"Mickey was an
awesome player that year," says Fran Healy, a Yankee catcher then and now a
broadcaster for the team. "I usually use the word awesome when a player can
hit the ball 900 feet. But Mickey was awesome."
really got started the next year, even though he hit .326 with 12 home runs and
69 RBIs. Let it be said that the Gozzlehead doesn't exactly hoard his money. To
keep up with expenses, he would constantly badger the Yankees for advances.
After all, if a man wants to, he can go to the track just about every day and
night of the year in New York.
"One day on
the road I ran into him at the track," says one Yankee official.
"Mickey won the first race, won the second race, won the double, won the
third race. So he's up about two grand because he bets good. So I said, 'Let's
go home, you can't win any more.' I even got him to agree. So he bet $100 on
the fourth race and we got into a cab, but when we got to the hotel, he said,
'Oh, I got to go back. I left my hat and umbrella back there.' So he went back
and lost all the money he'd won."
started to lose his confidence on the bases, partly because Billy Martin
wouldn't let him run on his own. He had enjoyed that luxury in California, and
did again last year with the Yankees under Bob Lemon and then the reinstated
Martin. Rivers blames sore legs for his reduced number of steals—10 last
season—but, almost to a man, his former Yankee teammates suspect he simply lost
confidence in himself as a base stealer.
"Mick and I
had had our own hit-and-run sign," says Willie Randolph, who replaced
Rivers as New York's leadoff hitter. "I'd give it and Mick wouldn't go. And
I'd ask him about it, and he'd say, 'Uh, you know...uh, you know...we'll get
'em next time.' And next time I'd give the sign, and the same thing would
happen." Randolph smiles warmly. "I miss him. I miss him to
Rivers could be
stubbornly unprofessional in other ways. He had to be talked into playing the
last game of the 1977 playoffs with Kansas City. He wanted another advance; the
Yankees said no, and Rivers said he was prepared to spend the evening in the
trainer's room. That's the Gozzlehead. Then he went out and got the hit that
tied the game in the ninth. That's also the Gozzlehead.
By 1979 Rivers was
almost a complete cipher as a base stealer. When he was traded to Texas on July
30, he had only three steals in 10 attempts. It's almost impossible to imagine
someone as fast as Rivers attempting only 10 steals in 74 games.
"We had to
trade him; we had to get him out of the New York environment," says Yankee
owner George Steinbrenner. "He's just a sweet, sweet kid. You know, when he
played for us, a lot of times I'd come into my office at the Stadium in the
afternoon, and he'd come in and visit. He'd just sit there, across the desk
from me. I'd ask him, 'Any problems?' And almost always, he'd say, 'No
problems, no complaints,' and he'd just sit there."
arrived in Texas, Manager Pat Corrales made a wise decision. He told Mickey,
"I'm going to leave you alone, and you just go out and play baseball."
And Rivers, who can sulk when given orders he doesn't agree with, responded
with his excellent season. Of course, it may also be significant that he's
working in a state that doesn't have pari-mutuel betting.
The temptations of
the road, however, aren't so easily avoided. In Baltimore this season, a cabbie
showed up at the Rangers' hotel and picked up Rivers for a trip to a local
track, even though Rivers had never called him. The cabbie just knew. He even
waited at the track for Rivers so Mickey would get to the park on time.
Something similar happened in Detroit. This time, though, the "cab" was
a lime-green limo with JESUS painted on one door.