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JOYNER LEARNED LESSONS : More Worldly Wally Prepares for Year II

March 05, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

MESA, Ariz. — It was the springtime of Wally Joyner's youth, days he'll always remember and never be able to revisit. It was the spring of 1986, a wonderfully uncomplicated time for Joyner. Back then, all a young man had to worry about was replacing a Hall of Fame-bound first baseman named Rod Carew.

But that was long ago. That was before the 100 runs batted in, the 16 home runs in six weeks, the two broken-up no-hitters, the All-Star game starting assignment, Wally World, the Wally T-shirts and commemorative plates, the second-half slump, the staph infection that shook the world, the lost Rookie of the Year race and the contract dispute.

Now, the concerns are heavier, the questions more pointed.

Wally, what happened to the home runs?

Wally, were you just an April-and-May flash-in-the-pan?

Wally, was the pressure too much?

Wally, why didn't you hold out?

Wally, will you walk out?

Say goodby to innocence. As Joyner's manager, Gene Mauch, puts it: "If there was any naivete there, people rubbed it off of him."

Part of the problem was Joyner's rookie season with the Angels. Has there ever been another like it? The final statistics indicate potential greatness--a .290 batting average, 22 home runs and 100 RBIs. But break down 1986 into a two-act play, with the All-Star break serving as intermission, and the character of Wally appears to be played by two different actors. From Roy Hobbs to a hobble.

First-Half Wally ruled the American League for six weeks. After the Angels' first 36 games, Joyner had 16 home runs. He hit game-winning home runs with the Metrodome roof collapsing, and in the ninth inning off Dave Righetti. He hit two home runs in his first game at Tiger Stadium. He ruined a June 16 no-hit bid by Charlie Hough with a ninth-inning single.

Fans took notice. All aboard, Wally World. By acclamation, Joyner was voted into the All-Star game--ahead of Don Mattingly, ahead of Eddie Murray. His numbers at the break: .313, 20 home runs and 72 RBIs.

"For the first half of the season," says teammate Doug DeCinces, "he was the MVP of the league."

Then there was Second-Half Wally. Upon first inspection, he looked more like Second-Hand Wally, frayed and worn out. He batted .232 in August and .239 in September. He did not hit a home run after Aug. 5. He had 91 RBIs on Sept. 1, 92 on Sept. 21 and needed to scramble in the first week of October to reach 100.

Joyner's statistics after the All-Star Game: .257, 2 home runs, 28 RBIs.

First half versus second half came into play during the 1986 American League Rookie of the Year balloting, where Joyner, once considered a lock for the award, was edged out by the Oakland A's Jose Canseco.

It has also come into play this spring, where people wonder if the fabled sophomore jinx didn't take hold of Joyner before his freshman season was complete.

Was Wally merely a six-week wonder?

"That's all it was. It was six weeks," Joyner said. "The truth hurts, but it doesn't bother me. Nobody spends five months at the top of their game.

"Everybody has six (good) weeks. Don Mattingly, Kirby Puckett, Jesse Barfield, Jim Rice--all those guys had six great weeks, but they were all spread out. Instead of having one week in May and one week in June and one week in July and one week in August, with me, it was all April and May. I had a great 1986 in a month-and-a-half."

Joyner points to the bottom line.

"It doesn't matter when or how you get it, as long as you get it," he said. "If I finish exactly (with) the same (numbers) this year, I'll be happy. I'll know that I'll be putting some numbers on the board.'

And Joyner points out that he wasn't alone when it came to rookie tailspins in 1986.

"I think they cut down Jose Canseco's season and he hit .250 and .197, something like that," he said. "They do it to everybody. It's easy to do because there is a break at the All-Star game.

"The way I look at it, instead of having a good month and a bad month and two good ones and a bad one, I had four good months in a row and two bad ones. I started out great and finished slow. But I was playing with a bad shoulder and I had a bad shin that was very infected. That hindered my abilities.

"That's why I'm optimistic about this spring for two reasons. One, I'm getting better--I'm 100% again. And, two, I know there was a reason, outside of lack of ability, why I finished so slowly."

The shoulder injury was a nagging problem that lingered throughout late summer, but that wasn't Joyner's worst problem. At least the shoulder could be diagnosed.

From August through mid-October, Joyner played with a staph infection in his right shin that didn't manifest itself until the Angels needed him the most--the AL championship series.

And when it did manifest itself, it took days to ascertain the cause. Rumors flew around Anaheim Stadium. Maybe it was an insect bite. Maybe it was infection from that hard slide in Game 2.

It took 10 days of hospital tests to determine that Joyner was first infected in early August.

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