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Robin Yount, 30, Facing Changes : Ex-Boy Wonder at Short Tries to Adjust in Center

March 09, 1986|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

CHANDLER, ARIZ. — He's been a great shortstop, and he'll be a great center fielder. He's such a great athlete that I'm sure if I said "pitch," he could pitch.

--GEORGE BAMBERGER, Brewer manager

The chronology is found on Page 52 of the Milwaukee Brewers' media guide. The statistics confirm the resolute march of time, the passage from 18-year-old boy wonder to 30-year-old veteran preparing for his 13th major league season.

Robin Yount, who required only one minor league season as he jumped from All-Everything at Taft High School in Woodland Hills to the starting shortstop position with the Brewers, is also experiencing a passage of another type.

Described by former manager Harvey Kuenn as the quintessential shortstop, the greatest at the position he had seen, Yount is now moving to center field--at least for the present.

It's not really what Yount wants, but he knows there is a question about his arm, the result of two shoulder operations in the last 1 1/2 years.

Amid continuing discomfort, Yount began the outfield transition last year.

Earnest Riles, a product of the Brewers' farm system, became the shortstop and ultimately finished third in the baseball writers' balloting for American League Rookie of the Year.

The 25-year-old Riles batted .286 in 116 games. It is generally conceded that his fielding failed to reach Yount's plateau, but Bamberger believes he needs both players' bats if the 1982 American League champions are to rise from the ashes of injuries and age to become his latter-day Bambi's Bombers.

Yount was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1982, playing what General Manager Harry Dalton said the other day was a "classic year from start to finish."

Now he is on the comeback trail at an alien position. He has been a shortstop since the age of 9, when he made his debut in the Sunrise Little League in Woodland Hills.

Had he ever thought that he might play another position? "Not really," he said, waiting to swing against the automatic pitching machine the other day at the Brewer spring training camp here. "Oh, I guess I've thought that I might move to another infield position late in my career, but I never thought about the outfield."

Does that mean he is still thinking about shortstop?

"They had me set to play center field before camp opened, so I came here prepared to play center field," Yount said.

"I expect to be 100% by opening day and would like to think I could still play shortstop, but whether I will or not I don't know. I mean, I haven't completely given up on it. But if it were to happen, it would mean that something bad would have to happen to Earnest, and in that respect, no, I hope I don't play shortstop."

Patient now and seemingly more relaxed with the media than during the October crush of '82, Yount is still basically private, reticent, diplomatic.

Said a teammate: "Robin has never had an ego problem because he doesn't have an ego."

Or, as Ted Simmons said before being traded the other day: "I once said that Robin has no pretenses, that what you see is what you get. He hasn't changed."

Yount's 36-year-old brother, Larry, said: "We're a private family and we're comfortable with that. There's no question but that he's more relaxed with the media now, but that doesn't mean he's going to fill you with a bunch of quotes."

Larry Yount, who once pitched in the Milwaukee and Houston organizations, is a real estate developer who handled the negotiations on Robin's six-year, $5,500,000 contract, which was signed during the 1983 season.

He has since secured his brother's future via real estate investments in Texas and Arizona. Robin, wife Michele and their three children live in Arizona, providing Yount with a backyard desert on which to navigate his three-wheel vehicles, a favorite outlet.

Asked if Robin still desired to play shortstop, Larry Yount left no doubt about it.

"If his arm is healthy," he said, "he would plan on playing shortstop."

Requiring Riles to move?

"I'm not the manager," Larry Yount said.

Said the manager, Bamberger: "Earnest Riles is an average major league shortstop defensively, but he's a hell of a hitter who's got to be in the lineup.

"If Robin Yount shows that he's 100% and can make the off-balance throws, I may feel otherwise (about his move to center), but I'm not planning on it. We're doing what's best for the club and for Robin, and I know he realizes that."

It's the company line. General Manager Harry Dalton put it this way:

"Deep down in his heart, Robin wants to play shortstop. He'll never give up the idea, but he knows he can be a fine center fielder and has the best interest of the club at heart. He gives us a hell of a leg up on making it a good outfield."

There's no way of knowing yet whose legs will be found in left and right field. Yount will not be idle in his new role.

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