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Baseball '89 : A Preview : Who's On First? : Wally Joyner : With Hoops Over, He's Hoping to Put Slam Back in His Game

April 02, 1989|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Air Joyner he isn't. Nor The Hobbyist. That much we've learned this spring about Wally Joyner, the Angel first baseman who has sprung his last jump shot for a while.

"I used to be a pretty good basketball player," Joyner says, a mournful tone to his voice. "I really enjoy playing it. You get a lot out of it, running up and down the court, and you know that you've played a game when you're done.

"I don't know, I guess I might stop enjoying it now."

They've taken Joyner's shooting shoes away from him. Wally, these hoops are made for watching. Keep your feet on the ground.

The Angels, who already lost pitcher Joe Johnson to a pickup basketball injury, saw their season flash before their eyes when Joyner, "just messin' around" on a court with some friends, sprained his left ankle in mid-March, in the middle of training camp.

Joyner would be out a minimum of 10 to 14 days, according to the original prognosis.

Privately, Angel Vice President Mike Port must have cursed the very name of Dr. James Naismith. Publicly, though, Port blasted Joyner, who gets paid to drive in runs, not drive the lane.

"I'm not amused, I'm not thrilled," Port said. "My feeling is that once the bell goes off and people put on that uniform, there are certain obligations to ownership, teammates and fans. I find it difficult to be sympathetic to anyone who would run any shred of risk to that obligation."

It may have been the dumbest baseball injury since Lou Whitaker strained his knee while strutting his stuff at a Detroit disco. That little bump-and-grind might have cost the Tigers a playoff berth in 1988, with Whitaker missing the final four weeks of the regular season.

Joyner, who figures just as prominently in the Angels' plans, was one wary Wally by the time he rejoined the club in Palm Springs. No doubt, there would be the wrath of Doug Rader, the new manager, to contend with. Maybe there would be a fine from Port. Would anyone in the Angel clubhouse bother to talk to him?

"I expected the worst," Joyner said.

To his surprise, Joyner was welcomed back with a hoop and backboard hung on his locker stall, courtesy third baseman Jack Howell. Rader called him "Magic" Joyner and wondered how in the world Wally could've injured himself. "He couldn't possibly get off the ground high enough to hurt himself," Rader jabbed.

Rader also said he planned to enlist Joyner "in my 40-and-over league back home in Florida. There's no running, no jumping. Us old guys can't afford to get pitted out."

Port and Joyner also spoke and the words were friendly. Nary a fine was mentioned.

Of course, by then, Joyner's sprain had been upgraded to slight, and he would wind up missing only four games. This would be no Pedro Guerrero spring knee blowout.

"It didn't turn out to be that serious a thing," Port said. "And if it's any indication, by the way he's been swinging the bat since coming back, maybe this should be our proper conditioning route every spring.

" I might be inclined to play one-on-one with him."

Joyner, however, remains properly penitent when discussing his transgression.

"I think I might have said something worse about it if I was Mike," Joyner said. "I mean, here he is, trying to get a team together and we're three weeks away from opening day and this happens.

"Nobody can react worse than I felt. I was letting my teammates down."

Not only that, but Joyner got hurt about the worst way humanly possible--that is, if, like Joyner, a former all-county prep forward, you take your playground hoops seriously.

Joyner got hurt going into the popcorn machine.

"My guy was past me," Joyner confessed. "He went up to shoot and I jumped up and he went around me. When I came down, I landed on the side of my left foot and rolled it over.

"My guy was already around me. I was all by myself."

Within the proud and loud realm of pickup basketball, sadder words have seldom been spoken.

OK. So Wally Joyner isn't Michael Jordan.

The Angels would settle this season for Wally Joyner, the one who streaked so brightly across the American League sky in 1986 and 1987, the one who was missing for most of 1988.

Remember the Wally Joyner home run?

In 1986, Joyner ushered in a brave new Wally World by hitting 16 during his first six weeks in the big leagues. In 1987, with an assist from that year's rabbit ball, Joyner peppered the outfield seats a total of 34 times.

In 1988, Joyner hit 13 home runs, two during the first two months of the season.

Remember the Wally Joyner clutch hit?

In 1986, Joyner won a game against the Minnesota Twins with a ninth-inning home run as the Metrodome roof was caving in. Later that year, he brought the roof down on no-hit bids by Charlie Hough and Walt Terrell. And in 1987, his 117 RBIs almost single-handedly dragged a listless Angel team into playoff contention through early September.

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