7 Peter Golenbock’s novel? Sex, balls, Marilyn, Mickey Mantle! PODCAST INTERVIEW

Today’s Guest: Peter Golenbock, sportswriter, 7: The Mickey Mantle Novel

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Today, I am sitting in the St. Petersburg, Florida, dining room of popular sports writer, Peter Golenbock. Peter, who’s written many books about and with members of the New York Yankees, including: Dynasty; The Bronx Zoo, which he wrote with Sparky Lyle; Balls, written with Craig Nettles; Guidry, with Ron Guidry; Number One, written with Billy Martin; and Wild, High, and Tight, written about Billy Martin. He also co-wrote Idiot with then-Boston Red Sox player Johnny Damon; Bats, with former Mets manager Davey Johnson; Thunder and Lightning, with hockey all-star Phil Esposito; and several racing books, including NASCAR Confidential and American Zoom.

You can see an entire list of Golenbock’s books at his Web site, www.GolenbockBooks.com. He has also started writing a blog at http://petergolenbock.blogspot.com/.

Despite his impeccable credentials, Golenbock recently found himself in the news on the heels of a book he did not write, O. J. Simpson’s quasi-confessional, If I Did It. By coincidence. Golenbock’s latest book, 7: The Mickey Mantle Novel, a story that takes liberties with the real life of his old friend and former Bronx bomber/slugger, Mickey Mantle, was also due to be put out by Simpson’s publisher, Judith Regan. Here’s an excerpt from the book that appeared in Publisher’s Weekly – it describes a fictional encounter between Mantle and actress Marilyn Monroe:

“Mickey enters her, going in nice and easy. The look on his face changes from excitement and pleasure to surprise and then disappointment. He waits for the yelling and screaming, waits for her to tell him how good it was, waits for an ‘ooh’ or an ‘ahh,’ any reaction at all, but no. While he works away at it, Marilyn just lies there staring at him with cold, accusing eyes.”

In the storm that followed cancellation of Simpson’s book and Regan’s firing, Golenbock’s book was cancelled, too. But Golenbock’s book didn’t stay cancelled for long. It will be published on April 3, 2007, by Lions Press.

I have asked Peter, who has been an acquaintance for many years, to join us today and talk about his controversial new book and his long career.

BOB ANDELMAN: Peter, thanks for taking time to talk.

PETER GOLENBOCK: It’s my pleasure. I’m happy to be here.

ANDELMAN: Did you ever anticipate the negative storm that has come up around this book?

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GOLENBOCK: Well, I didn’t anticipate that Judith Regan would get fired. I knew when I wrote it that some people would really love it, some people would like it, and there would be a small majority and probably a vocal majority who would resent it, “Oh, how can you say such things about Mickey, my idol, Mickey?” So I knew it wasn’t going to come into the world quietly. On the other hand, I had no idea that the daily news was going to spend three days telling people that my book should be thrown in the garbage can and spending three days trying to get Judith Regan fired. That was a surprise.

ANDELMAN: It’s amazing, isn’t it, how a lifetime of good capital among people just gets thrown out the window by something, and you have so little control.

GOLENBOCK: Well, I think people understand that it was politics. You know, Rupert Murdoch owns HarperCollins, who Regan Books is a subsidiary of HarperCollins, so it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch. There was in-fighting within the publishing company. There were a couple people with whom Judith was feuding, and this was the perfect opportunity, the O.J. book and my book on top of it, for them to try to get rid of her. And that’s from what I understand pretty much what happened.

ANDELMAN: How did the book wind up with Judith in the first place? Had you published other books with her?

GOLENBOCK: No, but based on the content, I figured that this would be the first place to go. Judith had a strong history of writing books with sexual content, very, very successful books. I mean, sex is a very funny thing. It’s a very large part of our society. We have Playboy and Maxim and God knows what else, and if you look on TV, there is sex here, there, and everywhere, and yet, you know, for a certain part of society, it drives them crazy. They try to pretend that it doesn’t exist and that nobody does it. And so you write about sex, and they act like you are committing some kind of crime.

ANDELMAN: Now, was the paragraph that I read about Mickey and Marilyn, is that an unusual piece to take from the book, or is there more…

GOLENBOCK: No. It’s not unusual at all, no. I am sure they could have written pages and pages if they had wanted to.

ANDELMAN: Okay. Is there a lot of sex in the book?

GOLENBOCK: Yes, there is.

ANDELMAN: There is. Has there been a lot of sex in other books that you have written?

GOLENBOCK: That I’ve written? No, no. Not at all.

ANDELMAN: I didn’t think so.

GOLENBOCK: I wanted to write, initially, a biography of Mickey Mantle. Now, I’ve known him since 1973, and I have been around him a lot, and he was one of the funniest people. He was as funny as Chris Rock. I mean, he was hilarious. And so when I came to do a biography, none of the elements that I loved about the guy was I able to recreate, so I thought to myself, this is no good.

To write a book about Mickey and not to show people who he really was doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. So I decided the only way to do this is call it a novel and plow full-speed ahead as to what my interpretation and my estimation of who he was and what was troubling him. This is a very complicated book. It’s hardly just about sex.

Mickey, as everybody knows, spent a lot of time in bars, a lot of time with Billy Martin, so he was in bars a lot, drinking a lot, picking up women a lot. I mean, it was a large part of what he did in his free, spare time.

To write a book about Mickey and not to show people who he really was doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. So I decided the only way to do this is call it a novel and plow full-speed ahead as to what my interpretation and my estimation of who he was and what was troubling him. This is a very complicated book. It’s hardly just about sex.

ANDELMAN: It’s kind of that side of sports heroes that we sort of think is there, but we don’t usually hear about it or talk about it.

GOLENBOCK: Without a doubt, and the other thing about Mickey, of course, is that when he retired at the end of the ’68 season, he was lost. The man was just lost, and so he lived until 1995, so from ’68 until ’95, he had to get up every morning and try to figure out, what in the world am I going to do today? He was not a very happy man. He was a fearful guy. I mean, he had a very tough childhood. His father was not a particularly nice guy or kind guy. Mickey’s father was very, very tough on him, especially even when he was a child. Baseball became something of a job, and even if Mickey didn’t want to spend the afternoon playing catch or hitting a ball, he really had no choice. This was something… And so

Mickey never, ever, felt that anything he ever did was good enough, and that was a large part of what really bothered him.

As far as I am concerned, the guy was the greatest ballplayer of the generation, from the ’50s and the early ’60s. And yet when you sat down and talked with him, you got the sense, really, that he really didn’t think very much of himself, that he was not impressed with what he did. He said, “Ahhh, I struck out 1,700 times, and I walked 1,800 times. You know, that’s eight years of doing nothing!”You know, that kind of thing. He was very, very modest in terms of how he thought of himself, and it was all part of him. And this book explains all of that.

ANDELMAN: Now, most, if not all, young boys that are interested in baseball probably have read, I want to think, is it the autobiography of Mickey Mantle? It’s a book that you read, and it’s about his life, and it tells about his father dying. How different is this book going to be from a book like that?

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GOLENBOCK: Well, the basic facts of his life don’t change. You get a few extra girlfriends here and there that you’re not getting in that book, you know. You are getting some of the things that he saw when he got into the minor leagues when he was 17 and 18. He watched one of the players set up a date with the manager’s girlfriend and then the next day find himself shipped out of there. Learned a little lesson from that. These are stories that I have heard along the way, and it gives me an opportunity to tell them.

ANDELMAN: So, is this a roman a clef? It’s based in fact, but it’s fictional?

GOLENBOCK: Oh, it’s absolutely based in fact. Oh, absolutely.

ANDELMAN: Okay. How can the reader distinguish fact from fiction, or can they?

GOLENBOCK: Well, my answer is it’s a novel.

ANDELMAN: Okay.

 

GOLENBOCK: You can’t distinguish fact from fiction, unless you sit with me and you point to a particular incident and you say to me, “Is this true, or isn’t it?” And I might tell you — and I might not.

ANDELMAN: Are your Mantle stories, are they largely from Mickey? Are they some you got from Billy over the years or other people?

GOLENBOCK: A lot of them are from Billy; a lot of them are from Bill Reedy, who was very close to Billy and Mickey both. He was around them an awful lot. And then I got a whole lot of them over the years. Joe Pepitone told me a whole lot of stories at a Cubs Fantasy Camp a bunch of years ago, and then when I did Dynasty, I interviewed every single one of his teammates, so I got all sorts of stories.

ANDELMAN: How is the man that the public thinks it knows and the actual man different?

GOLENBOCK: He was much more troubled than the actual public saw except right at the end. When Mickey finally knew he was dying, and he did an interview, for instance, with the St. Louis announcer, Bob Costas. He really showed his vulnerability there when he looked in the camera and he said, “You kids, don’t be like me.” That was really the real Mickey. At the end of his life, he was terribly saddened because he knew he could have lived a better life, he could have been better to his children, he could have been better to his family, and he was deeply sorry. And at the end of my book, he apologizes to all these people and asks for forgiveness, and he gets it.

ANDELMAN: Do you remember the last time you saw Mickey?

GOLENBOCK: I really don’t remember the last time I saw him. It was in his restaurant with Billy, so it had to be before ’89, because Billy died Christmas of ’89.

ANDELMAN: Did you ever think, before word got out about the book or since, that maybe it wasn’t the best idea?

GOLENBOCK: Never.

ANDELMAN: Okay. You still feel strongly, obviously.

GOLENBOCK: It is the best idea. When people want to know what this man was really like a hundred years from now, this book is what’s the book that is going to tell them what he was really like. And people, if they’re wise, are not going to think less of him for it.

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ANDELMAN: I started to ask you before about the sex, and I am only curious because most, all of your books, I think, have been about sports. There hasn’t really been much in the way of sex. Was it difficult to start writing about that at this point in your career?

GOLENBOCK: No. Not once I set out to do what I set out to do, it wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

ANDELMAN: I can see that. Had you written fiction before?

GOLENBOCK: Never.

ANDELMAN: Anything that you learned?

GOLENBOCK: But I don’t treat this as fiction. That’s the funny thing. I treat it like it’s his autobiography, except that I’ve got certain facts and certain details. When I open up my little file drawer, it’s empty, so I’ve got to provide it, I’ve got to supply it.

ANDELMAN: And what do you say to his family members who maybe are not so thrilled about this? Some of whom you have probably met over the years.

GOLENBOCK: Well, they’ve never read it. That’s the funny thing. They are all upset because of what they read in The Daily News, and that upsets me tremendously. I had an hour conversation with Billy Joe Martin, and Billy Joe was all upset by what he read in The Daily News, and I told him, the daily news guy who wrote that thing told the publicist at Regan Books that he never read it. So pass judgment after you read it.

Don’t pass judgment based on what the guy who’s trying to get Judith Regan fired is writing in The Daily News.

ANDELMAN: How did you feel about being lumped into this category with O. J. Simpson and his book?

GOLENBOCK: Well, see, I have a funny philosophy, which is that under the First Amendment, a writer has a right to write anything. If O. J. wants to write his whatever that thing was, he’s got a right to do it, and I as a book buyer have a right to decide whether I want to buy it or whether not, and I think canceling these books is a disgrace. It’s a political solution. But once they decided to pay O. J. the money and have him do this book, I think they have some sort of obligation to publish the thing. You know, let the public decide. They’ll either go tromping off to the bookstore and buy the thing, or they won’t. I mean, it’s a very un-American thing not to publish a book. It goes against the Bill of Rights. It upsets me tremendously. Then, of course, when they did it to me, I was equally upset, though I had more than a sneaking suspicion that somebody else would pick it up, but just the notion that it might not get published because somebody has it out for somebody else is a very un-American thing.

ANDELMAN: In this day and age, it doesn’t seem possible to keep something out of print very long. I mean, there is always someone out there who seems willing to print it. Or now, you could have printed it yourself, for that matter, and with the amount of publicity it got, it probably would have worked out.

GOLENBOCK: Well, you know, a book costs $2.00 a copy to publish it. If my publisher says they are printing 250,000 books first printing, even if they are publishing 200,000 first printing, it still cost me $400,000. So I get 400 of my best friends to lend me $1,000, and I’ve got it.

ANDELMAN: Let’s change gears a little bit. You have written so many books about the Yankees. Do you have a favorite among them?

GOLENBOCK: You don’t have favorite books. It’s like children. I mean, each one is a tremendous experience while you are doing it. Dynasty was my first book, was my very, very first book, and that was the one book I did before the age of computers, so from ’72 to ’73, I spent a year in Yankee Stadium with the Yankees researching their archive, a 100,000 newspaper articles. When I got finished with the thing, it occurred to me that I didn’t know any more about the Yankees then than I did when I started. It was an amazing revelation. So I went back to the guy who signed up the book at Prentice-Hall, and I said to him, “Look, I need to go visit these guys. Will you front me more money to do it?” They originally gave me $2,500, and then he gave me another $2,500. He did it two more times as I kept going and interviewing players. Jim Constanti was actually the first one I went to see. I had gone to Cooperstown to see what sort of archives they had up there, and Constanti lived in the next town, Oneonta, so Constanti was the first guy. And then traveling the country, I saw them all: Kubek, Richardson, Roger Maris. I saw with Clete Boyer in Atlanta. I saw Mickey Mantle in the dugout in New York. He had come to New York for some commercial that he was doing. Billy Martin was the manager of the Texas Rangers at the time. Amazing. Vic Rashey I saw in his, he sold liquor, it was a liquor store in some upstate New York… Bill Stafford. Jim Bouton, who became a good friend of mine. Phil Linz. Yogi Berra, it was amazing. It was a tremendous, tremendous experience to go visit all these people and interview them all. And then the third year, I spent writing it.

ANDELMAN: This just caught my interest. You got $2,500 was the advance on that book?

GOLENBOCK: That’s correct.

ANDELMAN: And that was 1972, 1973, and then twenty years later, I got $2500 for my first book, which was the baseball book, Stadium For Rent, so I guess that’s just what they pay you the first time you do a baseball book.

GOLENBOCK: Well.

ANDELMAN: I am assuming that you are doing better on the advances since then.

GOLENBOCK: Yes.

ANDELMAN: Now, Jim Bouton, I would think, could relate to what you’ve gone through in the last few months, going from saint to pariah among some people.

GOLENBOCK: I haven’t become a pariah. That really hasn’t happened. I don’t believe that for a second. Until they read this book, they can’t make a judgment. And I still honestly believe that when people read it, most of the people who read it will love it. I have showed it to all sorts of people. Bob Lipsyte, who’s a close friend of mine, he just thought it was terrific. Burton Hersh, who lives here in St. Petersburg, wrote me a wonderful blurb for the back of the book. Ed Randall, who does Talkin’ Baseball loved it.

ANDELMAN: But you understand what I’m saying in terms of Bouton. He wrote that book and exposed a lot of stuff.

GOLENBOCK: There’s a difference. There’s a difference. The difference is that Jim was a player, and players are not supposed to reveal what goes on in the clubhouse. That’s the difference. I’m one of those sportswriter guys.

I’m a loose cannon. I can pretty much do what I want. I’m not under the same strictures as the ballplayers.

ANDELMAN: Now, when you went around interviewing all those guys for Dynasty, that was at a point where society and even sports writers were not quite at that point where they were documenting every moment of everything that happened in sports, and somewhere in the ’70s and ’80s, it became a lot more, we started telling all kinds of stories that maybe hadn’t appeared before. Did a lot of guys say, “What do you want to do this for?”

GOLENBOCK: Not one. Not a one.

ANDELMAN: Really? They knew they had something special to share on this?

GOLENBOCK: I got perfect cooperation from every single Yankee, with the exception, as we all know, Joe DiMaggio. Joe was there in San Francisco. I went to his brother Tom’s restaurant, this gigantic fish place out on the Pier, and Tom tells me, “Ah, Joe, he no here.” You know, it’s like, “Go away!” And as we know, Joe married Marilyn Monroe in 1954, and Joe beat her up a little bit and was a lousy husband, and Marilyn divorced him, and so he never wanted to write a book because he was always afraid that he would have to talk about Marilyn. And so, I mean, for ten years, I tried to get Joe DiMaggio to do a book with me. Even one time, I had a publisher who said, “If you can get him to do it, I will give him a million dollars,” and I passed that on to whatever the name of his guy was, and the answer always came back the same, “No.”

ANDELMAN: There was a word several years ago, because I remember it made its way around, and I heard it, that Steinbrenner was looking for someone for a long time to write a book with him, and I am kind of surprised that that didn’t happen with you.

GOLENBOCK: Don’t be, because I interviewed Steinbrenner for my Wild, High, and Tight book for about an hour or so, and after checking, you know, you check when people tell you things, I discovered that most of what he told me was not true. He was a football player. He wasn’t a football player! He played in the band. He was a band member.

ANDELMAN: He was at the football games.

GOLENBOCK: And then his senior year, he had, because he also wrote for the newspaper, he had befriended tremendously the football coach, so the football coach gave him a uniform his senior year, so you can actually find a picture of George wearing a football uniform, but by God, you know…. And then supposedly he was this track star at Williams, and so I interviewed five or six of his teammates, his track teammates at Williams, and it turned out he was this sort of big, fat, slow kid who worked harder. Now, he’s got traits, he’s got good traits. Nobody worked harder than he did, but he was so limited in his talent that the real good track stars looked at him askance. “Why is this guy busting his ass? He sucks.” That kind of thing. And so you discover after looking into some of these things he’s telling you….

The one thing he told me that is the truth is that he was born on July 4th. I went to his town, Rocky River, and I found the birth certificate. By God, the guy was born on July 4th! That was one thing that he told me that was absolutely true.

So having written The Bronx Zoo and having written Number One and having written Balls, don’t be surprised that I was not the guy who Steinbrenner asked to do his autobiography.

ANDELMAN: I understand. The books that you did do, you worked with Guidry and Nettles and Martin and so on….

GOLENBOCK: I sure did.

ANDELMAN: Do you have a favorite co-author, or do you have someone who was more colorful and interesting to work with than the others?

GOLENBOCK: Well, I loved them all. I mean, Guidry, we became very close while we were working on that book. He’s just a wonderful guy, and there was nothing in the world like going into a fabulous French restaurant in New Orleans with Ron Guidry. You know, the line’s around the block, and you and Ron Guidry go right in and sit at the best table. I mean, it was just fabulous. And I loved Sparky, because Sparky had a great sense of humor, and he was a wonderful reporter. I mean, he really could tell stories about the stuff that was going on. And the other thing about Sparky that I realized fairly early was that he had won the Cy Young Award in 1977, and George went and got Goose Gossage, paid a lot of money for Goose Gossage to be the new closer, and Sparky thought, “Well, maybe we’ll share it. Maybe we will share the job, he’ll pitch once, I’ll pitch the next time.” And as you saw in the Bucky Dent game, when the last out, Yaz, who was left-handed, he was up, it was Goose Gossage who got the final out as Sparky was sitting in the bullpen. So Sparky was also angry, and so Sparky was really the first one to talk about Steinbrenner and what an SOB he was in the things that he had done.

ANDELMAN: What do you think was the most controversial or surprising story that you have told until this time in all the books?

GOLENBOCK: That Jim Valvano was one of the biggest crooks, one of the most corrupt coaches in the history of college basketball. That surprised a lot of people and made a lot of people very angry.

ANDELMAN: It didn’t blow up in the same way, I mean, it wasn’t…..

GOLENBOCK: It blew up exactly the same way. In fact, Simon & Schuster decided not to publish that book. That was called Personal Fouls, and that was picked up by, again, another small publishing firm called Carroll and Graf, and it became a New York Times bestseller for 11 or 12 weeks.

ANDELMAN: We’re just about done time-wise, so let me ask you this: how will you top 7 or what will you do next? What are you working on now?

GOLENBOCK: My next book’s called The Borough. It’s about Brooklyn. It’s about people who grew up in Brooklyn and their stories. I’ve got a fascinating, fascinating troop of people I’ve interviewed for it, people who fought against racism, people who fought against HUAC. Ira Glasser, who for 25 years was the head of the ACLU, Neil Sedaka, Cousin Brucie Murrow, who played, he was one of the very, very first disc jockeys to play black music during the period when black music was kept from the airwaves.

ANDELMAN: 77 WABC.

GOLENBOCK: WABC.

ANDELMAN: I grew up there.

GOLENBOCK: Yep. So it’s a very, very interesting book about a lot of very interesting people.

ANDELMAN: Not about sports.

GOLENBOCK: Well, I asked myself the question: “Why was it when Jackie Robinson came up in 1947 that they loved him in Brooklyn and hated him everywhere else in the country?” And so there is a connection to sports. Robinson was really the reason I delved into this in the first place, and so this book also answers that question.

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About Mr. Media® Interviews-Bob Andelman

Bob Andelman is the host and producer of Mr. Media® Interviews. He is also the author or co-author of 15 books, including The Wawa Way with Howard Stoeckel, Building Atlanta with Herman J. Russell, Fans Not Customers with Vernon W. Hill, founder of Commerce Bank and Metro Bank UK, Mind Over Business with Ken Baum, The Consulate with Thomas R. Stutler, The Profiler with Pat Brown, Built From Scratch with the founders of The Home Depot, The Profit Zone with Adrian Slywotzky, Mean Business with Albert J. Dunlap, and Will Eisner: A Spirited Life. Click here to see Bob Andelman's Amazon Central author page. He is a member in good standing of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (member page).