Simply Baseball Notebook: Cover Stories

Catching Up with "The Kid"

May 2004 

Time Hasn't Changed "The Kid"

It's hard to fathom that "The Kid" is quickly approaching 50, but other than being eligible for AARP benefits in about a year, there's not a whole lot different about Robin Yount now than when he broke in with the Milwaukee Brewers as an 18-year-old rookie in 1974.

He's still wearing a big league uniform and still involved with the game he loves. The only thing better would be if the No. 19 on the back of Yount's Arizona Diamondbacks jersey were accompanied by "Brewers" across the front instead. But you can't fault a guy for wanting to work close to home and spend warm winters on a golf course instead of posing as an icicle around here.

After his retirement following the 1993 season, Yount returned to the big league scene full time in 2002 as Arizona's first base coach. This year, he earned a promotion to bench coach, where he serves as manager Bob Brenly's right-hand man and offers the D'back players pearls of wisdom gleaned during his Hall of Fame career.

That's not to say that Yount, a career .285 hitter, doesn't get an itch every once in a while to step into the batter's box or go out to his old shortstop or center field positions.

"I don't know if you ever get over (playing)," Yount said during Arizona's recent series at Miller Park, his lone homecoming to Milwaukee this season. "I'm not over it yet."

But other than the occasional longings to turn back the clock, Yount said his transition from player to coach has gone smoothly over the past two-plus seasons.

"It's been great," Yount said. "I just felt like I needed to get back in the game and share some of the stuff that I spent 20 years trying to figure out and learn and pass that back on to some of the players."

Brenly, who guided Arizona to a World Series title in 2001, couldn't have been happier that he was able to lure the longtime Phoenix-area resident and two-time American League MVP back into baseball.

Brenly even reshuffled his coaching staff over the winter to give Yount a more prominent role, which includes responsibility for positioning the Arizona defense during games.

"Well, first of all he obviously comes with instant credibility. Hall of Famers have earned that right, and Robin has experience in a variety of different areas," Brenly said. "He was a great infielder, he was a great outfielder, he was a great hitter, he was a great baserunner, and we utilize all of his skills.

"We pretty much put him in charge of everything but the pitching staff in spring training -- running the drills and instruction and the extra work we had early and late with the guys. They hang on his every word. They understand that this is a guy that has played the game at the highest level and has a lot to offer. We pretty much just turn him loose.

"I told Robin that 'You're in charge of positioning the defense. Unless I tell you otherwise, I will defer to your judgment on whether we play guys in, whether we play them halfway, whether we play the right side in, the left side back or vice versa.' And so far he, in my eyes, has made all the right decisions and has made that part of my job much easier."

"Rockin' Robin" even got to manage the D'backs in their 10-2 home loss to St. Louis on April 10 with Brenly serving a one-game suspension. But don't expect to see him take over as skipper for a major league club any time soon.

"I don't have any desire to manage, to be honest with you," Yount said. "At this point in time I know I'm not ready, and I'm not really interested. I like what I'm doing."

His one-game stint in Brenly's seat did provide a unique perspective, however.

"(Managing) was fun in a way, but there's a lot of stuff that goes on that you feel kind of helpless and it's out of your control," Yount said. "When you're not able to actually go out there (on the field) and help, sometimes you feel a little frustrated.

"(It was) one time and that game was pretty well scripted before it ever started, so it's not like you have free reign to do whatever you feel like doing."

Milwaukee infielder Craig Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wis. idolizing Yount and spent the previous four seasons in Arizona before coming over in the blockbuster Richie Sexson trade last December.

Counsell is convinced that the Brewer's all-time leader in games played (2,858), at bats (11,008), hits (3,142), runs (1,632), home runs (251), RBI (1,406), doubles (613) and triples (126) would make an ideal manager should he ever change his mind and pursue that route.

"You have to understand baseball and you have to understand people," Counsell said. "I think (those) are the two most important things. And I think he has both of those, and he has a real passion for baseball and that rubs off on people.

"He'd be good at (managing). He's good at everything he does. That's one thing you marvel at. It doesn't matter what he does, he's going to be good at it. He's just a talented man."

Plus, Yount possesses a personality anybody would respect and enjoy being around.

"When people get a chance to meet their heroes, I think most of the time they're disappointed, but in Robin's case what you saw in him as a player is kind of what he is as a person," Counsell said.

"No. 1, everybody who he's around he teaches lessons in humility because he's the most humble man for what he's accomplished in baseball. It's incredible. It pains him to talk about himself and what he did. And I think that's just a great trait."

Part of what made Yount so special as a player was his toughness and all-out hustle -- no matter if the Brewers were leading or trailing by 10 runs -- and his attention to detail, such as going for an extra base or preventing the opposition from taking one.

Those traits also made an impact on Counsell.

"He was a Hall of Famer who was incredibly talented, but those things were important to him also, and you realize that you can win games like that," Counsell said. "And that's what he kind of always used to say.

"If we all make that stuff important, then that adds up to 10 wins over the course of the season. I love that and I try to apply that every day."

Second baseman Junior Spivey, another Milwaukee acquisition in the Sexson deal, said Yount provides more useful advice than just what to do between the white lines.

"All you can do is go out and play 110 percent and give it all you have," Spivey said. "You can't do more than that and all he would say is, 'Just be yourself. Some days you're going to have good games, and there's days you're not, but -- be the same person every day, whether you get four hits or go 0-for-4.'"

Sexson said he has enjoyed getting to learn from his new coach but hasn't learned any one lesson in particular from him.

"He's a very smart man," Sexson said. "He's been around the game a while, he knows a lot about the ups and downs of baseball. He's a good guy.

"We're just playing baseball. We're not really splitting atoms or anything. Any time you need something, though, he'll be there for you."

And what does Yount find most fulfilling about his job?

"Working with the players and learning people's personalities and what you think you can do to help them," he said. "Everybody's a little different, so it's not etched in stone on how you get the job done.

"Some things work for some people and don't work for others and vice versa, so you're constantly trying to find whatever it is that you can help a particular player with."

Thirty years later, he's the same old Robin -- the same humble, down-to-earth redhead with the squeaky voice.

Though it would be impossible to duplicate the original, baseball fans can only hope it doesn't take another three decades for another player in the Robin Yount mold to come along.

-Jeremy Reeves

Note: Jeremy Reeves is a reporter for the Kenosha (Wis.) News. 

Yount's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com


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