As politely as I possibly could, I asked if taking care of himself would include drinking less.
His eyes narrowed. "Let's close this off," he snapped. "Haven't you got enough?"
I felt myself stiffening, and my voice sounded colder and harder than I imagined it could. It also seemed to be coming from a great distance, perhaps all the way from Yankee Stadium in 1960 while a ball whipped over my head.
"Are you in a hurry," I asked, "or is all this bothering you?"
That let some of the air out of Mantle. He seemed momentarily confused. "Well, I'm not in a hurry." His voice softened. "We've been doing this for 30 minutes...."
My voice softened, too. I explained that people are concerned about their health these days, and that athletes are important role models for those interested in their well-being. Given that so many athletes are currently abusing themselves with alcohol and cocaine and steroids, I told Mantle, whatever he had to say on the subject could be useful.
He relaxed. "I used to never do anything," he said, "except go back to Oklahoma and drink the whole winter, you know. It was stupid. I wouldn't do that again. I would stay in shape the whole year round."
Gently, I reminded him that he didn't always seem to be in the best of shape during the season, either.
He shook his head. "That wasn't right. But I understand why. It was through not having anything else to do. From say, 1960 to '68, when I did retire, my wife and kids didn't come to New York with me. And I stayed in a hotel and from the time the game was over till the next day there wasn't very much for me to do, you know, except I would go out to eat and I would start drinking."
He looked at me, forcing a smile. "I think it was just from monotony, from just not having anything else to do."