Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #305, Mickey Rivers (Article 60)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
When people look at the history of the Yankees and the great players they had, some point out that Reggie Jackson wasn’t a great (enough) Yankee because he only spent five years in the Bronx. That is true, he was a Yankee for only five seasons (1977-1981), but oh what a five seasons they were.
Ask those same people how long Mickey Rivers was a Yankee and I’m sure they’ll assume that his Yankees career was longer that it was.
People remember Mickey Rivers, who is beloved, as a long-time Yankee.
Mick the Quick was a Yankee for some amazing and tumultuous seasons, and then, like a flash… he was gone.
Mickey Rivers came to the Yankees before the 1976 season. He was brought in to hopefully provide some leadership and consistency in centerfield, a position that after primarily being held for decades by just a few players (Earle Combs, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle), was now a position with much inconsistency as this quick list of Yankees centerfielders demonstrates:
1968-68: Joe Pepitone
1969: Ron Woods
1970-1973: Bobby Murcer
1974-1975: Elliott Maddox
Mickey Rivers did hold down the position for a few years (not as long as you might think, though), but the next great long-term Yankees centerfielder didn’t come until the 1990s. It was actually Bernie Williams who manned that spot from 1993 to 2005 who added to the Yankees’ legacy of long time centerfielders. Since Bernie retired, no player has manned that position for more than a few years consecutively. Primarily, since Mickey Mantle stopped playing in the outfield regularly, and except for Bernie Williams’ tenure, centerfield has a position in flux for the Yankees. (Who would have even thought that?)
But back to Mickey Rivers.
Rivers was the starting Yankees’ centerfielder in 1976, 1977, and 1978.
How’s this for a resume? In each of the full seasons that Mickey Rivers was the starting centerfielder on the Yankees, they went to the World Series.
As a Yankee, Rivers was an excellent hitter, at least in his first two seasons:
1976: .312, with 43 stolen bases and 95 runs scored. (Rivers was third in the MVP voting that year.)
1977: .326, with 22 stolen bases and 79 runs scored. (Rivers was eleventh in the MVP voting.)
But Mick the Quick wasn’t so great in 1978:
1978: .265, with 25 stolen bases and 78 runs scored.
And in 1979 things improved, but not much:
1979 (through July 30): .287. 3 stolen bases, 37 runs scored.
Mickey Rivers could hit, there was no doubt, and he was a great base stealer, at least for a time, but one thing he didn’t do was get on-base a lot.
People remember Mickey Rivers as a sparkplug, and he was, but he was on base less than people remember. The guy just didn’t like to walk.
Here are Rivers’ year-to-year walk totals as a Yankee:
1979: 13 (through July 30)
And here are his batting averages followed by his on-base percentages each of those years (as a Yankee):
If Mickey wasn’t getting a hit, he, most often, wasn’t getting on base.
In 1979, Mickey Rivers was traded to the Texas Rangers for Oscar Gamble on July 30, just days before Thurman Munson died. In a previous article in this series on Don Hood, I wondered what it was like for him, a newer Yankee in dealing with the emotions of that terrible event. Similarly, I wonder what it was like for Mickey Rivers to get this news and deal with the grief while being the newest player on a new franchise thousands of miles away.
It’s hard to believe that Mickey Rivers played in only 490 games as a Yankee. He was such a great Yankee. But his time in the Bronx was short-lived.
How short-lived was it?
To compare, Jacoby Ellsbury played in 520 games as a Yankee. That’s 30 more games than Mickey Rivers.
Of course, Mickey has those World Series and those rings and when we’re talking about the Yankees, that’s what makes all the difference.