WWE Hall of Famer and New York Yankees fan Mick Foley sits down with ESNY to discuss everything from his fandoms to his in-ring career.
Mick Foley is a lot of things. He’s not only one of the most interesting and unique professional wrestlers of all time, but he’s also a huge New York Yankees fan.
And though the WWE Hall of Famer hasn’t wrestled a match since 2012, Foley’s kept busy during his career as well as in retirement. He has written several books, and even turns into Santa Claus every once in a while.
Now, a new generation of fans can get to know the real Mick Foley. WWE has recently partnered with A&E’s Biography to produce some episodes about our favorite WWE superstars, and how can that be done without Mick Foley? Foley has also appeared on a new program, WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures, so whomever watches should prepare to fall down the rabbit hole.
I had the privelege of speaking with Mick Foley recently and as both a New York Yankees and pro wrestling fan, it was quite the conversation!
Mick Foley the Yankees fan
Josh Benjamin: So you’re a Long Island Boy, specifically East Setauket. That’s prime New York Yankees territory. Your dad was also a high school AD, so sports at home were practically the law. Were you quickly indoctrinated into becoming a sports fan?
Mick Foley: Oh man, yeah! Some of my earliest memories are watching Yankee games on TV. You had to pick a side on my block. You were either a [New York] Mets fan or a Yankees fan. You couldn’t be both. So I was a Yankees fan. Then, in 2004, I met Carlos Beltran when he just joined the Mets and he offered me tickets anytime I wanted, and then I wasn’t so hard to please. But I definitely grew up a huge Yankees fan.
JB: Do you remember your first Yankee game?
MF: Yeah, they played the Twins, 1969 or 1970. I remember Harmon Killebrew singling off the wall at Yankee Stadium. And then when I met Harmon Killebrew, he told me that was not unusual for him.
JB: That was the old Yankee Stadium too. You really had to work hard to hit a single off the wall, or just not have any legs!
MF: Well, the left field porch was pretty short, so I remember that specifically. And I do remember I couldn’t figure out why my mom was opposed to a man with a squeegee wiping our windshield at a stop sign. (Laughs) I had no idea what a squeegee guy was at the time!
JB: Who was your favorite Yankee growing up?
MF: Oh, Thurman Munson! No question. We shared the same birthday and he was the main reason I was a catcher. And I like to think, as I got a little order and realized the little things that Munson did– I even wrote about this in my autobiography. When I was a wrestler, I like to think that I was that kind of guy who did little things that maybe not everyone noticed, but little things that made the match better.
JB: This leads perfectly into the next question. I’m 35 and grew up during the prime ’90s Yankees years. I recall in the 90s seeing you lots on the big screen at Yankee Stadium. You talked about how much you loved Thurman Munson, and you even did a bit of Yankees trivia. Did the team reach out to you directly to do that? Were you lucky enough to meet George Steinbrenner?
MF: Good question! That came about through WWE. But I did get to meet George Steinbrenner on a handful of occasions. He was a big wrestling fan, I knew that. I remember one day, I was at Old Timers’ Day. I can’t remember what year, maybe somewhere around 2003. Security came up and said, “Listen, Mr. Steinbrenner would like to see you.”
Somebody had gotten word to him that I was there. I went in with a friend of mine, we had a nice conversation, and Mr. Steinbrenner gave me use of his personal suite! I’d say on a half dozen occasions, maybe once a year, I got to watch a game from Mr. Steinbrenner’s suite. I did get to meet him on a handful of occasions.
JB: Let’s shift gears a little bit. We mentioned earlier you grew up in an athletic family, and you were quite the athlete yourself. You played baseball, wrestled with Kevin James, and yet you’ve got such a unique creativity about you. Three Faces of Foley, specifically. You’ve got this strong creative muscle. Did you parents also encourage that side of yourself?
MF: Oh yeah! But first a correction: I was good at sports, but I was not a great athlete. But as far as the creativity, that probably came from my mom; the love for reading and writing and artwork and having an imagination.
JB: Was she also an educator like your dad?
MF: Yes, she was! Until she had my brother, then she became a stay-at-home mom. Then, later on, she got two Masters degrees. When my brother and I were 10 or 11, she went back to work not in education, but she worked another 20 years.
Life on the road
JB: Shifting back, being a pro wrestler and a sports fan, it can’t be easy to follow your team when you’re on the road so much. This was back before you could stream the game on your laptop or watch highlights easily. In your day, was it just a case of obsessing over the sports pages or did everyone just kind of learn to do without?
MF: Yeah, I learned to do without. I kind of lost touch with just about every sport and popular culture. I remember when The Rock hosted Saturday Night Live, and that was an All-Star cast there in 2000. Will Ferrell came up, and I had no idea who most of these people were. We worked every Saturday for so many years, so I wasn’t able to keep up with sports like I used to.
There were some guys who’d keep up with their favorite college football team, and you could watch some football on Sunday afternoons. But it largely depended on what part of the country you were in on that particular Sunday. So I did lose touch with the Yankees and the Knicks and the Islanders, all those teams I grew up watching.
JB: How do you feel about the Knicks being back in the playoffs right now?
MF: That’s pretty exciting! I don’t think they’ll go far, but it’s a good time. I remember reading ten years ago about how they overspent so badly that they couldn’t have a good team for years to come just because so much money was going to guys who are no longer playing.
It’s just so frustrating that they’ve got the mecca of sports there at MSG and have had subpar teams for so many years. I think I was in college when the Knicks had those great teams that were just one nudge away from defeating the Bulls with Bernard King, Anthony Mason, and [John] Starks, and Mark Jackson. They had some really great teams.
JB: Speaking of great teams, the huge Attitude Era years coincided with the ’90s Yankees dynasty. They won four World Series in five years, but you were on the road for most of it. Did people just come up to you and say, “Hey, Mick, the Yankees won the World Series?”
MF: You know, I remember watching some Series games in ’96 and ’98. Once in a while, I’d be home a couple days a week at that time, and we watched a little bit of baseball. My oldest son, he was born in ’91. By around ’97, he was showing a real interest.
So I went to the All-Star Game in 2005 and a friend of mine connected me. I’m forgetting his name, but he was a good [Detroit] Tiger. So the guy meets us and as we’re walking, my son says, “Dad, DAD! That guy hit three home runs on Opening Day!”
He knew everybody, a real stat guy. So by ’97/’98, he was showing some real interest and we watched some World Series games.
JB: Let’s backtrack a little more. You mentioned how watching sports on the road largely depends on where you are a particular Sunday. Who backstage during your time was also a huge sports nut?
MF: Oh man, it’d be easier to pick guys who were not big sports fans. Ron Simmons had been a great college football player, and I think JBL played a tiny bit in the NFL. You had The Undertaker, and this isn’t talked about, but he was a very good Division I college basketball player. Kane played either Division I or Division II. Diamond Dallas Page had been a good basketball player. Even The Godfather was a good basketball player, I think he scored 50 or 60 points in a high school game.
So you had a lot of guys with athletic backgrounds. Basketball, it’s funny how well it lends itself well to wrestling. You’d think football would be the natural, but a lot of guys came from that basketball background.
Foley loves fun
JB: Let’s get back to George Steinbrenner. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say he and Vince McMahon have a WrestleMania match. They each put their various assets on the line, as in Vince risks the company and George risks the Yankees. Regardless of who they pick to fight for them, who’s going to win?
MF: Wow! Well, the Yankees are the most valued franchise in the world, with all due respect to our little billion-dollar company in WWE. If we put a wrestler up to take BP, they’re not going to fare that well. But if the Yankees had a wrestling representative, then I think we’ll win that one.
JB: A wrestling representative like you, perhaps?
MF: In my prime! Not now. I can barely walk across the street. But in my prime? Yeah, that would have been a fun one.
JB: Here’s a good wrestling question for you. Which arena brings back your fondest memories as a performer?
MF: Oh, the Garden!
JB: Really? Most others say Rosemont.
MF: Rosemont Horizon? Yeah, I had a few great moments at Rosemont. But I love the Garden. I love the fact that I was there at the same building I used to hitchhike to, or take trains to. It really brought back some good memories. So to be able to not only perform there but then inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame there was pretty cool.
JB: Last question, Mick. You’re a man who loves Christmas more than Buddy the Elf. What is it about the holiday that you love so much and has you dressing as Santa Claus on more than one occasion?
MF: I don’t dress as him. I become him. I transform into him. It’s like a metamorphosis. I think it was just all the days spent away from my family and the longer we could extend Christmas. You know, a lot of days, I had to work on Christmas. There was about four or five years running that we worked Christmas Day so you’d open the presents, and then get in the car and travel for five hours.
So we tried to extend Christmas itself as long as possible. So not only build it up for the entire month of December, and then November and October– we call them the burn months: September, October, November, December. But also to celebrate Christmas in July, halfway to Christmas Eve on June 24, just anything we can do to make that holiday as special as possible.
JB: Alright, Mick. You’ve got the mic. Whatever you want to plug or say, go for it!
MF: Well, I went out to Reno, Nevada, and was interviewed by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for Broken Skull Sessions. And since we were going to be talking about my upcoming Biography, he wanted to show me some of it. I hadn’t seen it.
I’m generally tough to please when it comes to my own stuff, but I was really impressed by how good a job had been done. So I highly recommend it! It comes out May 30 on A&E. I just hope if somebody is a fan that they’ll tune in. If somebody’s listening and says, “Hey, this guy sounds fairly interesting,” it’s a great documentary. And it is not just a wrestling story. It’s a good personal story about a guy pursuing his dreams, so I hope people will tune in.
As Mankind would say, have a nice day!