The Kid Says Goodbye: Robin Yount’s Last Game

Oct. 3, 2016
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Robin Yount tips his hat to fans during his last season.


Robin Yount hated to lose. It was losing that almost drove him into retirement as a 22-year-old in 1978. And, in a way, it was losing that prolonged his career as a decorated veteran. By his own admission, Yount had considered retirement since the late 1980s. It never quite seemed to be the game itself that he loved, but rather the thrill of the win. He wanted so badly to win, he kept coming back. He came back in 1989 to win an MVP award (his second) on a .500 Brewers team. He came back in 1990 and struggled as his team sank to 6th place. He came back in 1991 with a team stocked with veteran talent, hoping that free agency could lead to the Brewers back to glory. He came back in 1992 and sparked the best Brewers team in a decade – and reveled in a playoff chase that ran into the season’s final days. And, oh-by-the-way, joined a tiny clutch of baseball immortals as he racked up his 3,000th hit.

Despite the loss of his long-time teammate Paul Molitor to free agency after the 1992 season, Yount returned again for 1993, hoping that the club could carry its sizzling final months into the new season and give him one last shot at a World Series ring. In Oakland on April 9, 1993, Yount rapped two hits and scored a run as the Brewers topped the A’s 6-5 to improve to 2-1 on the young season. It was the last time the club would be above .500 all year. Nineteen-ninety three was an unmitigated nightmare for the Brewers. By the end of June, they were in dead last place, 14.5 games behind the front-running Blue Jays. Even with Yount enjoying what seemed to be a resurgent season – he was hitting at .288 with a .353 on base percentage as the All Star break neared, the Brewers were lost as a team. The pitching stunk, the hitting was only marginally better, and the fans – who had so eagerly followed them in ’92, mostly stayed home. 

As the season dragged on, the man they still called “the Kid” began to show his age. For the second half of the season, Yount hit just .236. His bat had slowed and his famous inside-out swing was missing more and more often. In late September, he got hot, batting .425 over a 12 game stretch and showing flashes of the player he once was. On September 28, he laced a fifth inning single off of Dave Stewart in a 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays. It was his 3,142nd – and last – career hit.

The following day, the Brewers faced Toronto in their final home game of the season. Rumors of Yount’s impending retirement had been floating around all season. Yount was earning $2.7 million dollars that year, tops on the club, with a $3.2 million team option for 1994. The Brewers were looking to shed payroll and seemed unlikely to pay top-talent money for a player who was no longer a force on the diamond. And then there was the question of whether or not Yount wanted to return for another year. He had played 20 seasons in the big leagues, appearing in more games than only a handful of other players in history. With young Darryl Hamilton already anointed as the team’s regular centerfielder for 1994, would Yount be willing to play part time, shuffling between the outfield, first base, and designated hitter? Yount remained, as always, evasive on the topic. But he had made it clear that he did not want to end his career on a last place team and with a sluggish stat line – a sign that he would be back in blue for a 21st season.

And so, for what was possibly Robin Yount’s final game in Milwaukee, most people did as they all season and stayed home. The announced attendance was 13,508, but 45 degree temperatures – with a biting wind – put the number of witnesses at about half of that. In the fifth inning of the game, with Yount at bat and the Brewers winning 5-4, a skunk snuck onto the field from underneath the bullpen gate. A more fitting act of God was hardly imaginable, as the Brewers had blown 20 of their 48 save chances that year. The Brewers carried their lead into the ninth but, true to form, allowed the Blue Jays to score four runs – a rally started by a Paul Molitor double, his third hit of the game. For the Brewers, it was their 93rd loss of the season, putting the team on pace for the worst record since 1977, when their inept play that nearly forced Yount from the game altogether.

 
 Yount greets teammates on opening day, 1990. Yount had been considering retirement since the late 1980s.

A few people on hand that night seemed to recognize the significance of the night. Five bare-chested men braved the cold to display the letters Y-O-U-N-T on their torsos in the bleachers. And for Yount’s final at-bat in the 8th inning, the hometown crowd gave him a prolonged ovation, both before and after his groundout to short. As he left the field after the disastrous top of the ninth, he tossed his cap to a mob of fans behind the Brewers dugout. After the game, reporters pressed him about his plans for the future. He replied in a typically Yount way. “I’ll talk with Bud [Selig], but I don’t know if it means anything. I talk with him at the end of every season. I have no idea what he has on his mind. I can’t say any more than I’ve said already. Somewhere along the winter I have to make a decision.”

Manager Phil Garner, recognizing that Yount might prefer to make his final appearance in front of the home crowd, kept Yount out of the starting lineup for the last three games of the season in Boston. But, on the season’s final day, the Brewers bullpen again caved in, allowing the Red Sox to score two runs and tie the game. In the top of the twelfth, Garner had no choice but to send Yount in to pinch hit with runners on first and third. Rookie pitcher Cory Bailey struck Yount out on five pitches. Two innings later, the Brewers won the game and the season was over.

And then, the Brewers and their fans were left only to wait. In November, the team declined its option on Yount, making him a free agent. This was expected, but in a surprise move, Selig promised Yount that he would receive the same pay as the option, about $3.2 million, should be return for ’94 (declining the option gave the team the chance to defer some of the money). The Brewers told Yount he could have as long as he needed to make up his mind, treating him delicately after the PR debacle of losing Paul Molitor the year before. The weeks passed, and the months. Soon, the Brewers found themselves nearing spring training still unaware as the status of Yount or their payroll. The team wanted badly to sign former Twins catcher Brian Harper, but were not sure if they would have the money to do so. All were waiting on Yount, and Yount wasn’t making his feelings known. In early February, Rumors surfaced that Yount and his agent, his brother Larry Yount, were talking with other teams – namely the Toronto Blue Jays. Yount had made clear that his primary drive was to win a title and after the horrific showing of the Brewers in 1993, it seemed nearly impossible that Yount could win one in Milwaukee. With Robin not talking, Larry told the press that his brother had not yet decide if he wanted to play in 1994. Only after that decision would he decide where he wanted to play.

While Brewers fans worried that they might lose another franchise icon to the now-twice defending champion Blue Jays, details emerged about the financial considerations that were affecting Yount’s decision. Through the 1980s, the Brewers had helped Yount to secure loans that he and his brother then invested into real estate. Those investments had since turned south. To avoid financial conflicts of interest, if Yount were to sign with another team, those loans would need to be repaid in full. It was speculated that the brothers did not have the money to do so, complicating any move to another team.

Yount on the links in 1990.

Finally, on February 10, 1993 – about two weeks before the opening of spring training – Yount announced his retirement. He cited a decline in his play as a major reason. But also, just as when he was 22, the losing had gotten to him. In a press conference held in front of his old locker stall, he addressed the matter in his typical way. “There’s not going to be any emotional speeches or tears or anything,” he told the massed media. “I think I’m going to wait to get home to do that.”

He still had a competitive drive in him, but said he would now channel it into auto racing – a hobby of his since his youth – and golf, the game that, it was so rumored, he once nearly gave up his Hall of Fame career for. Yount also mentioned a bit of unlikely advice that swayed his thinking. Michael Jordan, who had announced his sudden retirement from the NBA just days after Yount’s final game, was a golfing partner of Yount’s that off-season. Jordan had gushed to Yount about the freedom of retirement and the time he could now devote to the links. Jordan, by the time of Yount’s announcement, had gone into professional baseball. Asked if he would follow Jordan’s example in that regard as well, Yount cracked a wry smile. “In a week or so. I might go to the Bucks and see if I can get a tryout.” 

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