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.
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?
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.