Area baseball coaches from the Robin Yount era at Taft High recalled fondly the one-time boy wonder who retired Friday from the Milwaukee Brewers after a 20-year career that almost certainly will earn him a Hall of Fame plaque.
Yount, one of the best baseball players ever produced in the area, arrived in the major leagues as a baby-faced 18-year-old shortstop in 1974 and led the Brewers’ charge to the World Series in 1982, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
When a shoulder injury relegated him to the outfield in 1985, Yount responded by becoming only the third player in major league history to win MVP awards at two positions--shortstop in 1982 and center field in 1989. Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg were the others.
The high school-aged Yount is remembered as a player with tremendous talent who regularly attracted throngs of scouts.
Doug MacKenzie, who coached the Canoga Park High baseball team for 37 seasons and is now the coach at Ribet Academy, has every score book from every season he coached. He reflected on the hard-fought games in Yount’s junior and senior seasons in 1972-73 between Canoga Park and Taft in the West Valley League.
“One of the games that was so impressive was at Lanark Park (Canoga Park’s home field) his senior season,” MacKenzie said.
“There were 24 teams in the major leagues then and all 24 scouts were there. . . . Robin was three for four that day and had a home run and a triple, both to left-center field. That was pretty hard to do at Lanark Park because there was no fence.”
The memory of numerous pro scouts at virtually every game during Yount’s senior season sticks with Pierce College Coach Bob Lofrano, then an assistant at Chatsworth High.
“We played them at Taft one day and there were more scouts in the place than there were teams in the major leagues,” Lofrano said. “Every team was sending two or three guys to look at Yount.”
Yount and the late Don Drysdale, who played at Van Nuys High before becoming a Hall of Fame pitcher with the Dodgers, are probably the two best players to come out of the area, according to Lofrano.
“They had more of an impact than any other Valley players because of their success and their longevity,” Lofrano said.
The Brewers drafted Yount in June, 1973, and made him their shortstop the next season, when he was only 18.
Yount said he wants to pursue professional golf and auto racing in his retirement. Surprisingly, though, he said he won’t miss the game of baseball, only its competitive nature.
“That’s what drove me the most,” he said. “I really love competition. I’ll miss the competition of it all. And I’ll certainly miss the cheering crowds.”
But having never played second string to anybody, Yount said he couldn’t see himself as a reserve in 1994. Besides, he had considered calling it a career for several seasons because, he said, his four children needed a father more than he needed baseball.
“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,” he said. “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, 38, who helped bring Milwaukee its only American League pennant, finished his career with a .285 average and 3,142 hits, 13th on the career list.
“There is no player in the first 25 years of this franchise who typifies this city, this state or this franchise like Robin Yount,” Brewers’ President Bud Selig said. “And so, while some will say that this is a sad day, I choose to think it’s a day he has earned.”
Yount suffered through one of his worst seasons last year, hitting .258 with eight home runs and 51 runs batted in following knee surgery April 27.
Yount played in 2,856 games for the Brewers--1,000 more than any other player. His best year was 1982, when he hit .331 with 29 homers and 114 runs batted in.
With Paul Molitor signing as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays last winter, the shy, soft-spoken Yount became the last remaining member of the 1982 pennant-winning squad.
Yount, Molitor and infielder Jim Gantner played together for 15 seasons, longer than any trio in major league history. Gantner, who missed last season because of a shoulder injury and served as a part-time coach for the Brewers, also said Friday that his playing career is over.
“It’s hard to believe that many years went by that quickly,” Gantner said. “It’s going to be strange looking out in center field and not seeing No. 19.”
But despite all of Yount’s accomplishments in the major leagues, MacKenzie said, Yount remained unassuming and gracious. MacKenzie recalled visiting him during a trip to Milwaukee a few years ago.
“I was in Milwaukee on a trip with my family and he put us on his pass list (at County Stadium),” MacKenzie said. “I had a talk with him about our old rivalry.”
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.