Where Are They Now? Keith McCready

GC: How old were you when you first picked up a cue?


KC:The first time I picked up a cue was with my father. He used to take me to a neighborhood pool room in Anaheim, California, named Linbrook Family Billiards. I was about 7 years old. I learned how to play caroms at first before I started playing pool, and the knack from caroms parlayed into the pool room, learning the angles and how to control the cueball. That's how it all started.


I had two older brothers, Mark and Don. Don passed away a while back. We used to ring 9‑ball, 25 cents on the 5, 50 cents on the 9. Things progressed from there when I started spending more time in the pool room, practicing and playing anybody that came up to me, whether I could beat them or not. It was a learning process.


GC: How old were you when you realized you had an ‘A’ game, and at what age did you turn pro?


KM: I knew I was going to be good when I was probably about 13. I played in all the local pool rooms and soon began to challenge people. I had people coming out of the woodwork that would drive me around to the different spots and sometimes stake me if I didn't have any money. If I did have any money, I would bet my own.


At 15 years old, I was playing with the best players in the country at that time - Ronnie Allen, Wade Crane, Richie Florence, Cole Dickson, Larry Lisciotti, Jimmy Reid, and the list goes on. At that time, I'd mosey on down to the Elks Lodge and would like to watch the straight pool players. I definitely learned a lot from them, but it was boring to me, compared to the quick action of 9-ball and 1- pocket and scotch doubles games. We did it all back then.


I played a lot on a snooker table back then. We had a game that we called "pay ball"or "pink ball," where you would pay on six balls, and the six ball was the pink ball, and that would double. For example, you would play like seven- or eight-handed, $5 on every ball and $10 on the 6-ball and double on the run-out. So if you made two balls, you would be getting seven pays, so you'd win $70. The game was fast and furious. You would have to have a bankroll because, in that game, you could go hours without a shot, and then finally get a shot to where you run three or four balls and then you'd be even.


When I started competing with the big boys, I knew I was going to be champion. I got barred from the ring games a couple times because I'd bust them. Jimmy Mataya barred me one time, told me to come back when I turned 18. I got barred from playing the pink ball game a few times. It was a tight table, a gaffe table, but I could do things on that table where the other players had a hard time. I had no trouble getting staked in those games. I was six, seven, eight to ten deep with backers that wanted to stake me at any time I wanted to play. That pool room was called the Billiard Palace. What a place! Action Jackson. There were more champions tied up in that pool room than I've ever seen in the history of pool. Everybody came there eventually. I guess I was a full time pro around 1979 (22 years old).


GC: What was the first big event you won, and what was the biggest event that you won in terms of prestige?


KM: The first decent event I won was the Sacramento Open in 1979. I was about 21 or 22. I beat Larry Hubbard in the finals. I was down 8 to 1 playing Hubbard in the finals. Everybody was betting on Larry. I had a few of my guys betting on me. Boy, did it get loud when the score started getting close. Needless to say, I won eight game s in a row. I think he got to the table twice, had no shot at his hole either time, and that was after I had run a six-pack to get the score 8 to 7. I win the set 9 to 8. What a thriller! The place became unglued. Big crowd. It was unbelievable. That's when pool was fun.


When you'd show up at a pool tournament, there would be fliers for tournaments that were upcoming, and you always sort of wanted to go to the ones that paid the most money. But there were other ones that you knew there was going to be good action, big calcuttas, and those were my favorites where I could maybe get in action.


Actually, I had two tournaments that I really liked that I won . The first one was the B.C. Open in Binghamton, New York, in 1985. First place was $25,000. There wasn't a tournament that paid that much ever since the tournament in Reno, which Richie Florence put on, and that one paid 35 large. Back then when I was traveling, I never got tickets in advance on the airplanes, and I would be broke one day and have money the next. It was just the way it worked back then. So when I heard about the B.C. Open, I mentioned it to my friend Jay Helfert, and Jay was nice enough to give me a shot at it, which Jay had staked me in the past, so I figured I'd ask him if he wanted to take a shot at it. And he did. Lo and behold, I won it.


The other tournament I was quite fond of was when I won the bar table tournament in Lexington, Kentucky, when I met Morro Paez in the finals. He had me 13 to 7, going to 15, and he didn't shoot another shot. The tournament was worth $7,000 to the winner, plus two calcuttas, where my friend had bought me in both calcuttas, all of it. The second Calcutta was worth more than the tournament paid, and then the third Calcutta was up there too. I think when it was all said and done, we won close to $20,000. I ended up playing Tony Ellin a big set, race to 21. I think we bet about 7 or 8,000 in the middle and 13,000 on the side, and we got the money. I was stuck in that set 17 to 13, and I won that set 21 to 17. For some reason, it seemed like whenever I'd get behind in a set, I would catch my gear, I would put it in overdrive, and my opponents could not stay with me!!!


I had two other finals with Earl Strickland, the Clyde Childress Memorial at the Maverick Club. Earl won in 1984, and then I believe I came back in 1985. And I beat him 11 to 10. He won the first one 11 to 10, and then I came back to defeat Earl 11 to 10. Both were real exciting matches. Unforgettable! Big crowds again, screaming and yelling after each game or after each good shot. It was very exciting. I really loved playing pool more than anything back in those days.


GC: What were your immediate feelings on being offered a part in the movie COLOR OF MONEY, and how if any did this role change your life!!!


KM: I had a good hunch I was going to get the part. I was going to play one of three characters in the movie. I actually was kind of hoping to get Forest Whitaker's role of Amos or John Tuturro's role of Julian, but I got chose for Grady Seasons instead, which worked out good for me. They had made up their mind that they were going to use me.


The U.S. Open in Norfolk used to be held at Barry Behrman's pool room. The first night of the tournament, they hadn't made the draw yet. Everybody was making games, cutting up. Efren Reyes beat me a week before I got there, and I wanted revenge. He beat me out of a lot of money too. As soon as I saw him, I started barking at him. I knew the movie people were there, so I wanted to put on a show anyway, and it worked out. Efren was giving me 9 to 7. I beat Efren seven in a row, chirping like a bird the whole time. All the movie people were there - Martin Scorsese, Gretchen Rennell, who was the Casting Director, and Tom Cruise. Gretchen Rennell called me off to the side and told me they were really interested in me, and that after I got done playing, if I could meet with them. And I did. I stayed in the office with them for almost 3 hours reading over lines. When everybody else came in, all they got was their phone number and a picture. I guess you could say they liked me.


The movie didn't really change my life that much. It made me more recognizable when I would go to places I had never been. That sort of hurt, as it did knock my game in certain situations that I had never been in, or somebody would recognize me out of the sky blue and then knock me to whatever I was trying to play, when they never even had a dime invested, trying to act like they were smart guys. I hate knockers, bad for the game.


Everywhere I go today, any cameo appearance I made, they always ask me to say my line, "It's like a nightmare, isn't it? It just keeps getting worse and worse." And you know what, I still enjoy that very much. They can't take that away from me. All the naysayers on the Internet today, they can try to pick a hole somewhere about the movie, but they can't take it away from me. That's one thing I love today.


GC: On a lighter side, do you wake up every day hoping that a sequel has just been announced with an older and wiser Mr. McCready in the starring role!


KM: I wish they would let me play the part of Paul Newman when Paul Newman came back as the backer. That would be a perfect character for me, and I would be more than happy to roll with that. Somebody needs to start writing from there, and maybe we'd have a shot. Ha-ha.


GC: Do you have any funny anecdotes to tell us that may have happened during the filming of the movie?


KM: Believe it or not, it was a lot of work. You would have had to have been there to see Tom Cruise struggling with the takes, because from the start, Tom Cruise was not a pool player. Paul, on the other hand, had played pool, and he could hold his own. He had a lot more knowledge towards the game than Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise was a banger compared to Paul Newman. Paul had a nice little strike. Me and Mike Sigel had to work with Tom Cruise to make him look like a pool player, but I give most of the credit to Mike for making him look the way he did. What a lot of people didn't know were these actors would usually get it done in one, two, or three takes, well, we were taking 30 and 40 takes, astronomical numbers to get it done. But we did it. Martin Scorsese was really good about that. He wanted the actors in the spotlight, and all the actors wanted to do it themselves, no doubles, come right from the hip. That's what I liked about that set.


GC: How did you come to get your unusual (maybe not to you) arm action and when did you decide to stick with what has become your signature stroke?


KM: Well, I was small in height, and I stood on a box when I hit my first ball, but playing caroms, I was always a side-winder. So I guess that's where it started. But for me, it was easier for me to get down on the ball with that side-armed stroke.


GC: What year did you retire from the sport, and what prompted you to come up with that decision and was it an easy decision or did it take a while to make?


KM: With the way my lifestyle is right now, in order to get to these pool tournaments, the logistics just don't work out anymore. My other half has a career, which she put on hold to follow the pool tournament trail. That didn't work out too well for her. Plus, I have a dog, and we couldn't take him with us. Leaving him at home by himself, just can't do it. Action is not like it used to be, even when I show up at the tournaments. I can make action happen. I never have a problem with that, but the entry fees and expenses, if you don't make any money gambling, you're looking at a few thousand dollars that you're stuck before you even hit the first ball. And that's not even gambling with anybody. That's counting your food, your motel bill, the entry fee, etcetera. The way it is now, I wouldn't be relying on the pool tournaments. I'd have to rely on gambling, which my other half has a rough time with all that, knowing that that's the way it's going to be if we go to a tournament. Shame on her, but that's the way it is.


To be honest with you, I haven't really retired - yet. I keep up with the pool. Every once in a while, I go down in the basement and knock some balls around. Needless to say, I bet more on sports and more on poker online. I don't really feel that I have to go out there and bust my butt in the pool world anymore, especially when every Tom, Dick, and Harry don't miss a ball. As far as I'm concerned, if I don't feel that I can compete in a manner to where I can win, I don't want to go there, just to show face. I've never been that way. I want to go there to where I think I have a good chance to win.


I have had a few offers recently to make a cameo appearance at a few upcoming events, and I'm still weighing all my options. No matter what anybody thinks, I still have a little lightning in the jug. I am going to give it another shot - not a big shot, but a little shot, and it will be when I'm ready.


GC: On retirement how did you satisfy your competitive drive,which I am sure was the main motivation behind your many career successes!


KM: I still play poker. It's a little bit lonely, though, because I lost a couple of my dearest friends that I used to play with online all at the same time. We would stay up all night long playing poker, taking turns. Either he would play or I would play. We would sweat each other. I lost both my friends in a 3‑month span. It really hurt. It was Tony Rile first and then Ronnie Allen second. Then Cole Dickson, my closest childhood friend, passed. It was a horrible year for me.


Two of my other buddies are in jail, but they will be getting out soon, and I'm sure we'll crank up the poker again to a speed to where it's suitable for me.


GC: In what appears to me to be a more comfortable phase in your life right now, I would ask you how do you fill your time these days and I do expect the answer to involve some form of gambling, which I think is in the McCready genes! Or have you mellowed with age to the point where you are cultivating red roses in your beautiful gardens!


KM: I still have the same thoughts about gambling. I love to gamble. I love to be competitive, and no matter what I do, whether it's pool, sports betting, poker, horses, whatever, I still enjoy every bit of that. I'm in it to win it at all times. I wish what I know now about gambling, management, and this and that, I would have done it at a younger age and been more smarter with my money and my life.


I quit smoking the first of this year, which was a giant leap for me, after smoking for 40 years. It's been 7 months since I had a cigarette. My life has totally done a flip ever since I met my other half, and it's all for the good. Who knows where I'd be right now if I didn't have her? I am very grateful for her. We have our differences of opinion (for sure). My daytime routine is handicapping the baseball, which is going right now, and that's about 2 or 3 hours of studying. Then I spend some time with our dog Mickey, who I love very much. He has showed me a side of life I had not thought I'd ever be interested in, but I do enjoy walking him in the park. I like seeing him happy. The one thing about Mickey, no matter how many bad beats I take, he don't care. He's in my corner. He wags that tail, gets to giving me kisses, and it's all love. I couldn't ask for anything more.


GC: Do you still play pool to keep your eye in, and do you have any thoughts on making a comeback any time soon? The fans would love to see you back in the arena, but I am sure you would not be happy to play second fiddle so to speak, and would only come back if you were back at the same speed as when you left the arena!


KM: I want to get one thing straight. I'm not retired. Temporarily out of action is the way I like to think of it. [Laughs.] Just like Paul Newman said in "The Color of Money," you will hear me one day at a pool room, when you least expect it, say "I'm back."


GC: My last question: Do you still have your white suit and white hat that you bought for the IPT Tour?


KM: Yeah. Matter of fact, I have all my IPT clothes. I would love to be able to wear all those clothes again on the pool scene. Maybe if pool got big enough, where it would be cost effective to compete more frequently, I would come out of retirement a lot faster. I still have passion for pool, and I still got a few shots left in my arsenal. Believe it or not, I'm not that far off, even though I haven't played competitively. I believe you have to be in combat consistently in order to get to hit the balls in a manner to where you can beat a good player. Practice will help, but you have to have that action, that combat, to get your adrenaline flowing in the heat of the battle to be successful in the pool world. And I'm a firm believer in that.




It is good to hear that Keith is alive and well and in a much more contented place than his playing/ hustling years. But, it is interesting that his description of the present position of the money (or lack of it) in pool has diminished over the years!!!!


Let's hope that Keith gets the bug to return to pool in the not too distant future, and maybe I will try to hook up a Challenge match in the Accu-stats Simonis Arena at Sandcastle Billiards in Jersey against Francisco Bustamante on the Diamond table!!


For sure this would be a great PPV match, as every fan would love to see Keith back in action!!!