Yount: Avoiding the cheers Milwaukee's easy ways suit future Hall of Famer

August 25, 1992|By Paul Sullivan | Paul Sullivan,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Almost 10 years ago, with the eyes of a nation focused upon him, Robin Yount was forced to do something completely out of character.

The date was Oct. 17, 1982, and Yount had just poked an opposite-field home run to help bring Milwaukee a 6-4 victory over St. Louis in Game 5 of the 1982 World Series. Immediately after Yount's seventh-inning blast, his fourth hit of the game, the crowd of 56,562 at Milwaukee's County Stadium urged him out of the dugout for a curtain call.

With all the vigor of a blindfolded man about to meet his firing squad, Yount slowly ventured up to the top step, waved for a second and headed back to the comfort of the bench.

"That wasn't me," Yount said afterward. "I've done it once before, and hope I don't have to do it again."

Yount will have to do it at least one more time. The only question is whether that moment will come at the end of this season or at the beginning of '93.

The 36-year-old veteran is closing in on one of the game's longstanding milestones, although the countdown has slowed to a crawl of late. When he joins the 3,000-hit club (he stood at 2,979 over the weekend), Yount will become only the 17th player in history to do so, tying Roberto Clemente for 16th place on the all-time hit list.

The countdown to 3,000 began shortly after the All-Star break, and Yount, naturally, tried to downplay the impending media onslaught.

"It's not something that's all that dramatic," he said recently in Chicago. "It's not like something where every at-bat is highlighted.

"You play long enough, and sooner or later it's going to happen. Hopefully, it'll come at an opportune time, like driving in a run late. Or it could be a swinging bunt. Who knows?"

If the Brewers hang close with Toronto and Baltimore in the American League East, it could come during the heat of a pennant race. The Brewers are doing their part.

Yount, however, was still 21 hits shy through the weekend and is in one of the worst slumps of his 19-year career, a enormous slide that has dropped his average from .291 in mid-June to .245. He admitted recently that the push to 3,000 has proved something of a drain on him.

"It would be nice to go ahead and get it, and it would be one less thing on my mind," Yount said. "But there are more important things. We have a chance to move up in the standings or get closer. That's always where the main focus is."

Three thousand hits, like 500 home runs or 300 pitching victories, signifies virtually certain inclusion to that elite club of baseball greats housed in Cooperstown, N.Y. But numbers hold no great significance to Yount, who once said: "Personal statistics are not my idea of how to play the game. The attention I don't need it."

Former Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn, now a coach with the Chicago Cubs, said: "Robin's just a humble guy. He's probably the most extraordinary ordinary guy you'll ever meet."

For a man with such lofty credentials, Yount has spent much of his 19-year career out of the limelight. How could a man with 3,000 hits have played in only three All-Star Games?

Yount took one memorable turn at center stage during his first MVP season in 1982, leading the Brewers to their first and only pennant and then hitting .414 in the Series. Still, with the lone exception of his second MVP season in '89, Yount has played in relative obscurity ever since.

Though he twice has garnered more than 80 extra-base hits in a season, a feat Clemente, Ty Cobb, Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski never accomplished, Yount may have gotten less recognition over his career than Bo Jackson (.249 career average and 476 hits).

"Most people may not notice him because he plays for the Milwaukee Brewers," said longtime teammate Paul Molitor. "But Robin's phenomenal. This summer, it'll be hard for people not to notice.

"No question, the notoriety would be much greater if he played in a bigger market, though not to his pleasure, I'm sure. I mean, two MVPs, 3,000 hits -- he'd be a lot more recognized. But he's chosen to stay in Milwaukee and enjoys not being in the focus."

Fellow Milwaukee lifer Jim Gantner added: "Most guys, if they were not getting the attention they deserved, you'd hear about it. It just shows you that in his heart, Robin just wants to do good individually and wants to win. He could go someplace else and make more money, but would he be happy? Money doesn't buy happiness."

Part of the reason for Yount's lack of media attention can be traced to the mediocre teams for which he has toiled over the past two decades. Though this year's success has been a mild surprise, the Brewers have finished no better than fourth 13 times in Yount's 18 seasons in Milwaukee.

He surely has had his opportunities to leave. As recently as 1990, 1990, Yount became a free-agent again and entertained the notion of playing back home in California. Instead, he followed his heart and remained in the land of bratwurst and barley.

Yount knew little of Milwaukee when was drafted out of high school in 1973, nor did he care where he wound up.

"In those days, it didn't matter where you played," he said. "It was exciting enough to play for a major-league team. It was great for me. The type of town it is, with my personality, it's been beneficial.

"It's a small town, a low-key town. I get to the park in 10 minutes, and I don't have to do a lot of interviews. I don't feel like I've missed anything not playing in a large market. I'm very happy where I'm at."

In this era of high-priced free agency, the "one-man, one-team" player like Yount seem almost like an anachronism.

"I don't know if it's a dying breed," Yount said. "Obviously, the opportunities to move are much greater now than they once were. There are always going to be favorites of a franchise, there are always going to be guys who play their whole careers in one town, guys who like the organization and will always stay."

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