Sports and booze go together like peanut and jelly. Any man worth his crust will scull down a few brews watching the big game, it’s just what we do. But only in the past 15-20 years or so do we now know the fine line between enjoyment and addiction. When this line is crossed by the same people who cross the white line on the field, then we begin to understand the perils of alcohol addiction.
Between the end of the First World War and the 1980s, getting blind drunk was a badge of honor. When prohibition was raised in 1933, there were very few outlets around to enjoy and booze provided the perfect poison for people to escape the harsh realities of life. Its any wonder the macho world of sports combined with alcohol to form a devastating cocktail of hangovers and despair. Everyone loves a party, but no one loves an alcoholic.
The following group of athletes all have one thing in common and it’s not going to AA meetings. None of these men knew when enough was enough. Whether it was escaping internal or external pain, the reasons fade into the background when they are replaced by international headlines and damaged reputations.
Gone is the days of “boys will be boys.” For some of these athletes the battle with the bottle proved a mountain too high to climb, in other cases they managed to get help before it was too late. It’s very easy to judge these personalities based purely on their sporting prowess, but we know these guys lived troubled lives away from the spotlight.
Here is the comprehensive top 20 list of alcoholic athletes in the history of sports.
20 Billy Martin
42 years of punishing himself one drink at a time meant legendary New York Yankees manager Billy Martin was always going to pay the ultimate price. Ironically, it was a freak car accident that claimed his life at just 61-years of age, but Martin admitted to the press that he drunk heavily because he wanted to kill himself. Billy’s glittering MLB career was bookmarked by playing and managing the New York Yankees, going on to have 3 separate stints as manager in the 1980s.
19 Brett Favre
On the field Favre was a dominant force for decades. The QB was seemingly indestructible, but away from the spotlight Brett battled with pain killer addiction which quickly transitioned to a love for the drink. The Gunslinger’s secret shame put a strain on his relationship with wife Deanna Tynes, apparently bringing a “party boy” culture from Atlanta to Green Bay before becoming more reclusive in his later years. At 46 Favre is finally retired, intimating that he might have issues with concussion from absorbing a lifetime of knocks, drugs and booze.
18 David Boon
Don’t blame Boonie, it’s in his blood. Apparently Aussies sound drunk because their ancestors were drunk all the time! The legendary 1980s and 1990s Australian cricketer became a cult hero down under with his awesome moustache, carrying on the proud tradition of male facial hair from the likes of Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh. But forget all that, he made a name for himself on the Ashes flight from Australia to England when he downed a record 52 beers on the journey. Athletes now have to consult their nutritionist if they want a bit of caffeine in their coffee, so it’s safe to say this Australian cricket record will die with the boy from Tasmania.
17 Mickey Mantle
The name synonymous with baseball, Mickey Mantle grew up in a time where Don Draper was not so much a television character but just your average marketing executive. Mickey developed a love for the bottle from a very early age and it was just the way men knew how to cope with the struggles of life in the 1950s and 1960s. A visit to the doctor gave a sobering assessment, telling Mantle that his liver looked like a “doorstop,” before moving into the infamous Betty Ford Clinic to battle the problem in rehab. Such was his comfort with drinking, his lifestyle was passed onto his son who died of liver cancer.
16 Tony Adams
If you have a spare 40 minutes take a viewing of this Channel 4 Documentary about the former Arsenal captain Tony Adams. While someone like David Boon could manage his intake in record time on a plane, Adams had a chronic problem with the bottle off the field. He continued to perform to an incredibly high standard for the North London team, but was the most obvious victim of Arsenal’s infamous Tuesday Club – a drinking culture where Gunners players would get smashed on a Tuesday because they knew they had time to recover in time for the weekend. Now sober for a number of years, Adams’ story is one of redemption.
15 James Hunt
For James Hunt, the champagne corks were popped long after the final flag was waved. The legendary F1 racer was aptly played by Chris Hemsworth on the big screen, portraying the ultimate party boy who lived the rock star lifestyle to the max. It’s any wonder Hunt passed away from a heart attack at the tender age of 45, spending every waking moment off the track drinking and fornicating himself silly. Allegedly Hunt had sex with over 5,000 women in his lifetime, we’re amazed he even had time to drink at that rate!
14 Alex Ovechkin
To be honest, Alexander Ovechkin looks drunk most of time. The Washington Capitals star had a few too many during an autographing session at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant and is regularly pictured out on the town with ladies as the liquor flows nonstop. He’s had some high profile feuds with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Don Cherry, but with the amount of vodka and alcohol the guy consumes he probably doesn’t know what he’s doing half the time.
13 Charles Barkley
Barkley is what the experts would label a “functioning alcoholic.” The legendary 1990s NBA superstar admitted to Sports Illustrated that he played a game drunk, so excited was he to play for the Lakers before finding out that the deal collapsed. “I get a call from my agent one morning and he said ‘Philly has traded you to the Lakers.’ So I went to lunch and started drinking,” said Barkley. “Three hours later I get a f***ing phone call saying that the Sixers backed out. So I went out and played that night.” Big Charles battled with a number of issues pre and post retirement, but that anecdote encapsulates how free and easy he was with the bottle.
12 Diego Maradona
In reality booze is only one of El Diego’s problems. Drugs, smoking, women, parties, Maradona achieved so much in the world of soccer despite being unable to control himself off the pitch. Don’t think for one minute he’s cleaned up his act completely, he was filmed sculling a beer in London watching his Argentina rugby side against Australia last week. Maradona’s weight exploded when he retired as his beer belly started to catch up with the diminutive maestro once he hung up the boots.
11 Ricky Hatton
Retired British boxer Ricky Hatton isn’t ashamed of his heavy drinking, if anything he’s proud of it. According to him, it made him more approachable to the fans. The welterweight champion rose to fame when he beat Australian fighter Kosta Tszyu until he was on the end of some high profile knockouts, including Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. This meant Hatton could not be considered in the elite class of boxers in his generation. The boy from Manchester loved a pint and when he hung up the gloves the weight ballooned beyond all control.
10 Allen Iverson
If Barkley functioned during his NBA career with the bottle, then Iverson had a tough time hiding it from his teammates. Iverson infamously turned up drunk to a press conference in 2002 where he repeated the phrase “we’re talking about practice” 22 times. A string of bust ups, marijuana possession, marriage breakdown and speeding fines told it’s own story. Stephen A. Smith went public to quote unnamed “sources” that the 76ers point guard was on the verge of gambling and drinking his life away. Retirement seems to be a good tonic so far for Allen.
9 Babe Ruth
The pictures speak for themselves. Babe’s drinking was legendary, to the point where his name stood for something else – Beer Alcohol Booze in Excess. The Bambino divided baseball when he traded from the Boston Red Sox to arch rivals New York Yankees, becoming arguably the greatest player to ever pick up a bat. His death at 53 from cancer could be contributed to any number of factors, being one of the few elite athletes to thrive in their field despite having a huge beer gut to contend with.
8 Andrew Flintoff
“Freddie” Flintoff only retired a few years ago, but remains one of the 21st Century’s only true geezers. A lot like Australian cricketing hero Shane Warne, Flintoff supported a large frame throughout his playing days and was pictured in a festive mood throughout English nightclubs a number of times. Some of the imagery captured from the 2005 Ashes win left a lot of sore heads and one incident in the Caribbean involving a dingy boat brought Freddie’s alcoholism front and center of England’s tabloid newspapers. Flintoff is now as fit and healthy as he’s ever been in retirement. One can only wonder how good the all-rounder would have been if he had been that disciplined playing for England.
7 Miguel Cabrera
When in doubt – blame it on the dog. Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera did just that when he turned up for a game with scratches on his face, although it would later turn out to be from his partner who attacked him after a big night out on the town. Cabrera later had a few run ins and went to rehab. A 2011 drink driving cause told the baseball world he couldn’t conquer the disease and when the Tigers won the division in 2012, Cabrera purposely stayed away from the party to avoid the temptation.
6 George Best
When the Observer sat down with George a few years before his death in 2005, the headline read, “Been there, drunk that.” In the article by Sean O’Hagan, George Best freely admits to prioritizing sex, drugs and booze instead of football. His drinking in Manchester was the thing of legend, stealing from a woman’s purse to get hammered with his mates, showing up drunk on the BBC and going to prison for 3 months on drink driving charges. Severe liver damage in 2000 inevitably followed and his death at 59 ended the biggest tab of all time. The guy loved to drink.
5 Andre The Giant
At 7 ft 4 and 550 lbs. it’s fair to say Andre The Giant could consume a fair amount more than your average drinking buddy. Hulk Hogan’s greatest nemesis developed physically beyond all comparison due to an overdose of growth hormones, making him literally a larger than life character that sustained a successful wrestling and acting career for the Frenchman. He could down so much booze in one sitting, it is said he had 119 beers on one night and two liters of vodka on another. It should be no surprise he died of heart failure at the age of 46.
4 Lawrence Taylor
Some say it was the cocaine binges, others say it was having sex with an underage prostitute. Whatever the tipping point was for Lawrence Taylor, the fact of the matter remains he was an alcoholic for the majority of his playing days. The New York Giants linebacker is widely considered to be the greatest in his position, but when asked what he can do better than any other linebacker in football, Taylor replied, “drink.” That says it all.
3 Wade Boggs
We don’t know how he did it. Apparently Wade Boggs says he could drink 107 beers per day. It makes anything David Boon on a cricket tour or Charlie Sheen on a night out could manage look pedestrian. It’s rumored the former Boston Red Sox third baseman smashed 64 cans on trip between MLB fixtures. Boggs flirted with television appearances and a stint in WWE wrestling, but it’s his drinking that runs his baseball career a close second for things most famous about Wade.
2 Paul Gascoigne
Big “Gazza” grew up and played his football around the same time and place as Tony Adams. Such was the culture of London in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, many people were driven to drink to escape the boredom of life. He is still remembered fondly by Tottenham and England supporters for being one of the most gifted players to have graced the field for club and country, yet his ongoing battle with alcohol addiction seemed sure to kill him. He has gone public, speaking with BBC radio within the last 12 months to admit that every day is a fight he has to overcome.
1 John Daly
The best of the best, or worst of the worst depending on how you view it. Such a legendary alcoholic is Mr. Daly the golfer has his very own drink named after him. For the record it’s a concoction of iced tea, vodka and lemonade. It speaks volumes about a man who inspired a lifetime of beverages enjoyed and clubs swung, with his mug shot going viral after being taken into custody for being publicly drunk outside a Hooters restaurant. His old coach famously accused John of favoring alcohol above anything else in his life. He’s tried sobriety and fingers crossed he’s overcome his problems, but John Daly is without question the greatest alcoholic athlete of them all.