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In 19th season, Yount still driven to excel Hall of Fame hustle adds to luster of stats


Not too long ago, Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner needed to impress upon a young player the virtues of hustle.

As his example for the young player to emulate, Garner used Milwaukee center fielder Robin Yount.

Good choice.

"This kid hit a tapper in front and he trotted about two-thirds of the way, then slowly made it to the first base bag," said Garner.

"I said, 'You watch Robin Yount run to first base. He's going to the Hall of Fame and he's been around 19 years. If that [guy] can do that, then you can, too.' "

Later in the game, Yount hit a similar ground ball in front of the plate and though he was thrown out, Yount ran it out as if to illustrate Garner's point.

Not necessarily blessed with great natural talent, Yount has blended hustle and baseball savvy and turned the combination into a formula that will almost certainly land him in the Hall of Fame.

Yount, as low-key as a ballplayer can get, typically downplays any discussion of himself in the same context as baseball immortals.

"I've just played the game as hard as I could all the time. That's all I've ever tried to do," said Yount.

Yet, Yount's place among the very best baseball has ever seen is certain. His 2,948 hits going into last night's game ranks him No. 1 among active players and 20th on the all-time list.

When Yount reaches 3,000 hits, probably later this season, he will join Willie Mays as the only players in major-league history to have 3,000 hits, 200 home runs, 200 stolen bases and 100 triples.

As is his custom, Yount says he's not impressed with his impending milestone.

"It seems to be a bigger deal to other people than it is to me," Yount said before facing the Orioles last night. "I don't look at it as much more than being a number. I know the game is built around stats, but I've never really concerned myself with numbers."

Yount also is one of only three players in baseball history to win two Most Valuable Player awards at different positions -- at center field in 1989 and at shortstop in 1982.

Baltimore fans will long remember Yount's performance in the final game of the 1982 season, when he hit a home run off Jim Palmer to give the Brewers a lead in a game they would go on to win to clinch the American League East championship.

Yount, who broke in with Milwaukee in 1974 at the age of 18, has played in at least 100 games every season except for the strike season of 1981.

He attributes his longevity to the fact he has avoided serious injury.

"I don't know that I would have laughed if you had told me that I'd still be playing, but it would have been a nice thought," said Yount, 36. "I've been very lucky. I've been able to stay healthy long enough to play that long. That's the bottom line."

Yount's durability and consistency -- his lowest seasonal average was .247 in 1990 -- call to mind the career of the Orioles' Cal Ripken.

Like Ripken, Yount has spent his entire career with one team, and, also like Ripken, is at the end of his current contract.

Yount was in a similar situation three years ago and said he didn't allow the uncertainty to become a distraction.

"I was playing each season as it came, and then I would decide what to do at the end," said Yount.

And, as for Ripken, "I can't answer whether it's a distraction," Yount said, "but the last few weeks, it seems like he's been playing like the typical Cal Ripken."

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