Make Room in Cooperstown
When Robin Yount of the Brewers singled on Sept. 9 to become the 17th player in history to reach 3,000 hits, his Hall of Fame credentials were the subject of much debate.
Critics point out that his .287 lifetime average is the second lowest in the 3,000-hit club, surpassing only Carl Yastrzemski's .285. They wonder why he has made only three All-Star Game appearances in 19 seasons. They say he has never been considered the game's best player during his career. They point out that his career statistics are no better than those of Al Oliver and Vada Pinson, neither of whom will make the Hall. They denigrate some of Yount's achievements by saying they are largely the result of his longevity.
Those arguments are weak. Yount's hit total is enough on its own to qualify him for the Hall, but at week's end he also had more extra-base hits (915) than Hall of Famers Duke Snider (850) and Joe Cronin (804) had in their careers, and he will soon pass Willie McCovey's total (920). Yount is a two-time MVP; he won once as a shortstop and once as a centerfielder to become the only player to win the award at two such demanding positions. In the 1980s he averaged .305 with 17 homers and 82 RBIs. And as for longevity, it's not a negative, as some seem to suggest. It is not as if Yount, who turned 37 on Sept. 16, strained to reach 3,000 hits; he's not a washed-up 40-year-old playing part-time. Only Ty Cobb (34) and Henry Aaron (36) were younger when they reached the 3,000-hit plateau.
What sets Yount apart from so many other stars is the importance of the positions he has played and how well he has played them. He's the only American Leaguer ever to lead the league in fielding percentage as both an infielder and an outfielder. The grind of playing shortstop cannot be overstated, and Yount played it well for 11 years (1974-84). His 1982 hitting performance—.331, 29 homers, 114 RBIs, 129 runs, 210 hits, with 87 for extra bases—was one of the best ever by a shortstop. When Yount's right shoulder needed surgery after the '84 season, he began his second career as a centerfielder, the most important outfield position. No player has ever made the Hall of Fame after splitting his time between the middle infield and the outfield.
But Yount's career has never been about numbers. "He has never known what his batting average was, no way," says Milwaukee infielder Jim Gantner. "He just cared about the W."
In this age of greed, self-interest and crowded disabled lists, Yount has been a tough, durable player who hits righthanders and lefthanders equally well, runs the bases with intelligence, never ducks a pitcher or creates controversy. He's as pure a player as there has been in the last 20 years. "He's a lock for the Hall," says Brewer manager Phil Garner.
And what does Yount think? "I've dreamed of making the All-Star team or hitting a home run in the World Series," he says, "but making the Hall of Fame—that's beyond a dream."
Five years after he retires, it should become a reality.
The Umpire Strikes Out