|AHP Interviews Mickey Rivers||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on August 26, 2003
Over the past weekend I had the chance to meet one of my boyhood heroes, former Yankee, Angel and Texas Ranger “Mick the Quick” (Mickey) Rivers. Mickey and I did a little bit of an interview on the phone then met and spoke in person. Perhaps it’s me, but outside of starting pitchers there are no players that I have admired on the whole more than centerfielders. Even today I love watching Dave Roberts, Johnny Damon, Vernon Wells, and Juan Pierre. Among the group that has been my favorites included Mickey, Lenny Dykstra and the late Bobby Bonds.
Mickey played fifteen seasons for three different teams and put up some very decent numbers. However his strength cannot be seen in his statistics. Every day he went out and gave 100%. His famous waggling bat and dancing on the bases certainly distracted many a pitcher in his day. Mickey has just written a book called Ain't No Sense Worryin: The Wisdom of Mick "the Quick" Rivers which will be reviewed here at At Home Plate this weekend (see review).
His career statistics include a .295 average, 267 steals, 499 RBIs, 785 runs in only 1468 games. He was also an All Star in 1976 and was third in MVP voting the same year.
Mickey is a true baseball man and is shrewd and smarter than a lot of people give him credit for. People tend to underestimate him because he is not the most articulate of individuals at times. However when you take the time to talk to him about baseball you realize that you never can judge a book by its cover. I have taken some liberties in paraphrasing some of Mickey’s answers - hopefully that is ok with him.
AHP: So, Mickey how long have you been thinking about writing this book about the wit and wisdom of Mickey Rivers?
Mickey: Well, I had been thinking about it off and on for a while. Five years maybe, five years.
AHP: Which of all your accomplishments in the game are you proudest of?
Mickey: Well the thing is that I am someone who can get along with anybody. There were a lot of guys who had reputations as being difficult to get along with, but I could do it. More than that I fit in, even with the Yankee’s legends. Mantle, Berra and others would always ask me to come along when they went out. It’s amazing thinking guys like that bother to learn who you are.
AHP: And who of all those great players were your role models?
Mickey: there were so many guys who helped me out with advice, Maury Wills, Vida Pinson, Robinson, and many more. I learned an awful lot by just listening to and asking questions of older and more successful players. It’s something a lot of players don’t do anymore.
AHP: What about the guys who had played in the Negro leagues?
Mickey: Well there was Gibson, and I used to listen to Satchel Paige talk, but you couldn’t always understand him. Satchel spoke his own language - when he called a pitch by one name for example his bee-ball you needed to know how to translate that into something you might have seen before. It goes on today too. What we used to call a screwball is often called a slider today.
AHP: Speaking of pitching, and its terminology, what do you think of the QuesTec system in use today?
Mickey: I don’t like it. I hear lots of complaints. No. We all wish baseball would get the calls right 100% of the time but I don’t like the machines - would rather have a real uninfluenced umpire.
AHP: Were you someone who would mix it up with the umpires? You had a bit of a reputation as a troublemaker why was that?
Mickey: Well, I think that was really because I had a sense of humor and kidded around too much. Some players and some owners took that badly and think it means you are not a team guy. In reality though it’s part of what gives a great team some chemistry.
AHP: And which team and players had the best chemistry?
Mickey: The Yankees still are the best organization as far as that goes. They do everything to win and they can have fun. Some players on other teams do too.
AHP: Which players out there most remind you of yourself?
Mickey: Well, the two who come to mind are Bernie (Williams) and that little guy down in Florida.
AHP: Juan Pierre?
Mickey: Yeah. I like him. He is one of the players who always goes out and gives 100%. At the end of the day you have to be able to look in the mirror and respect yourself. I was that kind of player.
AHP: Who else in that era fit that mold?
Mickey: The guys I would want on my team from back then were Fred Lynn and Lyman Bostock. They played like I did - with everything they had.
AHP: And who was the greatest player you ever played with?
Mickey: Thurmond. No question - he was great.
AHP: So now you do some coaching of players down in spring training and you see these guys coming up today - what is the big difference between them now and when you broke in?
Mickey: Well, the big problem is that they come in and already think they are a king. They often don’t want to take advice or listen. Most of them have been pampered and don’t know the fundamentals. The Yankees are a great team because they stress the fundamentals - and you don’t last long in a Yankee uniform if you don’t learn them.
AHP: When you say fundamentals what exactly do you mean?
Mickey: I mean the ability to do the right thing in the right situation, to bunt, sacrifice and run right. The game has changed and players don’t play small ball anymore. Everyone plays for the big home run inning.
AHP: Do you think that’s due to the change in the game economically? I mean that owners and managers don’t want a guy who is making $5 million a year to risk an injury sliding and such?
Mickey: Oh yeah, the orders come down from the top. No owner wants to see his stars bunting; he’s paying him to swing for the fences even if it’s not the right thing to do. There are some teams who still play small ball. They are very sucessful too, teams like the Marlins are doing it without any superstars in the field. The Cardinals and Royals are doing it too.
AHP: Has that aspect of free agency hurt the game?
Mickey: Definitely, the teams with money buy better players but I like to see the players make money. They deserve it.
AHP: Do you work with players besides the Yankees?
Mickey: Yeah, I don’t care where a player plays, if I can help him I will, I’m not really a fan of any one team anymore - but of the players. I like to see a player learn and develop good skills.
AHP: What advice would you give a young player coming up today?
Mickey: Find and work with the veterans - never be afraid to ask them questions. Guys want to help you get the idea. Don’t be a king from the get go.
AHP: I know you are also involved with working with kids - you always enjoyed meeting the kids - it was how I met you back in ‘77. What are you doing with them today?
Mickey: Home to me was Miami, so I came back. My sister runs projects in Miami and south Florida and we work with troubled kids. Mostly we talk about behavior and recently I’ve been talking about staying clear of drugs. We want these kids to be able to go home and provide them with role models.
AHP: That kind of work is a big change. Do you miss anything really about baseball?
Mickey: I miss the friendships. You kinda grow up with a team and get used to having the guys around. Some of the older players still get together and we love seeing each other, but it’s not like living and playing together was.
AHP: Thank you Mickey, I know this is a hard time for you, especially with Bobby Bonds, who was one of my baseball heroes, and one of your friends passing away this week. Were you two still close? Did you know how sick he was?
Mickey: Yeah, Bobby taught me a lot and he and I were traded for each other when I went to the Yankees. He told me not to take it badly (the trade) it was part of the life of a ballplayer and that I was going to a group of guys who loved to play.
We were good friends and he was a very cheerful energetic guy. We used to coach a little together and work with younger players. I guess I knew how sick he was the last time we did that. You could see that he was not himself. It’s a big loss. I am trying to head out there for the funeral.
AHP: Mickey, thank you very much for your time. It was a real pleasure meeting you.