The Milwaukee Brewers have had a plethora of great players come through their organization. None, however, carry the same mystique as the legendary Robin Yount. However, what turned into a Hall of Fame career almost did not happen.
For all of us, seemingly small events and experiences, when pieced together throughout our existence, dictate our standing in life. We make choices and meet others, and when such incidents occur all have a say in who we are today and sets us on a fate accordingly; the slightest tweak in our timelines could set us on a far different course that in no way resembles our current state.
For instance, choosing to attend a particular college as a younger person, thereby ensuring that we meet and interact with certain people, opt for a specific career, and reside in a distinctive geographical area places us on a track of existence that would drastically change should any of those choices were altered. This notion of destiny played out very compellingly for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1978; if a seemingly normal baseball injury never occurred, one Hall of Fame career may not have materialized.
Robin Yount’s Motorcycle Accident
In 1978, 22-year-old Robin Yount was set to already enter his fifth major league season. A year previously, Yount hit a worthy .288 and was considered a major part of the team’s surge for respectability. However, Yount also loved to ride motorcycles, both during and after the baseball season. During one such adventure before the start of spring training in 1978, Yount injured himself fairly significantly. While in the sand dunes of California, Yount hopped on his dirt bike in tennis shoes for a warmup ride and flew off the back side of a dune, landing so hard that his left foot wrapped around the foot peg and tore ligaments.
Retirement Was A Real Possibility
Yount panicked. When he realized his foot was damaged, and coupled with his growing frustrations about his career and the floundering state of the Brewers, Yount seriously contemplated retirement. “The combination made me wonder if that was really what I wanted to do,” Yount later recalled. “It wasn’t that exciting finishing fifth or sixth every year. That didn’t do a whole lot for me.”
When word of Yount’s potential retirement reached Milwaukee, team owner and president Bud Selig flew to Arizona to speak with his shortstop. First-year general manager Harry Dalton said that Yount was “confused and depressed” and several unnamed Brewers players told the papers that Yount had told them he would not sign for 1978.
To contemplate his future, Yount was granted a leave from the team to consider his options and heal his foot. However, that meant the Brewers would have to plan for life without Yount.
The Milwaukee Brewers Had To Consider “Plan B”
In March of 1978, Yount’s future with the team was unknown and forced the The Milwaukee Brewers Had To Consider “Plan B”Brewers to change their plans for one of their prized farmhands. This special minor leaguer was only 21 years old and, with just 64 games experience at the A-level, did not expect in any way to make the team. In fact, he had just been given his minor league assignment and was sitting in Jim Gantner’s car, waiting to be driven across town to where the minor league teams were training, when he was called back to the team.
That low-level minor-league player, Paul Molitor, was inserted as shortstop into the Opening Day starting lineup. A month later, Yount decided to rejoin the team, moving Molitor to second base. Molitor ended up as the runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year, and he established himself as one of the best hitters of his era, culminating in his Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2004. Yount and Molitor are still one and two, respectively, in all-time games played for the Brewers.
By altering any of the events on this timeline, the outcomes for both Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, as well as for the fate of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise, would be unlike their actual results. Who knows? Without Yount’s freak motorcycle injury and soul searching because of it, Paul Molitor’s career may not have had the opportunity to thrive.