Brewer shortstop an MVP candidate; Once a teen-age rookie, Robin Yount is now a star
In the field, at the plate, and particularly in that intangible area called leadership, shortstop Robin Yount has been having a Most Valuable Player Award type of season so far with the Milwaukee Brewers.
His statistics (second in the American League in hitting; 23 home runs; 37 doubles; 86 RBIs; 96 runs scored) give him a patent on consistency at the plate. Meanwhile in the field he has the quickness to put handcuffs on lightning.
Yet nobody who was around in 1974, when Yount broke into the majors with Milwaukee as an 18-year-old rookie, should be surprised. He was there after having played in only 64 minor league games - learning to adjust at the plate; charging ground balls in the field; and never taking his mistakes home with him.
''Once you know you can do the physical things that are required in baseball, the game then becomes a mental exercise,'' Robin told me the other night in the visitors' clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium. ''Hitting was tough for me, because the pitchers were so much more experienced than I was. But if you take what they give you, and learn to adjust when you get into a slump, you can hit them.
''Maybe if Milwaukee had been a pennant contender when I first came up, I couldn't have handled the pressure,'' he continued. ''I don't know because at this point that's all hindsight. But once I noticed that several veteran players weren't hitting any better than I was, I stopped worrying about being sent down. I don't mean I didn't go all out. I mean I just took it day by day.''
Now an eight-year veteran himself and still only 26, Yount is having the kind of year Lou Boudreau had in 1948; Phil Rizzuto in '50; and Zoilo Versalles in ' 65. They are the only shortstops ever to win MVP awards in the American League.
Milwaukee General Manager Harry Dalton, who was an executive in the Baltimore Orioles organization when they first had Luis Aparicio at shortstop and then Mark Belanger, thinks that Yount (if you are talking overall games) is better than either of them.
''Like Aparicio and Belanger, Robin has always had great instincts in the field, the kind of things you can't teach,'' Dalton explained. ''He knows the hitters; he makes the difficult play behind second base look easy; and I can't think of anyone in our league right now who short-hops the ball any better.
''Although Yount has a good arm, it doesn't have the firepower that Aparicio and Belanger had in their prime,'' Harry continued. ''But Robin makes up for a lot of this with outstanding accuracy and a quick release. Even when a hard hit ball to either side runs him out of position, he'll still make the throw where the first baseman can reach it.
''Aparicio was tough offensively because he got on base so much and because, when he was a kid, he ran so well and stole so many bases. While Bellanger never had much of an average, there were some good pitchers in this league that he often hit well, although (like Aparicio) he had no power.''
Asked to comment further on Yount's value to the division-leading Brewers in the American League East Dalton replied:
''On every good ball club, there is at least one player whose name the manager can write on his lineup card every day and know he's going to get a solid performance. Robin reached that status two years ago - at approximately the same time a weight-lifting program turned him into a legitimate home run hitter.
''We think he has the power now to maybe hit 30 balls a year out of the park or close to it. We're not demanding this, because shortstop is such a tough position physically that you wouldn't want to do anything to interfere with what Robin gives us in the field. But this is a stronger kid than he looks, especially through his upper body.''
Yount, because his muscles seem to flow rather than bulge, doesn't particularly look like a ballplayer away from the field. He has a tendency in street clothes to blend with the crowd. And the scraggly bush he uses for a moustache would have trouble hiding a mosquito.
His talents are best studied and appreciated in the field, where he flows in the direction of ground balls while maintaining perfect balance, his eyes riveted to the object at hand. Basically Robin is the sum total of his component parts, an outstanding hitter and a kind of defensive computer with legs