So I hear old Gozzlehead is down in Miami playing bingo for a living. They called Mickey Rivers Gozzlehead when he was making $200,000 a year playing centerfield for the New York Yankees. Baseball once had lots of guys like the Goz, guys who made sportswriting easy. They didn't talk as if their closest friends were accountants. To get a decent quote these days you have to search through bingo parlors in Miami for somebody who's not even playing ball anymore.
The Goz used to hobble out to center as if he had nails in his shoes. Once there, he was so light and easy they called him Mick the Quick. He batted .300 six times and stole 267 bases from 1970 to 1984. In his 15 years in the majors, he was a world champion twice. And he never met a word he couldn't malapropriate. When he got on a train of thought, nobody knew where he was going to get off. Including Rivers. "Ain't no sense in worrying about things you got no control over," he once said, " 'cause if you got control over them, ain't no sense worrying."
I call the number I got from Bucky Dent, his old Yankee teammate. A woman answers. Rivers's wife, she says.
"Is Mickey home?"
"No, he's out of town."
"Do you know when he'll be back?"
"He don't tell me about his personal life." She says call back tomorrow night at six.
I figure I'll fly to Miami the next day, then call. Which turns out not to be the smartest play. This time, when I call from Miami, another lady answers. She says she's his mother. "Didn't we tell you to call tomorrow?" she asks. Yeah, I say. "Well, it's still today." I hear this line of dialogue for three days. The Goz proves as elusive as a ball in the leftfield corner at Fenway.
Which is my next stop. Sort of. He's supposed to show at the unveiling of "Little Fenway," an eerie monument Dent has erected to himself at his baseball school in Delray Beach. It even has a scaled-down replica of the Green Monster so Dent can replay forever the pivotal home run he hit in the 1978 American League East playoff. For the opening of the monument, he has Mike Torrez, who served up the gopherball, pitching, and Rivers in the on-deck circle, just as he was in '78.
The Goz slips reporters some Gozzle-speak Mickeys while at Little Fenway. He says he was a lefthander wearing a righthander's glove when he played ball at Miami-Dade Community College North. "Didn't make no difference. You do it the way you get it done. Turn a glove around and it's all the same. Just harder to break in." About Bucky's blast, he says, "The wind was blowing east to west, so it must have gone backwards in time." He adds, "The Red Sox might have won if they'd brought Goose Gossage in from the bullpen."
But wasn't Goose a Yankee then?
You really been playing bingo?
"I play bingo," he says. "But I don't play bingo. Which is not to say I'm not a bingo player, just that I'm not a bingo player."
So I ended up with a few quotes. "Come to Gulfstream Park tomorrow for the seventh race," he tells me. "It's my mother's birthday. I always go to the track on my mother's birthday."
"Because the horses are running then."
The Goz is as devoted to his mother as any ordinary mortal, of course. But he just doesn't want any horses running around without his two bucks along for the ride. He tends to celebrate holidays at the betting windows.
The alleged horse Rivers tells me to bet on comes in a dull sixth. At least it comes in. The Goz doesn't. I dial the number he gave me. A different woman answers. His fiancèe, she says. "He'll be at the dog track tonight," she says. "It's his mother's birthday, you know."
As it turns out, the Goz didn't go to the dogs, either. I call again the next morning. "He's here, but he's not here," his fiancèe says. "If you know what I mean." I don't. "Try back in an hour." I call back: "Give him another hour." An hour later she says, "He went to the bakery." He must have needed lots of dough because nobody picked up the phone the rest of the day.
Or the day after that. Three days later, yet another woman answers. His sister, she says. "Gone fishing with his cousin," she says. "Told me to tell you to be here at nine in the a.m."
The next morning I expect to get stood up again. But Rivers shows up on time. He's resplendent in ostrich-skin boots, his wandering necktie looking like something out of 1938, his collar points flaring like fins on a '59 Impala.
"See you here at seven tonight," he says. "Don't hurry yourself." But Goz! "We'll talk in drabs and drips."
I show up at six, only to find a note taped to the door: "Couldn't wait. Had to go. Dial these numbers and my sister will drive you to where I'm at. Mickey." I dial. One number is disconnected, the other is Disney World. The only Mickey they know has big ears and a taste for cheddar. I take the hint and the next flight home. Ain't no sense in worrying about things you got no control over.