homecoming is a difficult one for me to judge because I was kind of sequestered in an office and very few of the wrestlers even knew I was there. I did that show to try to show my thanks to Shane Douglas for being such a good friend when I was breaking in.
I really enjoyed the One Night Stand and I’m afraid to watch it because I’m sure I’ll think the commentary sucked. But, I liked it and I guess either a lot of people have lied or really did think that I did okay on it.
How close were you to signing with NWA TNA?
Very, very close. I think that everybody is better off with another viewing option and I really had convinced myself that the competition would bring out the best in Vince McMahon. I really felt like I’d be doing him a favor in an odd way. That argument, of course, didn’t go that well with Vince when I brought it to him. It turns out that Vince can be a little difficult to say no to. I also didn’t understand just how highly they thought of me in WWE. I was very, very close, but I always told Jeff Jarrett that I needed to make that call to Vince, and there was always a chance that he could make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Ultimately, you decided to sign with the WWE. How long are you back for? What do you see your role being in the WWE this time around?
What’s great from both my standpoint and their’s is that it’s just a few matches a year and we can really look long term at where those matches would best be utilized. So, if they think I can best be utilized in a role at Wrestlemania, that’s great, or if they say, “We’ve got enough on our plate at ‘mania, but we could really use you at Backlash,” then I’m all for that as well.
Have you had any talks with the creative team yet? Do you know what show you are going to be on?
No, I had just one very vague talk with a member of creative team and definitely liked what I heard, but that’s as far as I’ll go.
Have you been training for your return at the WWE Homecoming show?
(Laughs) I’ve been assured that this is not one of those matches, but I am in the process of trying to drop a couple of pounds. Next time I get down to 270, I’m going to try to stay in that ballpark. As it turns out, if you go back to all of your terrible eating habits and stop working out, you will put some of weight on. It’s a scientific marvel. I used my body as a guinea pig and dedicated the last year and a half to science.
Muhammad Hassan was recently released from the WWE after drawing some heat from the media for forming a group resembling a terrorist cell. One of the last times we saw you in a WWE ring, you were helping to put over Muhammad Hassan. What are your thoughts on the way that situation was handled?
Timing is sometimes everything. The timing was really bad as it turned out to do a faux terrorist angle, being that it ended up airing on the day of the London bombings. I would have thought that was going too far anyway. I think it’s a shame because I did like that character or else I would not have participated in that December television show with him. I really thought the potential would have been in him coming back, asking the American people for forgiveness, seeing the error in his ways and being accepted as a positive Arab American role model. The only problem is once people found out he wasn’t really Arab American, it would have made for a lot less effective character. But, I do believe the public would have forgiven him if it was done the right way.
Talk to us about the state of wrestling.
Well, I like the fact that there is some competition on the horizon. I like a lot of those TNA guys and I really do believe a good TNA show will bring out the best in the WWE. I think everybody wins in that situation.
What about the WWE shows today? What do you think of them now?
I’ve always thought they were pretty good. Some people are a lot harder on the shows than I am. There’s always something entertaining there for me. I still think if you were to compare today’s product and 1983’s product, for example, we’d blow it away. I just think we kind of set a tough standard in the late 90s.
We’d like to change gears for a moment here. Let’s talk about your visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. You’ve been quoted as saying the first time you went was out of guilt, but since then you’ve been back close to 20 times to visit wounded veterans. How difficult was it the first time and what makes you go back?
I fully expected my first visit to Walter Reed to be my last, but there’s something about that WWE TV coming into so many homes, especially when so many of these soldiers were in their formative teen years. I think especially my character kind of made them feel like they had a friend. So when I meet these guys, they kind of look at me as if they already know me and they find me easy to talk to. I realized after my first visit, which had been about an eight hour visit, that I hadn’t actually done a whole lot of talking, mostly listening. And I also realized, far from being depressed or sad, I really felt enthused and motivated. By the fifth or sixth hour, I was telling some of these guys I planned on seeing them again.
Okay, we don’t want to end this on a serious note. So, we’d like to ask you about one of your favorite subjects – Christmas. Are your Christmas lights up now? Honestly, who gets more excited – you or your kids?
The sad truth is the Christmas Room is less spectacular than the public has been lead to believe. It’s really just a collection of Annalee Mobilitee figures – Annalee figures being a unique New Hampshire creation.
When it comes to lights, one year I actually hired people to do my lights because I’m the least handy person you’ll ever meet. While the house looked good, it was hard to drive up and take pride in that look because I had had nothing to do with it. So, last year the Foley house, believe it or not, went lightless. Big disappointment to people who think I really do love the holidays, but in my opinion seeing a big guy with long hair cursing on his front lawn does not add to the holiday season.
We’ve got one last thing for you here. We are going to do a word association. We’ll just throw out a name and tell us the first thing that comes to your mind.
My literary punching bag.
A poor choice for a Mick Foley comic foil.
Laughing all the way to the bank.
Hell in a Cell.
No sense fighting it, might as well embrace it.
Work in progress.
I’m not real optimistic about the way we’ve been treating Mother Earth or the world.
That’s sort of an interesting note to end on there.
Yeah, might as well end with a downer.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, October 2005. Scooter is available in bookstores now. To read our follow up interview with Mick Foley conducted in March of 2007, click here.