A quarter century ago a pitcher named Mark Fidrych made a name for himself—the Bird—with his oddball exuberance. The rube-ish rookie packed 'em into Tiger Stadium by sprinting to his position, landscaping the mound with his hands and talking to the baseball, like some hardball Hamlet addressing Yorick's skull. A flake, they called him, the game's most refreshing character since Dizzy Dean. The truth is, Bird was less kook than canny clown. He became a merchandising sensation, attaching his image to everything from T-shirts to 45-rpm records. (We're surprised he never endorsed a chattering baseball.)
Whereas Fidrych was a self-conscious actor, Mickey Rivers (right) was an unconscious authentic. Unlike the Bird, he wasn't aware that people found him loopy. The former New York Yankees centerfielder had his own way of dressing, of walking, of talking. He never met a word he couldn't malapropriate, and he scattered non sequiturs like rose petals. "Ain't no sense in worryin' about things you got control over," he said," 'cause if you got control over them, ain't no sense worryin'." Mick the Quick's conversation was so full of twists and turns that no grammatical road map could help you. "I like playing on this team," he said during a stint in a senior league. "We actually been doin' real good. Got a different mix here. Most important thing is you gotta keep pickin' up in paces. That's why we're playing contentious play. We got top names, guys can still hit in the majors, guys been out of the game hittin' the ball, shockin' it. Don't have no old, old guys. Not sayin' they don't get a good job done. Fact is, they've been vice versa. So that's incentive right there. It's been a plus."
It took another genuine article to explicate Rivers. "Mickey understands that the baseball is just two Cartesian coordinates going out to infinity," said Boston Red Sox flake emeritus Bill (Spaceman) Lee. "He doesn't think; therefore he is."