Robin Yount distrusts all the right things.
When the crowd in Milwaukee's County Stadium chants "MVP," in his honor, he doesn't like it. Not just on the surface where anybody can play the humble clod kicker. But as far down as any of his teammates can delve, Yount resists, distrusts, withholds himself from all the distortions, the twisted perceptions that surround the enormously famous and celebrated in sports.
Perhaps he senses how those external distortions can, somehow, with time, become internalized. The curse of a public image is that, sooner or later, it starts showing up in the mirror. Robin Yount has no public face, wants none.
"Robin has no pretenses," says Ted Simmons, the Milwaukee catcher. "He's uncomfortable with that chant. It's not natural for him to play to the spotlight. It's almost embarrassing to him. Maybe embarrassing isn't exactly the right word. But it's close. Guys get on him about it. You can see his jaw kind of clench."
"The attention, I don't need it," said Yount after he had become the first player to get four hits in a game twice in one World Series. "I'm just a human being gifted with the ability to play baseball. I'm nothing special. I'm just another person."
What Yount resists most is the cult of personality that surrounds many major American athletes. As yet, he has no use for stardom. And, after nine full seasons in the major leagues, starting at the age of 18, he has had more than enough time to make a considered decision on the subject. Almost nothing about Reggie Jackson's life would appeal to him.
When he's asked those open-ended, puffball questions that seem to say, "Come on, kid, say anything even half-smart, half-funny, half-controversial, and we'll make you a star," Yount gives back almost nothing. Yount refuses to chip off pieces of himself for the public's consumption; that is to say, he refuses to be consumed, eventually devoured.
On Sunday, after his World Series batting average reached .524, the rough and rowdy crowd kept chanting until teammates began asking Yount to make a tip-of-the-cap appearance to assuage them. "I'm not going out there," said Yount. "There's going to be a riot . . . Those are nice people, but it's like a wave out there. You can't stop 'em."
Finally, Yount went to the dugout, popped his head out briefly, then, again, dematerialized. "That wasn't me," he said, afterward. "I've done it once before and I hope I don't have to do it again . . . I thought maybe then they'd go home."
Yount's composure, at least at this point in his life, a month past his 27th birthday, is so complete that he seems to carry his own detached calm with him, even as the Day of the Locusts tornado of a World Series encircles him. Yount got two singles, a double and a home run Sunday on a day when his wife, expecting their third child, was nine months, plus a couple of days, pregnant. That's composed.
"Robin gets through all this a little easier than most other guys would. It doesn't frazzle him," said Simmons, watching as Yount -- a gentle becalmed sea of reporters lapping at the foot of his locker -- talked quietly and uninterestedly while looking abstractedly, lazily across the room. "It's like he's sayin', 'I'm going to have a little fun with this, but I'm not going to let it impress me, because it's not all that important. I'm not going to let it frazz me . . . ' "
"He's much more mature than his age. You gotta remember, when he was 18-19, he was living in a (major league baseball) world where the tone in the locker room was set by guys 27 to 35 years old."
"This is even better than I thought it would be," Yount said of the Series, recalling all his early years as a struggling, error-prone, singles-hitting nonentity on a bad expansion ball club. Those were the half-dozen years when he acquired his sense of baseball proportions. "The only drawback is all the exposure."
Or, as they say in the Caribbean, "The higher the monkey climb, the more he expose."
Yount, who seems taller than his 6 feet, broader and stronger than his 170 pounds and years older than his age, has that middle-distance look about him most of the time. It's an American frontier look that is almost undeniably strong. It's tantalizing to imagine him, with that hair and mustache out of the mid-19th century, as a stoic, starting-to-age Pony Express rider, tied to his horse and about to be sent off through Indian lands.
If Yount was not an athlete, Simmons thinks he knows just what Yount would be. "Just what he is in the offseason," says Simmons, "a free-wheeling motorcycle person."
Not motorcyle gang member. Motorcycle person. Alone, eating up the road, getting away from the beaten trails. As a teen-ager, back in the suburb of Los Angeles where he grew up, Yount and his buddies used to hunt jackrabbits in the desert. On motorcycles. Pitting their speed and reflexes and agility on their bikes against the rabbits' quick cuts. "We wore those jackrabbits out," said Yount.
For Yount, it's still the feel of the thing itself that matters most. Whether it's cycles or hunting or baseball, it's the game, the hunt, the challenge, the hard work that's appealing. Not the fame or the money.
Don't think so? Watch Yount on a hot, sleepy August night before a game in Oakland. He's playing catch. He's in heaven. He and Gorman Thomas compare curves at 20 paces until Thomas cries uncle. Simmons is next in line and Yount snaps off a few dozen more crackling pitches to him, too. Back in the clubhouse to change to his game uniform, Yount is radiant as a little kid.
"Had a great breaking ball tonight," he says. "Gorman couldn't hold me."
So, for a while, forget all the numbers and the evaluations when Robin Yount takes the October stage. Ignore the more than 1,350 hits before his 27th birthday. Ignore the 169 extra-base hits in his last two full seasons. Don't cogitate about the significance of his being the first American League shortstop in history to lead the league in slugging and total bases. Don't bend the brain trying to pin down whether Yount is now the best player in baseball, or just the second or third best.
Don't even bother to strain your mind looking 15 years down the road to foresee a day when Yount might have 4,000 hits -- it's a possibility -- and be considered the greatest shortstop in history.
Too much can happen. Sometimes it all changes with one slide, one pitch.
Just watch him now, when even the World Series is just the hardest and best kind of play.