The morning sun beams down out of the brilliant Arizona sky, casting a terra-cotta aura over the McDowell Mountains. Robin Yount stands in his backyard, gazing at the desert view in the distance. After a moment, he walks across the yard—pausing to pluck a Wiffle golf ball from the grass—and heads for the garage. As the garage door begins to rise like a stage curtain, Yount turns to a guest and says grandly, "Welcome to my playroom."
To the left sits his go-kart, covered with a plastic tarp. Lined up on the other side is the family fleet: a Honda CR500R dirt bike, two smaller dirt bikes and three all-terrain cycles (ATCs), ranging in size from a big Honda 200X to a child-sized model. On a worktable is a go-kart engine Yount is rebuilding. Helmets, gloves and tools line the shelves; pictures of race cars decorate the walls. "This is me, the typical California kid," says Yount, who grew up a typical California kid in the San Fernando Valley.
While he pokes at the go-kart engine on the table, Yount's 19-month-old daughter, Jenna, toddles into the garage and climbs onto the smallest of the ATCs. "This family starts out young," he says. "We go to the dunes near Yuma. My two older daughters [Melisa, 10, and Amy, 8] and my son, Dustin [age 7], ride these ATCs all over the place. Dustin rides his dirt bike around the desert, using the clutch and everything. Jenna gets up and rides with me."
At the back of the garage, perched on a shelf, is another shiny toy, a remote-controlled model helicopter. "A Christmas present," says Yount. "I'm building it, but I haven't had time to play with it—yet. So far, all my flying's been on the ground."
April 29, 1990
Yount wheels his dirt bike and the 200X ATC into the driveway. After a few tries, he gets the big three-wheeler running and then speeds back and forth on the U-shaped dirt course in his backyard. Satisfied after a few minutes that the ATC is running well, he puts it aside and turns to the dirt bike. The engine won't turn over. He goes into the garage, returns with a spark plug and a handful of tools, and begins tinkering. Ten minutes later, he climbs aboard the bike and kicks down the starter. Success.
He zigs across the driveway and into the empty streets of the secluded Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley. A few minutes later he is back, and he concludes his spin through the neighborhood with a hi-yo-Silver wheelie at the garage. "I can't start an engine without running it somewhere," he says. He then hoists the bike into the back of his pickup truck. Time to head for the desert.
Yount, the 34-year-old centerfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers and last years American League MVP, is a near-certain Hall of Famer. He earns more than $3 million a year and, thanks in large part to his 40-year-old brother, Larry, who acts as his agent and runs a real estate development company in Scottsdale, Ariz., the brothers' net worth is believed to be around $100 million. Last fall Robin tested the free-agent market, and at the outset of the discussions with each of the six teams he talked to, he laid down one ground rule: "I told them, 'I'm going to ride my bike in the desert, and I'm going to race cars and go-karts, and if you have a problem with that, then there's no use talking about money.' If they wanted me, they had to accept me."
Yount is in his 17th season with Milwaukee. He is, in team owner Bud Selig's words, "the Brewers' franchise." Teammates, however, simply call him Kid. It is one of the game's most fitting nicknames. "Robin is more of a kid now than he was when he was 15," says his mother, Marion. If there were a school founded on the premise that you can only be young once, but you can always be immature, Yount's picture would be on the cover of the school catalog every year. "That's me," he says, laughing at the thought. "My wife [Michele] is forever saying that I'm worse than the children."
At Yount's favorite local dirt course on the northern outskirts of Scottsdale, he rolls the big Honda out of the truck and pulls on his riding pants and helmet. "I wore this helmet when I won my first motocross race at 14," he says. With that, he is off in a cloud of dust. He spins around, roars up an embankment and disappears. A minute later, the drone of the engine grows louder and he comes soaring off the edge of the embankment, landing halfway down it. When he reaches the flat, he skids, swerves and heads back up. Like a dog chasing a stick, Yount looks as if he would be happy doing this forever. When he finally stops for a breather, he says, "As kids in California, we rode the hills all day. We chased jackrabbits. We did wheelies on mountaintops."
Yount's eyes sparkle impishly, and then he spins and roars down the road. Every 50 yards or so, he yanks the front tire into the air and does a wheelie, like a 13-year-old on a new bicycle on the first day of summer vacation.
When the morning spin is finished, he says with a laugh, "I was a little conservative today. The scabs on my back just cleared up from the last time I was out here. I got a little carried away doing a wheelie and flipped. I got dragged on my back for about 40 feet. My back was a mess." He laughs again, shakes his head and says, "As I was being dragged along, all I could think of was Evel Knievel."
Evel Knievel? What about fear?
"Naw," says Yount. "Pain, yes. Embarrassment, yes. Fear, no. I knew I'd be O.K. It was just a roll in the dirt."
Yount has been in any number of crashes in all varieties of vehicles. If you are a Brewers executive paying him $3 million a year to play baseball, these are stories you do not want to hear.
Crash Story No. 1: The Car. "A couple of years ago I had just bought a new race car, a Sports 2000," Yount says. "One of the first times I raced it, I took a corner wrong at about 120 and flipped. As I was lying there upside down, I thought, This must not be for me. A brand new car, and look what I did to it."
Nevertheless, this past winter he entered a few races. "The circuit for my class [Pro Sports 2000 series] happens mostly at the same time as the baseball season, so most of my races are just club events," he says. "Two years ago I raced the last event of the circuit, in Memphis. I finished 12th in a field of 36. I even got a check for $202." (If the race results had made the AP wire, and the Milwaukee morning papers, Selig might have gagged on his breakfast.)
Crash Story No. 2: The go-kart. "I was in a go-kart race in February," Yount says, "and some guy rear-ended me so hard he went right over my back, and his car landed on top of me. It looked really funny."
A few weeks later, at the Firebird International Raceway south of Phoenix, Yount finished fourth in a two-day go-kart race. The qualifying heat was 30 minutes around the track at speeds reaching 80 mph. "He was all-out crazy on the second day," says Britt Lachemann, his racing companion. "In one race he was sandwiched between two other cars at top speed for almost 15 minutes." The three drivers who finished ahead of Yount were later disqualified, making Yount the winner. (Selig was again spared the happy news of Yount's victory: He was busy in New York that afternoon, the day the baseball lockout was settled.)
Crash Story No. 3: The Golf Cart. "I accidently flipped a couple of the kids out of a cart while going too fast down the first hole at Desert Mountain," Yount says. Some of the cart paths at Desert Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale are not unlike the road down Pikes Peak. "It's a fun course," says Yount. (Selig probably figures golf is one of Yount's safer pursuits.)
Crash (Almost) Story No. 4: The Lawn Mower. Brewers catcher B.J. Surhoff once brought two Seattle Mariners to Yount's house outside of Milwaukee. They found Yount cutting the lawn on his sit-down mower, whipping around the yard at remarkable speed. He'd souped up the mower's engine, creating a hot rod with blades. (Selig will be relieved to know that Yount hasn't actually crashed the mower—yet.)
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.
"Because I've never seen it done. It's the thing that's kept me concentrating on batting practice all these years."
Phil and Marion Yount moved from Covington, Ind., to the upper-middle-class town of Woodland Hills in Southern California in 1956, the year after Robin was born. Phil was an engineer with Rocket-dyne, and education was foremost on his list of priorities for his three kids. "I have two brothers who got nothing but A's in school," says Robin. (The older of the two, Jim, 44, has a Ph.D. in oceanography and works for the U.S. Geological Survey.) "I created the family curve. In high school I spent all my time on the baseball field and in the machine shop—working on motorcycles."
Robin often interjects into conversation the phrase "I'm not smart," but Larry is quick to come to his defense. "We grew up with an engineering mind-set because of my father," Larry says. "We're all analytical in our own way. Robin looks at things and figures out why they work. When he was 12, he took apart a motorcycle without anyone telling him how. On the golf course, he'd study a putt for five hours if he had to. He would be one of the world's great teachers, because he sees why things work and can explain them to kids so they understand."
As kids, Robin and Larry were both outstanding all-around athletes; not until his senior year at Taft High did Robin decide on baseball as a career choice. Larry developed into enough of a pitching prospect that the Houston Astros selected him in the fifth round of the 1968 draft; Karl Kuehl, now director of player personnel for Oakland, was the Astro scout who signed him. "Larry had a great curve-ball, a good 87- to 89-mile-an-hour fastball," says Kuehl, "and could have been really good if he hadn't been so hard on himself. He had unrealistic expectations." Says Larry, "I thought too much about things that might happen. In that way, I was just the opposite of Robin."
Larry is listed in The Baseball Encyclopedia with these peculiar stats: one appearance, no innings. He was called up to the Astros in September 1971. When he came on in relief to make his major league debut, he hurt his elbow while warming up and had to depart before throwing a pitch in the game. He never made it back to the big leagues, though he continued pitching until '76.
Larry and Robin have always been close. In the summers following Robin's sophomore and junior years at Taft High, Robin went to Oklahoma City and lived with his brother, who was then in Triple A. "That exposed me to the professional life," says Robin. "I lived it—went to the park early, hit, took grounders, hung around the clubhouse, hung out with the guys."
Says former Brewers scout Gordon Goldsberry, who signed Robin after Milwaukee made him its first round draft pick (No. 3 overall) in 1973, "One reason Robin adapted to the major leagues at age 18 [he played only 64 games in the minors] was that he had been exposed to professional ball by Larry. Robin had worked out with Triple A players and had seen that he could do all the things they could do."
Goldsberry, a scout for 24 years, also points out that "Robin is the best athlete I've ever been associated with." It is that athleticism, more than anything else, that has allowed Yount to survive his high-risk style of play, off the field and on. "Living on the edge is the only way to play—baseball or whatever," says Yount.
Unfortunately, what is often out there on the edge of baseball is a fence or a wall, and Yount is forever scaring his employers by running into one or the other. Last year, his club-record consecutive-games-played streak came to an end at 276 when he injured his knees by running into an outfield fence.
Larry, however, maintains that Robin understands the limits. "He knows what he can and cannot do," Larry says. "He hits walls, but he doesn't crash stupidly into them. He is intense; when we fought as kids, he'd do anything to win—baseball bats, golf clubs, chairs, tire irons. But he's not dumb. He's such an incredible athlete that he can drive along the edge with no danger of going over."
His combination of athleticism and competitiveness serves him in other pursuits. Skiing? Says Sam Suplizio, a Brewers scout who lives in Grand Junction, Colo., "Watching Robin ski is like watching the pro slalom on television." Golf? Last summer Yount played Pebble Beach in two over par—no great surprise considering that his friends say he would be a scratch golfer if he played regularly.
Before he hits a golf shot, Yount stands back and, out loud, weighs the factors that could affect it—the wind, the club, the lie. However, once he has synthesized all the information, he walks up to the ball and whacks it without hesitation. "I believe in reducing everything to its simplest state," he says. "In baseball, I spend my time figuring out what I want to do at the plate before I come out of the dugout. When I get into the box, I want to concentrate on one thing: see the ball, hit the ball. I don't want anything else in there. You can't be up there thinking, I've got to get a hit. Being prepared frees your mind from all outside thoughts. If I'm blessed in any way, it's with concentration. I can blot things out and tunnel my focus. To me, concentration is the one skill that ties together every sport—golf, baseball, racing. You know how people get hurt on motorcycles or in race cars or in baseball? They don't concentrate."
In September 1982, the Brewers were fighting for their first division championship—or, more accurately, were staggering to the finish line. With ace reliever Rollie Fingers disabled and ace starter Pete Vuckovich bothered by a shoulder injury, Milwaukee's lead in the American League East had dwindled to three games over the Baltimore Orioles entering the final series of the regular season—a four-game set in Baltimore. The Birds won the first three games to tie for the division lead, and on the final day, Jim Palmer was their starting pitcher. In the top of the first, Yount hit a home run to right center to give the Brewers the lead. He hit another homer in the third, and Milwaukee won the division. In the World Series, which the St. Louis Cardinals won in seven games, Yount batted .414.
"That race, the playoffs and the World Series were all that makes playing fun," says Yount. The '82 Brewers were a small-town, closely knit team that had risen together in the standings. "It was a 'we' experience, the way it should be," says Yount. "Nineteen eighty-two was the best time I've ever had in baseball."
The last couple of seasons have not been fun for Yount. "At the end of the  season I was disappointed in the way we'd handled the last three years," he says. "It was an emotional thing—this wasn't the type of team I've been used to playing for my whole career."
Whereas the Brewers were once like a bunch of old high school buddies—Vuckovich, Gantner, Stormin' Gorman Thomas, Jim Slaton, Charlie Moore, all pedal-to-the-metal characters—the Brewers of 1988 and '89 were an enigmatic mixture of pitchers who blamed catchers, relievers who computed their earned run averages in the clubhouse, rookies who criticized the manager, and youngsters who demanded trades. "It drove Robin crazy that guys didn't care about winning, first and foremost," says Gantner.
Says Yount, "I've tried to be more of a vocal leader. But I find it hard to tell someone else how to live his life. I tried talking to some kids, but who am I to presume that I know better. If they want help, fine. Maybe I'm not helping the club enough that way."
"Baloney," says Surhoff. "The game is doing, not talking. Robin's the greatest leader there is. Someday some of the guys will wake up and realize that they played with the perfect baseball player—the ultimate warrior—and didn't appreciate it."
Unhappy with the state of the Brewers, Yount did some hard thinking in the off-season. "I had the chance to be a free agent," .he says, "and I weighed several questions, like: How many changes need to be made [for Milwaukee to win the pennant], and can we make them while I can still play? I'm forever asked about goals. Like Rose's hit record—I don't even know what it is. I have only one goal: a World Series ring. I really want to get back to the World Series and experience at least one more season the way baseball should be experienced."
Yount declared his free agency last November. His first choice was the California Angels—because his good friend McClure plays for them, because he liked what he had heard about Doug Rader as a manager and because he likes California. The Kansas City Royals were also high on his list. "When I was 21 or 22, there were rumors that I'd be traded to Kansas City," he says, "and I always liked the city and the atmosphere around the club." He talked with the Toronto Blue Jays. Says a friend, "If it had been Robin's decision, he'd have gone to the Angels." The decision, however, was not entirely Robin's; it was something of a family affair.
By the time Larry retired from baseball in 1976, he had his real estate broker's license and began selling lots in the mountains of northeastern Arizona. "I didn't know what I was doing," he says. "I learned by doing, figuring it out. To be standing here today is a minor miracle."
"Here" means the Scottsdale office building that is the base of his LKY Development Company and from which Larry manages a tidy empire as a developer of shopping centers, office buildings and apartment complexes. "You can't estimate real estate until you go to sell it," says Larry, who, like all the Younts, is always self-effacing when discussing himself and his work. "All I'll say is that I'm no whiz. I had a brother and a father-in-law who had capital, I had some ideas and the willingness to work. But, believe me, I'm no genius."
Larry won't even allow himself to be photographed. "It wouldn't be right," he says.
"Larry is much smarter than he thinks he is, probably because the Younts would never allow themselves arrogance," says Martin Stone, a Lake Placid, N.Y., businessman who owns the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds and who is a business partner with Larry. The characteristic Yount humility can easily be traced to Phil, who also walks the halls of LKY; after retiring from Rocketdyne a few years ago, he moved to Phoenix, where he serves LKY as a sort of jack-of-all-trades.
Robin's role in LKY is strictly as an investor. "As far as I'm concerned, I'd just as soon put everything in the bank," he says. "Larry's the mind person. He amazes me. He never has to look up a telephone number; I can't remember my folks' number. Someday I might get more involved, but right now, I let Larry take care of the business. If everything fell apart, I'd still have far more than I need in the bank. I don't worry about that. But I have pretty simple needs."
Contract negotiations, however, are never simple. Acting as Robin's agent, Larry handled the negotiations with the six chosen clubs: the Angels, Royals, Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers and Brewers. Each offered a little more than $3 million a season. All indicated they would, as Robin remembers, "do what it takes" to sign him. Then Phil and Larry gave Robin their advice. Says Phil, "I've stepped into my youngest son's life only twice—when he was going through that golf decision, and this. In both cases, he was frustrated. Larry and I both felt that leaving Milwaukee was wrong. A lot of other players have gone to these so-called winners—and haven't won. Gene Autry never quite wins, no matter how hard he tries. There were no guarantees in another city, and Robin can't duplicate the friendships and associations he's made in Milwaukee."
Also, Michele and the children were hesitant to leave. "In the end, the reasons to stay outweighed the reasons to leave," says Robin. "Bud Selig was a big part of the reason for staying. Hey, Milwaukee's been a big part of the reason I've had some success. It's small, without a ton of media attention, and it's easier to play there than in a big media town. It's a family city. I can go to the park, play, come home and be with my family. The kids are very happy in our neighborhood."
And Robin was happy enough with the Brewers' financial offer, never allowing a bidding war to develop during negotiations, even though he knew that the Angels would have given him Disneyland if he had asked for it. "I'm happy with the going rate," he says. "I realized that I could be myself in Milwaukee easier than I could anywhere else."
Being himself has meant living for nine years in a modest neighborhood, where his children have grown up as just average kids, like all their friends along the street. Robin and Michele—a California native whom Robin met while in high school-guard their children's privacy with great care. They will not, for example, allow them to be photographed. "I want them to grow up as normal as possible," says Robin. "I realize that their upbringing can't be completely normal, not with my baseball life. But we can and do try. I had a very stable upbringing, and I respect what my parents did for me."
Living in Milwaukee also means personal privacy for Robin. "People let me alone," he says. "I wish I weren't so silly about being in public. But I'd rather play baseball in front of 55,000 people than say 20 words in front of a group of 100. I wish I didn't get so nervous and could speak. But I can't."
Even Yount will not be able to play on a baseball team forever. He may, however, end up owning one. Larry has served as a member of various committees in Phoenix that have sought a major league expansion team. Over the past several years, he and Stone have tried, without success, to get a ballpark built. Says Larry, "We will get it done."
He has business relationships with Selig and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and Stone, who once tried to buy the Boston Red Sox, has numerous baseball contacts. It is widely assumed among baseball people that if and when Phoenix gets a team—probably in a 1998 expansion—the owners will be Stone, Yount and Yount. "Bud and Jerry wouldn't let the team go to anyone else," says another owner.
"Owning a team is a dream," says Larry. For Robin, though, owning a ball club is a distant concept. "I haven't really even thought about how long I'll play," he says. "That depends on whether I stay healthy, on my family, on how I feel about the situation. I doubt I'll ever lose the thrill of the competition, but my body may get in the way. I don't think I'll have problems retiring. I'll miss the guys, and I'll miss going up against pitchers. But there are so many things I like to do, I think I'll be happy doing anything."
Larry says he envisions Robin "becoming part of LKY—he'd be a brilliant contractor." Robin has other ideas. "The first year I'm retired, I'm going to the Indy 500," he says. "Maybe I can work in the pits. After baseball, I know I'd like to get involved in automobile racing. I'd probably be too old to drive the big circuits. I'm probably not good enough either. But maybe I could sponsor a racing team and be a mechanic. That would be neat."
During the last two weeks of the lockout, Yount was busy playing. He took off into the Arizona mountains for three days of fishing and camping with Deer. He raced his go-kart and took the dirt bike into the desert. He played golf and attended the U.S. Grand Prix in Phoenix. He went to two Phoenix Roadrunner hockey games, holding Jenna in his lap as he yelled at the goaltenders. Twice he drove an hour to Deer's house and took batting practice in the cage Deer had built in a nearby junkyard. "This," Yount said as he stood by the cage and surveyed the bald tires and spare parts and broken-down cars, "is my idea of what a batting cage should really be."
Deer laid down patches of artificial turf to cover the weeds in the cage and started up the pitching machine. Yount stepped in. The first ball exploded from the machine. Yount hit a line drive back up the middle. "Kid, you make the rest of us look pitiful," said Deer.
Yount's stare was fixed on the pitching machine. "Look at those eyes," said Deer. "You'd think that machine was Roger Clemens. He has to beat it. Rope after rope after rope. He's the most amazing person I'll ever know. He just wouldn't want me saying it."
Yount finished his round, gathered up the balls and placed them in the machine. "Kid," said Deer, "what should I say about you?"
"That I'm boring, and that all I am is a baseball player who is nothing special," replied Yount. "That's what I am. Just an all-right baseball player. Tell the truth."
That's as close to a boast as will ever be heard from Yount: The Kid is all right.