On February 11, 1994, the Milwaukee Brewers and Robin Yount held a press conference to announce his retirement from baseball. Murray Chass of The New York Times aptly called it the “end of a quiet but glamorous career.”
Yount didn’t have much left to accomplish other than winning a World Series with his beloved Brewers, not that personal accomplishments meant much to Yount. His selflessness hadn’t been lost on his managers, including Phil Garner. He said, “I believe that Robin could be two hits away from 3,000 on the final day of the season and I could ask him to bunt every time up and he’d do it, accepting that it was in the best interest of the team.”
Back when Yount won his second MVP award in 1989, his then-manager Tom Trebelhorn said, “His accomplishments speak for themselves. But I don’t think individual awards mean anything to Robin.”
Yount walked away as the Brewers career record holder for games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, total bases, walks and strikeouts. He posted a career .285 batting average with 251 home runs, 1632 runs scored and 1406 runs batted in. His 3,142 career hits placed him 13th among the 19 players who had at least 3,000 hits in their careers. Yount is currently eighth on the all-time list in at-bats with 11,008.
Despite all of his incredible career numbers, Yount had been on a downswing. He hit just .257 in his final four seasons, after averaging .299 in the 13 previous seasons. What made his decision even easier was that he was no longer under contract. Even though the Brewers invited him back, as a free agent he could simply retire.
It’s hard to say if the Brewers would continue playing Yount much in the outfield if he came back to the team for a 21st season. It looked as if his playing time would come in the Designated Hitter spot, if anything. The Crew picked up outfielder Turner Ward off waivers from Toronto the previous fall, and were also anxious to see what Matt Mieske could do with more action. Mieske auditioned in 23 games in 1993 and played in 84 of the team’s 115 games in strike-shortened 1994.
Yount cited the reserve role as one reason to retire, but his main reason was because his four children needed a father – more so than he needed baseball. Yount said, “I know the last few years, when I got between those lines and played the game, I cared just as much as I ever had. But I think your priorities change as you get older. And I think my off-season preparation suffered a little bit in the last few years.”
Yount’s retirement followed a couple of other departures. His longtime teammate, Paul Molitor, left as a free agent for Toronto prior to the 1993 season. Infielder Jim Gantner missed the season with a shoulder injury and officially announced his retirement, although it was a foregone conclusion as he had been coaching part-time with the Brewers. Yount, Molitor, and Gantner set a record by playing together for 15 seasons, longer than any trio in the major leagues.
Yount’s friend and fellow 3,000 hit member, George Brett, had also recently announced his retirement. Only Dave Winfield remained as an active player with 3,000 hits. Yount and Brett were only the second set of players with 3,000 hits to retire after the same season. The others were Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker after the 1928 season.
It was the end of a long journey that started for “The Kid” in Taft High in California. Yount had been heavily scouted through his senior year. The Brewers drafted Yount in June, 1973, and he became the team’s starting shortstop the next season at the tender age of 18. The youngster learned on the job through his first three seasons, particularly in the field where he was error prone. But manager Del Crandall and his successor Alex Grammas kept playing Yount, and their patience paid off in 1977 when Yount hit .288 in 154 games.
Crandall recalled, “I walked over to (Director of Baseball Operations) Jim Wilson and said, ‘Is there any possible reason why an 18-year-old-kid can’t open up as our shortstop.’ Wilson said, ‘I don’t see why not.'”
Yount was fortunate to spend time learning from Hank Aaron when the home run king returned to Milwaukee and finished out his career. In fact, when Yount retired he was the last active major leaguer to have been a teammate of Aaron’s (1975–1976). And just like Aaron, Robin Yount knew he wasn’t going to miss the game so much as the competition.
“That’s what drove me the most,” Yount said. “I really love competition. I’ll miss the competition of it all. And I’ll certainly miss the cheering crowds.”
The cheering crowds of course would miss “The Kid” too. Gantner said, “”It’s going to be strange looking out in center field and not seeing No. 19.”
My book Building the Brewers: Bud Selig and the Return of Major League Baseball to Milwaukee is available to be ordered on the McFarland website.
(The story you just read is not part of the book)