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Originally signed by the Atlanta Braves, "Mick The Quick" began his big league career in 1970 with the Angels playing center field and third base, and stayed with them through the 1975 season. Rivers played part-time in his first few years, until becoming the starter in 1974. He led the league in triples both years and swiped a career-high 70 bases in 1975, tops in the American League.
Along with Ed Figueroa, Rivers was dealt to the Yankees in the 1975-76 off-season for Bobby Bonds, a trade which immediately paid dividends for the Yankees. Figueroa won 19 games and Rivers enjoyed a career year. Rivers was named to the All-Star team, batted .312, stole 43 bases and posted then-career highs in home runs (8) and runs batted in (67). Rivers placed third in the Most Valuable Player voting behind teammate Thurman Munson and George Brett and was named an outfielder on The Sporting News AL All-Star team.
Rivers posted good numbers in his two other full seasons as a part of the "Bronx Zoo", including a .326 batting average in 1977, but was traded in the middle of the 1979 season to Texas. There he set the single-season record for hits by a Ranger with 210 in 1980, a mark since eclipsed by Michael Young. He concluded his career in 1984 with a .295 lifetime average, 267 stolen bases, 1,660 hits.
While Rivers played for them, the Yankees won the World Series in 1977 and 1978, both times against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They also won the 1976 pennant, but lost in the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Rivers posted a .308 average in his 29 postseason games.
Bill James ranked Mickey Rivers as the 59th greatest center fielder of all time.
Rivers, who has been called the fastest Yankee of all time was honored with many of his teammates from the 1977 World Series champion New York Yankees, in the Yankee Old Timers Game in 2007. In The Bronx Is Burning, the ESPN miniseries based on the 1977 Yankees, he was portrayed by Leonard Robinson and portrayed as a person with financial problems. When Reggie Jackson once remarked to a reporter that he had an IQ of 160, Rivers responded, "Out of what, a thousand?".
Since his playing career ended, Rivers has trained racehorses in his native Florida.
His son, Mickey Rivers Jr. played minor league baseball in the Rangers organization.