SI Vault
Mickey Mantle
April 18, 1994
After 42 years of alcohol abuse, a legendary ballplayer describes his life of self-destructive behavior and hopes his recovery will finally make him a true role model
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 18, 1994

Time In A Bottle

After 42 years of alcohol abuse, a legendary ballplayer describes his life of self-destructive behavior and hopes his recovery will finally make him a true role model

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

I'd forget what day it was. What month it was. What city I was in. There were dozens of personal appearances and card shows that I had agreed to be at, but when the time came to go, I'd argue that I had never agreed to the commitment in the first place. But I always made the appearance. I'm still proud of that.

It wasn't only recent events that had disappeared from my memory because of all my drinking. I was the best man at Billy Martin's wedding in 1988, and I hardly remember being there.

The loss of memory really scared me. I told a couple of the doctors I play golf with at Preston Trail Golf Club, near my home in Dallas, that I thought I might have Alzheimer's disease, and they said, "Well, you're probably not there yet, but you better start watching your drinking. You'd better cool it a bit." I was scared that the alcohol had changed my brain.

You know, I was watching somebody take infield practice the other day, and I saw him catch a ball and throw it, and I was trying to think. What did I look like throwing a ball? Did I take a hop or a skip or a jump or something? I can't even remember. And then someone's always asking, "What was your favorite pitch to hit?" But I can't remember what my favorite pitch was or where I liked to hit it.

The older I got, and the more alcohol I drank, the more I had these weird hangovers—bad anxiety attacks. From what I can recall, I had the first anxiety attack in April 1987. I'd been at the Mickey Mantle-Whitey Ford Fantasy Camp in Florida, drinking with the guys for two weeks, and then I had to go to upstate New York for a weekend card show. That was another two days of drinking. By the time I got on the plane to fly back home to Dallas, I was really dehydrated. And I'm thinking, What if I have a heart attack? The more I thought about it, the more I started flaking out. I tapped the stewardess on the shoulder and said, "Do you have a doctor in here?" She turned around, looked at my face and said, "Oh, my god, sir, go sit down!" I began hyperventilating. And she said, "I'll give you some oxygen." When the plane landed, there were emergency paramedics to bring me off on a stretcher. My oldest son, Mickey Jr., who had come to pick me up, thought I was dying, and so did I.

There were more anxiety attacks, but they didn't become frequent until the last two years. If I'd go out and get really loaded, the next day I'd wake up hyperventilating. I'd stay at home, drink water and say to myself, "Boy, I'm not going to drink like that anymore." Or I'd call one of the doctors I play golf with, and he'd put me in the hospital for about three days. The doctor would say, "Mick, you've got to quit this. You don't know what you're doing to yourself." And I'd sit there and say, "I know it. Yeah, I know it." As soon as I left the hospital, I'd go straight to a bar.

It got to the point where I was worrying so much about everything—what was happening to my memory, how awful my body felt, how I hadn't been a good husband or a good father—that I was even afraid to be alone in the house. I'd ask my youngest son, Danny, to please stay at home with me. And there were times when I locked myself in my bedroom to feel safe.

It took an embarrassing incident last December at a charity golf outing for the Harbor Club Children's Christmas Fund near Atlanta to finally make me face up to my alcoholism. I had a Bloody Mary in the morning, and then I drank a couple of bottles of wine in the afternoon as I stood out at the 12th hole, encouraging donations by "betting" people who came through that I could hit the ball closer to the pin than they could. Later on we had a sports-memorabilia auction, and I was so drunk that I bought a ball signed by Jim Lonborg—and I don't even save stuff. I told somebody that I thought I'd hit my last home run off Lonborg. After that, I made a real fool of myself at dinner. When I couldn't remember the name of a minister, I loudly blurted out, "The——preacher...."

The next day, when I found out what I had said, I was absolutely horrified. I'm sure that over the years, people have put up with a lot from me because I was Mickey Mantle; but after this episode, I couldn't believe I'd been so disrespectful. When I got back to Dallas, I approached Danny about the Betty Ford Center. Several times in recent years my friends and family had discussed intervention, but knowing how stubborn and hardheaded I was, they knew it wouldn't have worked. I needed to think that an alcohol-treatment program was my idea. Danny had checked himself into Betty Ford last October because he felt he was drinking too much. I asked Danny about the kinds of things that happen there. I don't talk much, and I wasn't sure I wanted to get into a situation at Betty Ford where I'd have to talk about my feelings. I was afraid I was going to cry in front of strangers, and I thought people would think less of me. Mickey Mantle shouldn't cry.

A few days later I went to lunch with Danny and my close friend Pat Summer-all, who had been to Betty Ford about two years ago. I asked Pat more questions about Betty Ford. What is it like? Do they get into religion?

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6