No matter how many books he writes, grappler-turned-author Mick Foley may never outwrestle his professional wrestling past.
"I think exactly one person has referred to me as an author first and not a wrestler. 'Aren't you that author?' " Foley said in an interview with ABCNEWS.com. "I think, unfortunately, I'll have to write a lot of good books before people forget that I'm a wrestler, or it just becomes a sidenote. But I'm proud to be a wrestler/author. And as far as wrestler/authors go, I think I'm up right there at the top."
Foley recently released his latest book, "Scooter," a coming-of-age novel about a boy growing up in the Bronx, against the backdrop of Yankee Stadium. "Scooter" is the seventh book -- three of which have been children's books -- by Foley since his surprise 1999 autobiography, "Have a Nice Day!: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks," which was on The New York Times' best-seller list.
But despite his prolificacy, the wide-eyed looks the 6-foot-4-inch, 280-pound Foley received when he visited ABCNEWS.com suggest that the former World Wrestling Entertainment champion's claim to fame -- at least for now -- remains his antics as a performer in the ring.
"That's one crazy guy," said one onlooker.
Foley wrestled under several different ring names and personas. In his early years, he was known as Cactus Jack Manson because of his reckless physical style and long straggly hair and goatee that bore a resemblance to Charles Manson.
While wrestling for other smaller independent promotions around the United States and the world, performing in gimmick matches where rings were surrounded by barbed wire and riddled with thumb tacks, he simply became known as Cactus Jack. He became more widely known when he wrestled for the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling promotions before achieving his greatest fame in WWE as the character Mankind -- a tortured villain who wore a Hannibal Lector-esque mask/muzzle and ultimately became a beloved hero.
Today, Foley, a happily married, 40-year-old father of four, is somewhat less intimidating. Clad in black jeans and boots, a T-shirt that says Jim Ross' Barbeque Sauce -- a tribute to the longtime WWE announcer -- and a Negro Leagues baseball jersey, Foley is at times self-deprecating when he describes his own writing ability.
"Everytime I sit down, it's a struggle to come up with the first words or just to convince myself that I'm still capable of writing. Every previous book seems like a fluke," Foley said. "And then when I begin writing, everything seems natural."
Finding Comfort in a Post-9/11 World, Rekindling an Old Love
"Scooter," Foley said, was inspired by his need to find comfort in New York in a post-9/11 attack world. A Long Island native who grew up watching wrestling and the Yankees, Foley said that up until the terror attacks, he had never really explored and appreciated the Bronx and Manhattan. They were just places he visited when he traveled into the city by train.
But Foley had the opportunity to attend the first Major League baseball game played in New York after 9/11 and sat with some members of the city's police and fire departments. He researched the history and some of the landmarks in the Bronx and rekindled a love for baseball, which had faded when his boyhood idol, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, died in a plane crash in 1979.
"What's drawn me to his legacy is someone of modest physical abilities and making the most out of them. A guy who protected home plate with his life, who was willing to sacrifice his own statistics for the betterment of the team," Foley said. "I mentioned in my autobiography that I like to consider myself a Thurman Munson-type wrestler who did certain things in the ring that the average fan might not appreciate but that would be appreciated by my fellow wrestlers in the back. ... Munson's death signaled, in some ways, a loss of innocence for me. He was my hero, and it was about 20 years before I really followed baseball again."
Foley, a former Little League catcher, said he did not realize the role baseball played in his life until he saw all the references he had made to the game in his autobiography. Munson, Pete Rose's barreling into catcher Ray Fosse during the 1970 All-Star game and Carlton Fisk's famous home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series were among the Foley's favorite baseball references in his book.
Foley could not easily identify a modern-day, Munson-like player that he admires. But he did say he enjoyed watching one Yankees pitcher play.
"I love watching Al Leiter pitch because he struggles every single game," he said. "Every single game, whether it's a good one or a bad one, is a heroic effort. So, I like seeing guys work hard. I like seeing guys who have a passion for the game. I like seeing a guy like Al, who I imagine is at the tail end of his career, continue to have a passion for the game."
A Good Heel, a Good Storyteller
Foley was an unlikely world champion in pro wrestling. He did not have the physique of Hulk Hogan or the matinee idol looks of "The Rock" Dwayne Johnson. He wasn't extraordinarily strong or agile. Like Munson did for the Yankees, Foley had a reputation for sacrificing his own body to make the scripted match and his opponent -- his fellow wrestler and teammate -- look good.
Foley has said that the key to being a good heel in pro wrestling is that the villain must believe in his cause, that he is in the right, no matter what. The key to good storytelling, Foley believes, lies in the main character of the book.
"I believe it's coming up with a likable protagonist," Foley said. "There have been other books written where not a single character is likable. But my style is to come up with a character that the audience can invest their emotions in and then have bad things happen to him. It's kind of the flip side of 'The Wizard of Oz': Dorothy said some of it was terrible, most of it was wonderful. With me, it's more like some of it was wonderful, most of it was horrible. At the end I like to offer a small glimmer of hope, though I'm beginning to believe maybe I need to work on offering more hope than I have offered previously."
Memories of an Old Friend, of Time Well-Spent
The success of "Have a Nice Day" and his subsequent memoir, "Foley is Good," opened the door for numerous other professional wrestling autobiographies and other books that continue to be released today. Not all of the books have been well-received and none has sold as well as Foley's works.
Foley's subsequent books have not been as successful as his first two offerings. But even if "Scooter" never makes the New York Times best-seller list, Foley -- who is returning to WWE for the return of its "Raw" program to the USA Network tonight -- hopes his latest book leaves a memorable impression on readers.
"I hope the book becomes something of a friend to readers," he said. "I always run across people who choose to keep books on their shelves after they've completed reading them and will probably never read again. I just believe people like having them there because it reminds them of time well-spent. Hopefully, 'Scooter' will stay on the shelf long after it's been read because of the memories it brings out in the reader."
"A Day in the Life of ..." is monthly column that profiles unsung heroes, interesting personalities, the not-so-famous, and the sometimes-infamous. If there is someone you believe should be profiled in "A Day in the Life of ...", e-mail Bryan Robinson at Bryan.Robinson@abc.com.