Josh Wilker on Tommy Lasorda and Mickey Rivers.
The other night ESPN Classic replayed the game that got Rivers and the Yankees to the first of the three straight World Series: the fifth game of the 1976 American League championship series with the Royals. Before the famed riot-sparking home run by Chris Chambliss in the bottom of the ninth, Rivers keyed an early rally by slapping a base hit into centerfield. I’d forgotten how unusual Rivers looked and moved.
“What’s wrong with him?” my wife asked.
We were watching him strut-limp back to first after rounding the bag. He seemed like he’d been assembled in a rush from spare parts, long bow legs springing from a tiny torso, a weird jaunty lean to his body, as if he was suffering from a running cramp. His mouth was motoring.
“He’s a character,” was all I could say to my wife by way of explanation.
Mickey was my first favorite Yankee. I always wore #17 in little league and was a lead-off hitter. I tried to do his weird, crippled walk just so I would seem faster when I took off to steal a bag. Could never master the bat twirl after a swing and miss. All of these things drove coaches crazy which made them even cooler.
The most fascinating thing about watching the 1976 ALCS is hearing Reggie Jackson's commentary. Before that game, Rivers had been sulking and was only 4-18 in the series, prompting George Steinbrenner to call him up to the office. So, when Rivers responded with a 4-5 game, Howard Cosell gave credit to the Boss, prompting an interesting response from Reggie that went something like “what does some business man know about what it takes to be a baseball player”. Talk about delicious foreshadowing. As we all know now, Reggie would soon find out the answer to his question.