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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: LARRY YOUNT : His Career Was a One-Liner : But Robin’s Older Brother Is Making a Name in the Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Zeroes. Lots of them, in a long, tidy string. Like a row of pearls.

Usually, they’re a pitcher’s best friend. In the matter of right-hander Larry Yount, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Take a gander at the goose eggs in Yount’s career summary with the Houston Astros. Dream stuff--including a lifetime earned-run average of zero--except for a couple of not-so-minor numbers.

Say, for instance:

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Games: 1.

Innings pitched: 0.

No runs, no hits, no nuthin’, which is where Yount’s major-league story begins.

And where it ends. Some guys are in the big leagues for the proverbial cup of coffee. Yount had a teaspoon of espresso.

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“Over the past few years, I’ve been asked about it a little more often,” said Yount, 44. “Because of my brother and all.”

Yount’s kid brother Robin, the former All-Star shortstop and center fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, is a lead-pipe cinch for the Hall of Fame. Sure, Larry went to The Show. But it was a short subject, if not a one-act play.

Robin played in the major leagues for 20 superlative years before retiring in 1993. Truth be told, Larry warmed up in the major leagues.

It’s all there in The Baseball Encyclopedia, which lists the career stats of everybody who played in the majors. In Larry’s case, it lists somebody who didn’t.

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“If you take my little story and add it to my brother’s story, I guess it’s a little different,” Larry deadpanned.

*

Yount heard the klaxons sound in his elbow while he was warming up in the bullpen. He’d been with the Astros for a week or so, but hadn’t pitched. Maybe he warmed up too quickly after the layoff, or with too much enthusiasm. The elbow felt funny before he ever made the long, fateful walk to the pitcher’s mound for his big-league debut.

The Astros were in the process of losing to the Atlanta Braves, 4-2, when Yount was asked to pitch the top of the ninth inning in Houston.

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It was Sept. 15, 1971. Beyond that, details are sketchy for Larry, who like Robin graduated from Taft High.

“I’ll tell you how much I remember,” Larry said. “I can’t remember whether it was (played) in the Astrodome or Atlanta.”

Maybe he blocked it out, or maybe the years that passed have muddied the mental waters. Perhaps the prospect of pitching to the heart of the Atlanta order numbed his brain. Due up for the Braves were a couple of lightweights named Ralph Garr and Hank Aaron.

Yount, all of 21 years old, carefully threw a warm-up pitch.

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His name was announced over the public-address system and entered on the plate umpire’s lineup card. The appearance was now official.

Yount threw another pitch.

His teammates loosened up by firing the practice ball around. Joe Morgan and Bob Watson in the infield, Cesar Cedeno and Jimmy Wynn in the outfield. Former Taft star Larry Dierker was the opening-day starting pitcher that year. Yount’s arm ached, but he couldn’t let them down.

Another warm-up pitch.

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It felt like someone had stuck a cattle prod in his right elbow. Finally, Yount realized he couldn’t continue and another reliever was called upon.

“You figure you’ll run out to the mound, that the adrenaline will be pumping and that you’ll figure out what’s wrong,” Yount said. “I threw a couple of pitches and said, ‘Something’s wrong,’ then called the coach.

“That might have been the most sensible thing I’ve done.”

It sure seemed that way at the time. Big deal, right? Yount would pitch in his first game--and throw a pitch to a live batter--another time. Soon.

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Of course, Yount had no idea that he’d scaled the mountain and fallen off the other side before he even got to eye the scenery. No rain checks for players, buddy. Aloha can mean both hello and goodby. Yount never made it back.

Yount’s tendon problem cleared up a couple of weeks later and he pitched well in fall instructional league. The following spring, he struck out the first six batters he faced and was a prime candidate for a spot in the starting rotation until a three-run homer by the Dodgers’ Willie Davis spoiled a string of successful appearances.

Yount was the last player cut from the ’72 roster. A minor setback.

He started the year with a 3-0 record at Houston’s triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City, but from that point, Yount’s career took a palpable nose dive. He finished the season 5-14.

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“I started going south,” he said.

So did his control, which also headed east and west, like his pitches.

“I completely lost the ability to throw the ball over the plate,” he said. “I just got progressively more screwed up. I couldn’t throw it near the plate.”

It was like an insidious virus. Coaches tinkered with his delivery. Teammates made suggestions. Between the lines, between the ears, Yount was an equal-opportunity mess.

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In 1974 he was traded to Milwaukee, the organization that earned instant dividends on brother Robin, who in that season appeared in his first big-league game at age 19. By then, Larry was trying to find a compass.

“I was clearly lost at that point,” Larry said.

Yount visited Maury Wills’ psychologist in Los Angeles and learned a little something about himself. Mainly, that he was way too pragmatic to listen to such mumbo-jumbo.

Yount, now pitching exclusively in relief, stopped by a Taft practice and talked to his former coach Ray O’Connor.

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O’Connor said Yount was borderline arrogant in high school. Now, the pitcher was a rudderless ship, his self-confidence all but drowned.

“His fundamentals were so screwed up,” O’Connor said. “He couldn’t come close to the plate. . . . I don’t think his coaches were smart enough to develop the tools he already had. They took him and tried to make him into what they wanted.”

Yount hung around for a few more years with pure savvy, throwing junk. In 1976, after showing few signs of big-league potential, Milwaukee gave Yount his release.

“I had plenty of opportunities to make it back,” he said. “Nobody can say I didn’t have the chance.

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“I always felt I had the ability, but I just didn’t get the job done.”

What an unforeseeable end. A roundhouse punch to the kid with the roundhouse curve. When he was selected in the fifth round of the 1968 draft, Yount was full of vinegar and promise.

“I fully expected to be in the big leagues,” he said.

Seemed reasonable. Shoot, he was sent straight from Taft to triple-A Oklahoma City. In his first start, Yount pitched a three-hitter . . . and lost, 2-0, to Phoenix.

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In retrospect, the loss was a harbinger. While Yount’s playing career didn’t pan out, he found a future in the game with the team that wrecked his pro debut.

For the past four years, Yount has served as president of the Phoenix Firebirds, the triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

It was a natural fit for Yount, who moved to Phoenix after he retired in 1976 and since has established his own real estate business, LKY Development Company, Inc. Yount, an honor student in high school, earned his real estate license while playing in the fall league after his aborted big-league debut.

LKY are the initials of Lawrence King Yount, networking prince of the Valley of the Sun. For a triple-A team, which thrives on corporate sponsorship and promotional ties, Yount has been a gold mine.

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“I had a succession of good (presidents), all good baseball people,” said Martin Stone, who owns the Firebirds. “But they all had limited contacts in Phoenix. Larry knows everybody from bank presidents to advertisers.

“I don’t think there’s a businessman in Phoenix in a top position who doesn’t know him.”

Lots of them know the story behind Larry’s combination debut/swan song with Houston, which Stone succinctly described as “an almost one-pitch experience.”

For those who don’t know the details, it’s spelled out in the Firebirds’ team program.

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Yount, in fact, has achieved a measure of notoriety for his micro-career. Last year, a magazine detailed the careers of several big-league players who, like Yount, were finished almost before they started. Guys like outfielder Pete Gray, who had 234 at-bats for the St. Louis Browns during war-torn 1945. Gray had one more arm than Venus de Milo.

The postscript cited Yount as the inspiration for the story. It might be a point of embarrassment to some, but Yount shrugs it off with a laugh.

“He’s a very strong person,” said his wife, Gail, another Taft graduate. “Maybe it would bother him more if he hadn’t made a mark for himself (after his career ended).”

Yount’s success and aggressive nature in the business world aren’t particularly shocking to O’Connor, his coach at Taft. The die was cast years ago.

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“Larry was a little egotistical,” O’Connor said. “He thought the world revolved around him. On the mound, it did. He probably had the best curveball of any high school player I ever saw.”

On one of the best high school teams the area has ever known. Yount’s teammates included Rick Auerbach and Pete LaCock, who each had productive major league careers.

O’Connor gets downright angry when he thinks of the unfulfilled promise of the ’68 team, which lost in the first round of the City Section playoffs. Yount won 13 games his senior year, including a 13-strikeout performance in Taft’s regular-season finale against Chatsworth.

Shortly before the first round of the playoffs, though, Yount injured his pitching shoulder while rough-housing with classmates. Shot down moments before prime time. Sounds familiar, eh?

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With Yount unavailable for the first round, Taft was upset. So was O’Connor.

“I could have strangled him,” O’Connor said. “The jerk comes to school on Monday and says, ‘Coach, I hurt my shoulder.’ ”

Obviously, it wasn’t always a dreamscape for Yount on the baseball field. But that didn’t stop him from lending a hand to others.

Larry was still pitching in the minors when Robin, five years his junior, was playing for O’Connor at Taft.

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After a solid junior year in 1972, Robin spent the summer with his brother in double-A Denver, soaking up the atmosphere, taking batting practice and infield against seasoned professionals, seeing how he measured up.

When Robin returned to school, he could hardly contain himself. He excitedly told O’Connor: “I hit guys in double-A. They tried to get me out (in practice) and I still hit ‘em.

“I think I’m going to have a pretty good year.”

Pretty good career, too.

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“Larry had a tremendous influence on Robin,” O’Connor said.

In the summer of 1973, when Robin was drafted by Milwaukee as the third pick in the nation, Larry served as his kid brother’s adviser during contract negotiations. Good move, since Larry had been through the bargaining wars himself.

Larry has served as Robin’s agent-adviser ever since. Kept the money in the family that way, Larry cracked.

Add it all up and Larry barely has time to breathe. He’s in the office by 7 a.m., and when the Firebirds are in town, he rarely gets home before 10 p.m.

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His wife said he recently joined a health club to shed a few pounds. While riding the stationary cycle, he conducts business on his cellular telephone.

The Younts also have four children. “I don’t know how he does it,” she said.

Yount is nothing if not determined. His development company struggled during the recession, when property values in Phoenix tumbled and the savings-and-loan scandal rocked the region.

Yount took the job with the Firebirds to supplement the family income and simply worked that much harder.

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“I clearly don’t believe in quitting,” Yount said. “You can’t be afraid of things. I’m willing to give myself the chance to be very embarrassed.”

He could just as easily be red-faced about his career numbers, which are reducible to a couple of lines in a 2,800-page tome.

On the facing page of the Baseball Encyclopedia is the career summary of someone named Cy Young.

Actually, it is the facing page.

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“I worked hard to be there (in the majors) for a long time,” he said. “The reality of the world is that you can’t change what happened yesterday just because you’d like to.”

Regrets? Not really. Even though it smacked of bittersweet chocolate, at least Yount had a taste of the majors. “Hey, a lot of people haven’t,” he said.


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