Yet the Goz always shows up for charity events, clinics, things. "Makin' things happen," he says. "Just did a Dick Howser thing. And I'm gonna do this thing for Phil—what is it, Joe?—that's it, Fred. Fred's got this thing next week. Takin' a few players down to do that thing. Doin' a thing for Billy, too. A thing here in Florida. Set up a big, little thing for Billy, a chapel-like thing."
Billy was Rivers' old manager Billy Martin, who died after an auto accident on Christmas day. The next night, before the Tropics game in Port St. Lucie, Rivers delivered a eulogy to the crowd. "I ain't got no negative aspects about Billy," he said. "He wasn't no bad guy—did a lot of good. Had a lot of plus atmosphere, in my book. You had to go and talk to him, then judge. No first impressions. Billy was for you all the time, no matter what. Did a lot of things that helped me out. I know that for a fact. And he didn't do it just to do it. He'd have done it anyway, knowing on account of the type of guy he was. It's a tragedy. I'm at a loss for baseball itself."
"It was a strange, touching moment," says first baseman Joe Mincberg, recalling Rivers' speech. A 41-year-old West Palm Beach criminal lawyer, Mincberg never played pro ball before making the Tropics. He made the team at a tryout camp. On opening day, Rivers bestowed one of his bats on him. "He just gave it to me out of the blue," says Mincberg. "It's been the highlight of my season. I'll never forget it. Mickey's my favorite player. You can't help but love him."
Kids do. Rivers is the Pied Piper of West Palm Beach. Alas, even Mick's magic can't fill the seats at Municipal Stadium. Gozzlehead remains unfazed. "People gonna come out there if you're gonna put something out there to put 'em to see," he says. "Some are going to see names, and the rest are going to see guys play good. Put some publicity out there to get some of that and some of this, and it can't help but be a plus."
On this hot afternoon in West Palm, a crowd of about 1,500 is on hand—about average for the season—though many of the fans were no doubt lured to the stadium by the free passes in the local papers. Rivers ambles into the clubhouse wearing a black satin jumpsuit with LOVER BOY, WE ALWAYS DEMAND running in stripes down both sides. "Just an expression," he says. "French, I think."
Before the game he makes an appearance as the plaintiff in the team's kangaroo court. His dispute is over a wager made the previous day. Rivers had bet reliever Felix Pettaway that ol' Goz could throw a ball through the tarp hanging on the leftfield fence. "I can still pump it 85 miles an hour," Rivers told Pettaway.
"Like hell you can," said Pettaway.
"Pump it 85 and put it through the tarp."
"I'll bet anything in the world you can't."
"You're on," said Gozzlehead. He reared back and from about 60 feet away from the fence, launched his alleged 85-mpher—through one of. the tarp's wind flaps. "That's it!" he said.