1982 AL MVP
1989 AL MVP
3 Silver Sluggers
1 Gold Glove
Led all players in base hits during the 1980s
Elected to the Hall of Fame on first ballot in 1999
Led his league in
Extra Base Hits
5 of 10 similar batters currently in the Hall of Fame (3 not yet eligible)
Meets Hall of Fame criteria in 2 of 4 measurements (missed black ink and gray ink)
This article is the first in the series which focuses on an elected member of the Hall of Fame. One of the great things the Hall offers fans is the lack of a true standard for election. The process is entirely subjective, based on stats and highlights, but ultimately determined by the whims of those who vote. This certainly isn't the most efficient way to choose which players were the best of the best, but without it, we would have no debate, no cause for discussion, or even a need for elections. If there was a mathematical formula used to determine which players qualified for Hall of Fame honors, we'd have a fine museum, but a lot less to say, we'd know who was in the minute they qualified, and we'd know which guys missed the mark.
Start this type of discussion in different forums, you will get dramatically different opinions, a scant few players would always be considered Hall worthy, but the vast majority would be rejected in some circles. It is in that spirit that I chose Robin Yount to be the first of this kind for our discussion, Brewers legend or not, I know from first-hand experience that there are many fans out there who say they would not have voted for him if they'd had a ballot. Let's examine the details, to see if they are right...
Those who would say no to Robin point to his .285 career batting average, his slugging percentage of .430 and his low total of three All-Star selections. They claim his sole reason for Hall election was his 3142 hits, but then downplay that total, saying he was a compiler who reached a high hits total because he was in the right place at the right time and played for 20 seasons. Surely, if he was a GREAT player, he'd have been in more All-Star games, he'd have more than one Gold Glove, and he'd either have 400 homers, or a .300 career batting average. You can't elect a guy with those numbers, if you do, what about.......wait a minute, what about who? Who exactly is in the same category as Robin Yount? You can't elect Rice because you'd have to take Murphy... I can't believe they took Sutter, but not Gossage... how can you have Brooks Robinson without Ron Santo? There's always a comparison, it's always so obvious, and you can't take Robin Yount without taking....well, we'll get back to you on that one.
The yes voters quickly point to the 3142 hits and say "End of discussion. If you get 3000 hits, you go to the Hall of Fame, that's just the way it works." They say, "Robin won MVP awards playing two different positions. How could you NOT take this guy, simply based on those two things? Are you crazy? You have to take Robin because you took....um, well you have to take Robin, because he was a dominant shortstop, who became a dominant outfielder, just like....well, just like no one else has ever done."
The reason Robin's case for the Hall of Fame is so unique is because Robin's career was just as unique. There isn't anyone else. The Hall of Fame has power hitters, it has base stealers, it has defensive masters, contact hitters, power pitchers, ace relievers and control artists. The Hall of Fame has all of these categories, and the Hall of Fame has Robin Yount. He isn't in a category because he is a category, no one else in the Hall of Fame got there the same way he did, and it's doubtful anyone else ever will. To do it once took an unbelievable mix of effort and opportunity, to do it again would no doubt require some form of sorcery.
When Robin was just 17, the Brewers made him the 3rd player chosen overall in the 1973 draft. In many ways the franchise that chose him was every bit as young and unknown as he was. When the Brewers took Robin, they were in the midst of just their 5th season as a major league franchise, they had never had a winning record, didn't have high expectations, and had a roster filled primarily by fringe major league players. It didn't look like much on paper, but the matching of Robin Yount and the Milwaukee Brewers could not have been timed any better. A young team with little to lose and no veteran talent blocking the way, matched with a teenage ball of unpolished, but considerable skills, which were complemented perfectly by Robin's low-key, coachable demeanor. Throw that in a blender, and you get an under-the-radar player with tremendous upside, camouflaged perfectly by a team no one was watching. A perfect environment for someone to take a chance, Robin Yount in Milwaukee circa 1974, opportunity teamed with ability and made Robin a starting major league shortstop at age 18!
While it's truly remarkable to be given the shortstop position on a major league team less than a year out of high school, that scenario was a mixed blessing when it came to Robin's Hall of Fame credentials. Robin had no power at that point- he wouldn't reach double figures in home runs until his 7th season. He was facing major league pitching at a time when most of his true peers were playing Class A minor league ball, against one another. This led to some forgettable stats, which put a heavy drag on his career totals.
Over his first three seasons, when Robin would have been a minor leaguer in most organizations, Robin's On Base Percentage was .291, his Slugging Percentage was .335, he averaged 4 Home Runs, 43 RBI, and had a Batting Average of .256. So, yes, being in the majors at age 18 allowed Robin to compile statistics which did eventually put him into the 3000 hit club, they did pad his Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, and Runs Scored, but those seasons also diminished his career batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage, etc.
This brings us to the first of two major points of contention when evaluating Robin's career...which one is true?
"Robin Yount is absolutely a Hall of Famer, because he was able to stick as a major league starter at age 18, a truly remarkable accomplishment, made even more impressive by the difficult position he played at that young age. Robin's career totals speak for themselves, over 3100 hits, over 1400 RBI, over 1600 Runs Scored, 251 Home Runs with 271 steals, nearly 600 doubles, 126 triples...this isn't even an argument, he's in!"
"Robin Yount is obviously not a Hall of Famer, because his career totals were artificially inflated by those early seasons when he would have been a minor leaguer almost anywhere else. He's obviously a compiler, his career averages per season (162 games played) are a .285 average, with 14 Home Runs, 80 RBI, an On Base Percentage of .342, and a Slugging Percentage of .430......show me ONE Hall of Fame stat in there, this is obvious, he's out!"
In 1980, Robin's age 24 season, he added power to his game, hitting 23 Home Runs, adding 49 doubles (which led the American League). This was a remarkable improvement from his prior career highs, from this point forward, Robin is a true offensive threat.
In 1982, Robin had a phenomenal season, easily the best of his career, leading the AL in Hits, Doubles, Extra Base Hits, Slugging Percentage and OPS. For his efforts, Robin was voted to start in the All-Star game, won his only Gold Glove, his first MVP Award, and made his only career trip to the World Series. An amazing season for anyone, it was even more so for a shortstop of that era. This was 1982, not 1997, shortstops were not power hitters, in fact, Robin was the first shortstop EVER to lead the American League in Slugging Percentage.
Robin followed his huge '82 with two solid seasons, before suffering a career altering shoulder injury. In 1985, Robin was moved to the outfield, no longer able to make the demanding throws from the shortstop position. Robin played left field that season, shutting it down early for shoulder surgery that September. When he came back to start the '86 season, Robin was entrenched as the team's center fielder, but the power he had worked so hard to develop, was gone.
That first year in center field Robin made huge defensive strides as an outfielder, and helped his team by hitting .312, with a .388 On Base Percentage. He was still the same graceful player he had always been, but of his 163 hits, only 9 were Home Runs, he drove in just 46 runs. Clearly, his upper body had not returned to full strength, so he did what he always did...he adjusted, and he kept working.
In '87 (a year in which MANY players set career highs in Home Runs) Robin's power returned, to the tune of 21 Home Runs, with 103 RBI, and another .312 Batting Average. Robin was now completely at home as an outfielder, and had regained his full offensive abilities.
Following a very solid, but unspectacular 1988, Robin stepped up again in '89, winning his second AL MVP. Once again, Robin had put himself in very rare company, joining only Stan Musial as the only players ever to win the MVP at two different positions.
This brings us to the second lightning rod in the Yount debate, people see it one of two ways, which one are you?
"Robin Yount got extra credit he did not deserve because of his two MVPs. His career totals just do not match up to the All-Time Greats, and I'd have given the '89 MVP to Ruben Sierra in the first place. Yount had an excellent year, but Sierra had more Home Runs and more RBI, and led the league in Slugging Percentage, Total Bases, Triples, RBI and Extra Base Hits. I believe some of the writers wound up voting for him because he had MVPs at two positions, which he should not have had, he doesn't belong in the Hall!"
"All you need to know about Robin Yount's career is shown by his MVP awards, which he won while playing two different positions. Not only was he a great enough athlete and player to play major league shortstop at age 18, but he also won an MVP at that position, then switched to the outfield, and did it again...how many guys could do that? It couldn't be any more clear, Robin Yount belongs in the Hall!"
Following the '89 season, Robin signed a then-huge free agent contract to stay in Milwaukee after wild rumors had him all but gone to the California Angels. This virtually ensured he would record his 3000th career hit in a Brewers uniform, which he did in 1992. In case you didn't realize it, the statue of him at Miller Park is the image of him recording that hit, off of Cleveland's Jose Mesa.
There is no question that Robin Yount is a Brewers legend, he has had his number retired by the team, his statue stands outside Miller Park, he leads the team in career games, at bats, hits, runs, total bases, doubles, triples, home runs, rbi, singles, extra base hits, times on base, walks and strikeouts. All twenty of his seasons were played for Milwaukee, through an entire generation. I myself was in first grade when his big league career started, when he retired I was a 26-year-old father of two, his impact on Brewer fans of my generation was absolutely incredible.
Now, Robin is back to help coach the young players in Milwaukee as they try to match the standards he himself set, he is everything a Brewers fan could want, but was he a Hall of Fame player?
The writers said yes on their first look at him, what do you say?