Crash Story No. 5: The Dirt Bike. In 1978, Yount left the Brewers' spring training camp to consider a change of career. A fine golfer, skilled enough to consider a run at the professional tour, Yount reportedly spent the spring agonizing over whether to quit baseball to play golf; he did not return to the team until early May. But there's another wrinkle to the story. Says Bob McClure, a former teammate of Yount's, "What really happened was that after Robin had left camp, he and I were riding our bikes in the mountains, and he had a bad spill. He hurt his leg pretty badly and was both embarrassed and a little scared to come back to spring training. They wouldn't have understood." Says Sal Bando, who also played with Yount (1977-81) in Milwaukee and is now with the Brewers as a special assistant to the general manager, "When Robin was 20, the fear was that he had none. It still is."
"I don't want to hear the stories," says Selig, with a brave smile. "Actually, I don't worry. Robin knows what he's doing. If another player came to me and demanded the right to do what Robin does, I'd simply answer, 'When you're Robin Yount, you'll earn that right.' There hasn't been anyone like Robin Yount in the 20 years of the Milwaukee Brewers, and I doubt there will be another one in the next 50 years."
At the outset of this season, Yount had 2,602 hits. Only three other players—Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Hank Aaron—had that many by age 34. Until he suffered career-threatening shoulder injuries in 1984 and '85, Yount was on his way to becoming perhaps the greatest shortstop of all time. Because of the injuries, he ultimately moved to centerfield, where he has become a superb defensive player. Yount and Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg (who were outfielders and first basemen) are the only players ever to win the MVP award at two positions.
Yount's statistics—he's a .292 lifetime hitter with 208 home runs and 1,124 RBIs—don't begin to reflect his value to the Brewers. In Men at Work, a new book on baseball by George F. Will, Milwaukee manager Tom Trebelhorn describes what would be a perfect offensive sequence for him: "Paul Molitor bunting for a base hit. A steal of second. A Jimmy Gantner take-it-with-you [a drag bunt for a base hit] to the right side, getting Molitor over to third. A Robin Yount hard ground ball to the backhand side of the second baseman, whose only play is to first, [Molitor] scores." Yount may be the best player Trebelhorn will ever manage, and in his fondest fantasy, the Kid goes 0 for 1.
On the first day the Brewers worked out this spring, Trebelhorn pointed to a group of players completing their wind sprints at the end of a four-hour practice. Yount was leading the pack, and he was laughing when he crossed the finish line. "Robin Yount is close to a fictional player, something out of Kevin Costner's dreams," said Trebelhorn. "He is the pure baseball player. He knows nothing about stats. Reporters ask him about his numbers, and when they leave, he'll tell [rightfielder] Rob Deer, 'I don't know stats.' He doesn't know his average, how many homers he has. He plays simply to win. My perfect inning tells you all you have to know about Yount's attitude."
Yount's teammates never mention his contract or his off-season liberties. They speak instead of why he deserves such things. "No one plays like Robin," says Surhoff. "He runs out every ground ball to the pitcher as hard as he can. He is the best base runner in baseball, he plays hitters perfectly, he's an incredible clutch hitter, he gives himself for the team at all personal costs. When you play with him, you realize that he plays the game on the edge. Nothing he does in a race car or on a motorcycle would surprise me, not after watching him 162 games a year."
McClure claims to have statistical proof of Yount's consistently high level of play. "There's a scout in Oakland who's been timing Robin from home plate to first base for a dozen years," he says. "The fastest he's ever gotten Robin is 4.1 seconds [extremely quick for a righthanded batter]. The slowest is 4.2 seconds."
During batting practice on the fifth day of spring training, Yount belted a line drive up the middle. The ball hit the screen in front of the pitcher and caromed back toward the plate. Yount hit the ball again, sending it soaring toward leftfield. "Yessss!" he shouted, thinking he had knocked it over the fence. Alas, the ball hit the bottom of the leftfield wall.
As Yount stepped out of the cage, he told hitting coach Don Baylor, "The one thing I want to do in baseball is to hit a line drive up the middle, have it come back off the screen on the fly, then hit it out of the park."
Baylor looked at Yount quizzically. "Why?" he asked.