Back in 1982, the year he was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player, there probably wasn't a better all-around shortstop in baseball than Robin Yount of the Milwaukee Brewers. That was the same year that Milwaukee took the St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series, with Yount batting a robust .414. His stature in the game shouldn't have surprised anybody, because here was a kid who had become a big league regular in 1974 at age 18 -- not yet mature as a hitter but potentially good enough in the field that the Brewers were going to play him no matter what.
This Robin was a rare bird indeed, a youngster who could snap handcuffs on thunderbolts. And with his quick bat, all it took was a little time to build strength and confidence before he began accumulating eye-opening offensive statistics. The year the Brewers won the pennant he batted .331, collected 210 hits, boomed 29 home runs, and drove in 114 runs.
Certainly other top players have accomplished as much in a single season. Usually, however, they are outfielders or first basemen, occasionally a third baseman, but seldom a shortstop.
Well, it almost ended for Yount and Milwaukee in 1984 when he injured his shoulder and could no longer make the long, hard throws his position regularly called for. Until things got better for him physically, the Brewers put him in the outfield, where they could keep his bat in the lineup without putting a lot of extra pressure on his shoulder.
So far the problem that has stopped him from going back to the infield is still there. But in the meantime Yount has become a crack defensive outfielder whose hitting (always more than satisfactory) has suddenly returned to the outstanding level.
At last look, in fact, Robin had zoomed into second place in the AL averages, at .365, and is also among his team's leaders in RBIs.
Thirteen years ago, when Yount first joined Milwaukee, he carried only 170 pounds on a 6-foot frame. Although he's 10 pounds heavier now, he still looks lean, except for muscular arms that explain his power.
Robin, now 30, should have his 2,000th career hit by the end of this season and a chance for 3,000 if he continues to play another six or seven years, which is entirely possible.
Asked by reporters if he had any specific goals, Yount replied that his philosophy is simply to take each new day as it comes. And while that no-emotion face of his is saying one thing to the world, he is perfectly willing to admit that the competitive fires that burn inside him are never banked.
Despite a Brewers' youth movement that has made the club respectable again after two years of sub-.500 baseball, management still looks at Yount as a big part of its future. Royals' Howser puzzled
Even though the Kansas City Royals are baseball's defending World Series champions, they have done little so far this season to indicate that they are interested in repeating.
Why do the Royals always seem to stumble through the first half of the year, then come on strong the minute baseball's midseason All-Star Game goes into the record books?
``I have no idea how to answer that question,'' Kansas City manager Dick Howser told me. ``I've heard a few theories, like the bad weather we get in the Midwest in April and May disrupting our pitching and hitting. But I've never bought that theory, and I'm not about to start now. All I know is that good teams eventually find themselves.
Pressed for an explanation of why the Royals haven't traded for one of several hitters (Tom Brunansky, Chili Davis, and Andre Dawson) reportedly offered to them, Howser replied: ``I've always been reluctant to give up good pitching for any kind of hitting, even though we have a lot of depth in that department. It's just that -- well, good pitching is so tough to come by that you can never have too much of it.'' Carlton still confident
The release of Steve Carlton marks the end of an era in Philadelphia, but the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer hopes another team will give him a chance to show the Phillies they made a mistake.
Carlton, who spent 14 of his 22 major league seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, was given his unconditional release last week. Club officials had tried to talk him into retiring instead, but the veteran left-hander refused, saying he still felt he could pitch and win .
First indications were that at least a handful of teams had expressed some interest.
The parting was amicable on both sides. Phillies president Bill Giles, in an emotional news conference, thanked ``the greatest left-handed pitcher in Phillies history'' for all he has done for the team and the city. He said the team would retire Steve's number (32), an honor previously accorded only to Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn.
Carlton was not at the news conference, maintaining the silence with the news media he imposed some eight years ago. But in a tape played at Veterans Stadium he thanked the team and the fans for ``all the great memories.''
Carlton has won 318 games, 10th on the all-time list, and is a four-time Cy Young Award recipient. His 3,982 strikeouts are a National League record and second only to Nolan Ryan in major league history.
Steve's last big year, however, was 1982, when he won 23 games and captured his fourth Cy Young trophy, and he has tailed off steadily since then. Last year he had a 1-8 record and missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. This year he was 4-8 with a 6.18 earned-run average, and in his last 15 innings he allowed 31 hits and 23 earned runs, walked 15 batters, and had a 13.53 ERA. Elsewhere in the majors
When Joe Torre, California Angels' TV commentator and two-time former major league manager, was asked if he'd like to be a field boss again, he replied: ``Are you kidding? Why do you think after having an unlisted number for so long I had my name put back in the phone book?''
It was never any secret in baseball circles that Frank Cashen, general manager of the New York Mets, could have had the National League presidency (succeeding Chub Feeney) if he'd wanted it. But the possibility of seeing his Mets in several World Series in the next few years kept him anchored right where he is. Cashen's name could come up again, though, if baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth should ever decide to quit the game for politics.
St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, looking at the difference between his Cardinals and the first-place New York Mets in the loss column, isn't very optimistic these days, even though more than half of the season remains to be played. Explained Herzog: ``We have been losing because too many of our players are having off years, plus the fact that we haven't been able to get anything going because of injuries to our bullpen.''
This is what Boston pitching coach Bill Fischer had to say about manager John McNamara: ``McNamara is a pitcher's manager, because he never calls a pitch from the dugout, nor does he ever second-guess whoever is out on the mound. If a guy messes up, it's always John who takes the pressure off by accepting the blame himself.'' Fischer added that if the Red Sox can get 35 starts for Roger Clemens, they'll win the pennant.