Wally Joyner turned 39 Saturday, and for his birthday the Angel first baseman got the rest of his life.
Mired in a three-for-32 slump and informed by Manager Mike Scioscia Friday that he had lost his starting job, Joyner announced his retirement during an emotional media gathering in the Angel dugout Saturday afternoon, ending a distinguished 16-year major league career and closing Wally World for good.
"Free at last," Joyner said, when asked what went through his mind during Friday night's game, when he had all but finalized his decision. "The last 1 1/2 years have been work. The pressure is off. The game is fun again, because I can watch it and boo with everyone else."
Joyner battled numerous injuries from 1998-2000 and contemplated retirement as early as last season, but a .350 average for the Braves after the All-Star break and the chance to play a final season in Anaheim, where he played his first six years and was a rookie sensation in 1986, invigorated him.
Joyner got the bulk of the starts at first base this season, sharing the job with Scott Spiezio and Shawn Wooten, and he was batting .284 after hitting his third home run of the season against Tampa Bay on May 26.
But the left-handed-hitting Joyner went into a tailspin, his average falling to .238 before a pinch-hit RBI single in his final big league at-bat Thursday in San Francisco lifted his average to .243.
Spiezio, a switch-hitter, began starting more games against right-handed pitchers, and with Larry Barnes, who was recalled from triple-A Salt Lake and started against the Dodgers Saturday night, hitting well, the struggling Angels felt they needed a change.
"His at-bats were going to diminish, and as his playing time decreases, his ability to produce decreases," Scioscia said of Joyner. "Wally said he didn't want to be a pinch-hitter, and that's where his role was leaning toward. That wouldn't have been a fit for him."
Joyner's meeting with Scioscia Friday probably sealed his decision, but Joyner, a career .289 hitter with 204 home runs and 1,106 RBIs, began considering retirement seriously after Wednesday night's game in San Francisco, when he went hitless in three at-bats.
"I met my wife [Lesley] after the game and said, 'Are you ready?' " said Joyner, whose wife and three daughters drove all night from their Utah home to be with him Saturday morning. "She said, 'Yeah,' and I said, 'I mean, are you really ready?' We talked about things and figured it all out.
"I realized I've played for 16 years, maybe now it's time for Larry Barnes to come up here and have a chance. I was planning this three months from now, and now I have a free summer with my family that I wasn't counting on. I couldn't be happier."
Asked when he knew it was time to retire, Joyner couldn't resist one last jab at the umpires, whose floating strike zones have confounded him this season and led to two ejections during a three-week span from May 24-June 9.
"I wasn't quite able to hit that pitch a foot and a half outside anymore," Joyner said, before taking on a more serious tone.
"It's a sad time, it's an exciting time. I don't know what lies in my future, but I've had a great opportunity, made the most of it, made some great friends, and I'm looking forward to not putting on the uniform anymore. I felt great on deck and great walking back to the plate, but that time in between wasn't fun anymore."
Joyner did not play his whole career in Anaheim, but he was able to end it where it started, where a baby-faced rookie hit .290 with 22 homers and 100 RBIs to lead the Angels to the American League West title in 1986.
Joyner thanked Angel fans in a taped message that was played on the Edison Field video board after the first inning Saturday night and received a standing ovation.
"I've been pretty lucky," Joyner said. "I've had a great life, the opportunity to play a game that I love. I've been able to entertain and to be entertained, to laugh and to be laughed at. The great thing is I was able to come back to where I started. A lot of us don't have that opportunity."
What will Joyner miss the most? It took Joyner several moments to compose himself, fighting back tears before his answer.
"You guys are getting to me," he said, wiping away another tear. "The reason I'm so emotional now is a few of the people I love most are here--my family, which drove all night to be here, my agent and friend, Barry Axelrod, my business advisor, Michael Watkins, and just as important . . . "
Joyner looked toward the side of the dugout, where Angel second baseman Adam Kennedy was seated on the steps, listening to his farewell address.
"I can't even look in that direction," a tearful Joyner said. "My teammates. . . . So, I get to have my family back, I get to have fun, but what's ending is my relationship with my teammates."
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Wally Joyner's Career Statistics