At one time considered among the top players in America, McCready has been a traveling tournament competitor and notorious hustler since the 1970s. From 2003 to 2006, McCready was a contributing writer to InsidePOOL Magazine and remains a pro competition contender, known for comedically interacting with the audience. He also had a supporting role as the boorish hustler Grady Seasons in the 1986 film The Color of Money.
An energetic and aggressive player, he has a distinctive side-arm stroke and, despite his unusual form, is well known for strong shot-making offense skills, often executing extremely difficult shots that most other players would not attempt.
McCready was born in Elmhurst, Illinois. He realized he had billiards talent at the age of nine, after his father introduced him to bumper pool, and he soon began hustling his two older brothers out of their allowance money. He initially had to stand on a box to reach the height of the table, and developed his unusual stroke while still a boy.
He was reportedly habituated to gambling by his divorced father when, during custodial visits, Keith and his brothers would each be given US$20 and required to play various games with him, "usually until he had won his money back."
According to McCready, as a student in Trident Middle School in Anaheim, California, he asked his gym teacher to hold his money for him while he attended the first-period class. An established gambler at a young age, McCready had won a large amount gambling the night before at the horse racetrack. He was afraid to leave the money at home, for fear that his two older brothers would help themselves to it, and he did not want to leave it in his school locker for the same reason. When the instructor saw that it was the sum of $14,000 in gambling winnings, McCready was suspended from school, "for having too much money". Danny Diliberto was living in Bellflower, California, during this time. He learned about the incident when he asked why young McCready was hanging in the pool room instead of attending school. The school officials contacted the California Department of Social Services to investigate his home environment, which had deteriorated after the death of his mother. His father had developed problems with alcoholism. Placed in foster care, Keith was removed from his family home and made a ward of the State. The owner of his neighborhood pool room, Bob's Billiards, liked McCready and successfully petitioned to adopt him, providing him a permanent home until he reached legal age.
While growing up in Bellflower, he acquired a proficiency in many pool games from legendary players such as Ronnie "Fast Eddie" Allen, Richie Florence, Allen Hopkins, Hippie Jimmy Reid, Buddy Hall, Irving Crane, Larry Lisciotti, Jimmy Mataya, Luther Lassiter, Billy Incardona, Joe Balsis, Danny DiLiberto, Larry Johnson aka "Boston Shorty," Lou Butera, and Ed Kelly aka "Champagne Eddie." As a teenager in California, his mentor was an older California player named Cole Dixon, who showed McCready how to survive as a pool player.
McCready as a young boy was inspired by the grandiose spirit of Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone Jr., when he made an unexpected visit to his neighborhood pool room. Upon departure, Minnesota Fats, sharply dressed in a three-piece suit, flashed a large wad of cash and said to the patrons, "Boys, the only difference between me and everybody else is that everybody else drives around in a Volkswagen, and Minnesota Fats drives around in a Duesenberg." A decade later, after several tournament wins in California, McCready traveled to St. Louis to compete in a pool tournament, and Minnesota Fats was in attendance. When he recognized McCready as the young up-and-coming player from California, he began to "woof" (tried to entice a player to gamble) at him, and the two of them put on a show and entertained a packed house of onlookers.
McCready acquired the nickname "Keither with the Ether" as a teenager, but was considered an old-school player who was fast and very accurate at the table. "Nobody beat Keith...He was a terrific young player...the most perfect pool you ever saw," says Grady Mathews, "one of those pool phenoms that comes along every now and then."
In an era in American pool when gambling was a norm, "hustling...was a way of life." When McCready was in his prime and on top of his game, he spent the better part of the 1970s and 1980s traveling throughout the United States as a tournament competitor and hustler. Sometimes the tournament venues would be a gathering place for pool hustlers, and the main action would take place outside of the tournament. With his raconteur style, McCready eventually became a road player, attracting large crowds to his designated table when his appearance was known.
When McCready was 21 and embarked on competing in professional pocket billiards in his homestate of California, he made an impression when, coming from behind, he ran nine straight racks of nine-ball in the finals, defeating Larry Hubbart, 11-6, to win the Sacramento Open Nine-ball Tournament.
On St. Patrick's Day in 1984, McCready won the Clyde Childress Memorial Nine-ball Tournament at The Maverick Club in Richmond, Kentucky, which had a star-studded field consisting of pool phenoms Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Buddy Hall, Ronnie Allen, Allen Hopkins, St. Louis Louie Roberts, and Terry Bell. Handing Earl "The Pearl" an 11-to-2 thrashing earlier in the double-elimination pool tournament, McCready faced him in the finals. Strickland had been a dominating force on the American pool tournament trail, and racing to 11 games for the win, the score became tied, 9-9. McCready triumphed, running out the next two games to claim the victory.
McCready scored his first professional win, in October 1985, undefeated at the then-annual B.C. Open in Binghamton, New York, pocketing $25,000, which was considered a large purse for a pool tournament at that date. The venue featured capacity audiences each day. "A worthy champion and a colorful, exciting player, he deserved to win," writes pool veteran Grady Mathews.
Pool players go through definite streaks, according to Bruce Venzke of The National Billiard News, the oldest existing pool, billiard, and snooker publication in America: "Who can forget the one for Keith McCready." When the lines on the 1983 Lake Tahoe Classic were made on which players were the "Tahoe Favorites," McCready was described as "Mr. Cool, the Ultimate Nine-ball Player."
At the 5th Sands Regent Open nine-ball tournament in Reno, Nevada, June 3–7, 1987, won by Earl Strickland, McCready was documented in the "Notable Matches" category by Accu-Stats because of his "brilliant and entertaining" performance, defeating Paul Brienza and Mike Sigel in the event.
In September 2003, the final match, Filipino Francisco Bustamante versus American Keith McCready, drew the largest crowd yet of the Falcon Cue Tour in Sterling, Virginia, where over 100 fans witnessed McCready defeat the Filipino pool champion, 9-7.
In April 2005, he took a Joss Northeast Nine-ball Tour event at the Golden Cue in Albany, New York, winning the final match of the double-elimination format event against Canadian pool player Danny Hewitt. The first set was completely one-sided with Hewitt cruising to a 9-3 win over McCready. The second set was a complete turnaround for McCready as he took an early 7-4 lead and help off a late charge from Hewitt to win the match 9-7.
While records dating back to McCready’s prime as a tournament player are scarce, according to Pool & Billiards magazine, dated December 1998, he was ranked 10th on the men's professional pool tour. Keith won about a half-dozen pro events, mostly in the 1980s. However, it was his high-stakes gambling that earned him the lion’s share of his reputation as one of the most feared nine-ball players. With his charisma and gift of gab, he has been heralded as "pool’s ultimate entertainer" McCready plays for the crowd and believes that when there is audience involvement, it creates a better atmosphere.
Danny Diliberto (now an Accu-Stats Video Productions commentator) has stated: "I like Keith McCready, he's entertaining all the time; he's colorful to watch, because he's going to shoot at a white flag. He doesn't play the score; he could be winning 7 to 1 and he's still going to shoot at a crazy shot that he could lose with. But he's a colorful person, so I like doing commentary on him."
MCready resides on the East Coast and continues to compete professionally as well as putting on exhibitions for charity events. McCready holds the 2005 Virginia State Nine-Ball Championship title, which was held in Richmond.
In 1986, McCready starred as the character Grady Seasons, a fictional infamous, sharking hustler and top money-winner in all of pool, with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award-winning film The Color of Money, loosely based on the novel by Walter Tevis (the sequel to The Hustler). In 1985, Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, and Scorsese's casting director, Gretchen Rennell, had come to Norfolk, Virginia, to the US Open Nine-ball Championship in search of actual pool personalities to play character roles. McCready was engaged in a stakes game with Filipino pool champion Efren Reyes and was selected to be in the movie because of his entertaining style of play. McCready had an established reputation in pool circles as one of the most feared money players in the nation.
After the film's release, there was a boom in the pool industry. One of McCready's more memorable lines, "It's like a nightmare, isn't it? It just keeps getting worse and worse", as he runs the table on Vincent, Cruise's budding hustler character, inspired the name of one of the top amateur eight-ball teams in the US, Like a Nightmare. In his earliest scene in the film, McCready also demonstrates an intimidating hustler trick: He literally throws the balls at once into the rack, and they land in proper position for a legal rack of nine-ball.
Accu-Stats Video Productions recorded a match when McCready defeated Filipino Champion Jose Parica at the 2003 US Open Nine-ball Championship and describes it as: "The most entertaining match that Accu-Stats has ever offered. Keith steals the show and the audience approval."
On the 25th anniversary of The Color of Money, the German Touch Magazine wrote an article about the movie and included a four-page interview of McCready. It highlighted the influence the movie continues to have on pool 25 years later as well as how it has impacted McCready personally.