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
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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

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I began some of my mornings the past 10 years with the "breakfast of champions"—a big glass filled with a shot or more of brandy, some Kahlúa and cream. Billy Martin and I used to drink them all the time, and I named the drink after us. Sometimes when I was in New York with nothing to do, and Billy and I were together, we would stop into my restaurant on Central Park South at around 10 in the morning, and the bartender would dump all the ingredients into a blender and stir it right up. It tasted real good.

Unfortunately for everybody else around me, one "breakfast of champions" and they could kiss the day goodbye. After one drink, I was off and running. And unless I had a business engagement, I'd often keep on drinking until I couldn't drink anymore.

Drinking had become an all-too-frequent routine for me. If I had a drink to start the day, I'd go out for lunch and go through three or four bottles of wine in the course of the afternoon. White wine. Red wine. It didn't matter, and I didn't care about the quality, either. In fact, I thought if I was drinking wine, it wasn't really drinking. To me, wine wasn't liquor.

At one time I prided myself on being knowledgeable about good wine. But over the years I just drank so much of it that I didn't care anymore. Late one afternoon, after I'd finished a round of golf, a guy sent over an expensive glass of port. I was drinking Absolut vodka on the rocks, and as the guy watched, I poured the port right into my Absolut. He came over to me in shock and said, "Man, that was a $15-a-shot port I sent over here." And I said, "Oh, I'm sorry. We drink these all the time. We call them Aborts."

I always took pride in my dependability when I was doing public-relations work, endorsements and personal appearances. I always wanted to do my best. It was when I had no commitments, nothing to do or nowhere to be that I lapsed into those long drinking sessions. It was the loneliness and emptiness. I found "friends" at bars, and I filled my emptiness with alcohol. In those instances I was almost totally out of it by early evening. I could hardly talk. I'd try to get somebody to go to dinner with me, and I'd start drinking vodka martinis. I'd order a meal, but I wouldn't eat. I'd just sit there and drink.

In the past five years I used alcohol as a crutch. To help me overcome my shyness and make me feel more comfortable before all those personal appearances, I'd warm up with three or four vodkas before leaving the hotel, go straight to the cocktail party and have three or four more drinks, and then I'd start feeling, Whew, all right. Let's go.

When I was drinking, I thought I was funny—the life of the party. But as it turned out, nobody could stand to be around me. I was loud, and I guess everything that came out of my mouth was rude and crude. After one or two drinks, I was real happy. People could ask me for several autographs, and I'd sign them. Then after several drinks, I could be downright nasty. Ask for one autograph, and if I'd been drinking too much, I'd bite your head off—even in my own restaurant, where on a few occasions I told people to "——off!" or to "Get the——out of here!" My partners in the restaurant and the people who cared about me would start saying, "Why don't you go on back to the hotel?" And there were many nights when they had to sneak me out the back door.

Most of the things I said and did while I was drinking, I couldn't remember the next day. The last 10 years I did stuff that really shocked me. I was so embarrassed. People would tell me, "Last night, boy, you can't believe what you said." And I'm going, "Did I say that?" The stories bugged the hell out of me. That wasn't like me. I wasn't that guy they were talking about.

What bugged me even more was the way I started forgetting simple, everyday things. I could be talking to you and just completely forget my train of thought. I'd go out to dinner, and the next day I couldn't tell you where I went, what I ate or who I was with. One afternoon in New York a few years ago, I went to a chiropractor. When I got back to the hotel, his office phoned to see how I was doing, and I didn't even remember having been there.

I never cared about business matters. I didn't have to handle my finances because my attorney, Roy True, took care of all that. Even though I didn't like it, over the years Roy would go over business matters with me, and I'd half listen for about 20 or 30 minutes at the most. During the past seven or eight years our discussions were very infrequent. I would break appointments because I was hung over. If I met with him, I couldn't remember what he told me. I would get frustrated and mad.

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