- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

Mick Foley was like nothing the world of professional wrestling had seen when he developed his popular “Mankind” character, wearing a bizarre mask and taking some of the most brutal punishment witnessed in a brutally punishing business.

So what could he do to top a Frankenstein-like character that made him one of the biggest draws in the history of the theatre of the squared circle?

Become Ernest Hemingway?

Well, not quite. But Foley’s role these days is that of a writer, and it’s no put-on. He has written three nonfiction books about his life and times in wrestling, two novels and three children’s books. So it’s no fluke. Far from it.

His first book — his autobiography “Have a Nice Day” — was on the New York Times bestseller list for 26 weeks. And his follow-up to that, “Foley is God,” hit that list in its first week.

And his latest work — a novel called “Scooter,” centering on a family’s triumphs and struggles in the Bronx, revolving around baseball — has received a stamp of approval from no less than one of America’s greatest writers, Richard Price:

“It turns Ashcan realist and operatic, lurid and heartfelt, sentimental and hard-nosed. Scooter is an absorbing tale of one kid’s growth into a 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.”

That’s an impressive endorsement for someone who, under the personas of Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love, has a resume that includes 325 stitches, eight concussions, too many broken bones to mention and one ear torn off.

Foley was in Arlington on Thursday signing copies of “Scooter,” and such book signings result in the rare meeting of the two worlds — wrestling and literature — even when the book in question has nothing to do with wrestling. Almost all of the time, the line of people waiting to get books signed are wrestling fans and not literary buffs.

“At book signings, I always ask, ‘Is there anyone here who is not a wrestling fan?’ ” Foley said. “One young lady raised her hand, and I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ She said, ‘I really like your writing.’ It was a shock. I want people to like my writing, but I accept that at these signings, even someone who likes my writing might not want to venture out in the wild world of wrestling fans.”

Foley ventured into the world of writing after he had gotten a look at the beginning of his autobiography — as written by a ghostwriter.

“It was a pretty frightening moment when I realized that somebody had done a very good job of making my life look very boring,” he said. “I just really felt that I might not be able to write any other book, but I can tell this story.”

He told it by handwriting 200,000 words on 760 pages of notebook paper in just 50 days.

Where did that come from?

“I wrote growing up,” Foley said. “When I look back on what I wrote and some of the comments I got from teachers, I am kind of surprised that I never actually thought of writing as any serious job possibility. Even as late as college [at Cortland State in upstate New York], I had a paper that was rated very well, and the teacher wrote, ‘You should seriously consider writing as a career possibility.’ I guess I was lucky that I had people in the literary world who said I had a natural storytelling ability. Once you realize that writing is really telling stories on paper, it is much easier to believe you are capable of writing a book.”

“Scooter” deals with a young man named after Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto who grew up in the Bronx in the late 1960s and early 1970s amid family turmoil, rage and social change — with baseball as his salvation.

“One of the themes of the book is whether a life should be judged by years of service and courage or one brief moment of cowardice or shame,” Foley said. “I tried to have a central part in each male characters’ life where they were tested that way and where the guilt the characters feel hopefully leads them on a path to personal redemption. In Scooter’s case, he finds that redemption through baseball.”

So is Foley a wrestler, a performer or a writer?

“I think I am somebody who writes,” he said. “I don’t think it defines who I am. And certainly based on people’s reactions to me, it doesn’t define to them who I am. I think only one person has ever approached me and said, ‘Aren’t you the writer?’ I think I will have to live with being the wrestler-slash-writer. For a while I tried to fight it, but at a certain point, you just accept it and appreciate it.”

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