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WALLY : Joyner Sends a Message of His Own With a Quick Start for the Angels

Times Staff Writer

An hour before rookie Wally Joyner went up to bat for the first time in the major leagues, he got a telegram in the Angel clubhouse at the Seattle Kingdome:

“Good luck and success. Nancy and I and the rest of the family are pulling for you. We know you can play.

“Sincerely,

“Dale Murphy.”

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Four at-bats later, Joyner stood in the right side of the batter’s box wondering if the telegram had been forged. We know you can play? Who were they trying to kid?

At the moment, Joyner was wondering what a hit, any hit--a Texas Leaguer, a bunt single, a broken-bat blooper--felt like. Mike Moore, the Mariner pitcher, had turned Joyner’s silky swing into a convulsion--a pop-up to third, a grounder to second, a fly ball to left.

Here was Joyner slowly chiseling away at a perfectly good spring training buildup, made possible in part by a .387 batting average, 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in. To make room for Joyner at first base, the Angels unceremoniously exiled Rod Carew to early retirement and sent Daryl Sconiers on his way--to San Jose, as it turned out.

Moore was fitting Joyner for his first major league collar, a bona fide 0-fer evening. Not even a telegram from his buddy Murphy of the Atlanta Braves was helping.

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So here it is, the seventh inning. Joyner has made the first out in the first, third and fifth innnings. Moore winds, throws . . . double to right-center field. At last.

“Everybody got upset,” he said. “It was a double off the wall. Before the ball even came into the infield, I’m standing at second, saying, ‘Give me the ball, give me the ball.’ ”

Rookies don’t do that. Rookies keep quiet.

“I was impatient, I guess,” he said.

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Why? Plenty more from where that came from.

Already, Joyner has 27 hits, the second-highest total in the major leagues. Kirby Puckett has 29 for the Minnesota Twins. Joyner’s five home runs put him among the league leaders. Also included is a .338 batting average.

But that’s now. In Seattle, Angel third baseman Doug DeCinces was waiting for Joyner in the dugout.

“We’re not going to forget about you,” DeCinces said, half smiling. “Let us ask for it.”

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The ball was retrieved and Joyner had his souvenir. He also had another lesson to add to his continuing education in the majors.

“My attitude is to keep your mouth shut, ears open and absorb everything you can from everybody else,” Joyner said.

Listen to Joyner in a postgame interview. He can’t thank enough people. A home run? Well, you see, the bat boy mentioned that Joyner was opening his stance an inch too much. A three-hit game? Reggie Jackson stopped by Joyner’s locker and gave him a scouting report that saved the day.

Lately, Joyner has become more playful with the Angel veterans. After the Angels came from behind and beat the Twins last Friday--Joyner hit the game-winning, two-run homer--he interrupted an interview with Jackson, his unofficial tutor, and demanded to know why no reporters were talking to him. Joyner stomped off, trying hard to hide a smile.

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Not exactly a comedy routine, but then again, Joyner doesn’t often do this sort of thing.

And so it goes with Joyner, who in no time at all, has much of Anaheim Stadium eating out of his hand.

“Wally World” banners occasionally decorate the bleacher walls. The stadium scoreboard reads, “Wally The Wonder Kid” during a highlight. Then there is the familiar chant, “ Wall -ee, Wall -ee,” now a crowd favorite.

A few nights ago he was a guest on a cable sports show. Also invited was Wally George, the outrageous, conservative cable talk-show host. What an interesting pair: A 23-year-old Mormon infielder from Atlanta and a middle-aged right-winger.

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The show, among other things, attempted to establish “who the No. 1 Wally is around here.”

What fun. Joyner hammed it up for the cameras, telling George: “You’re getting too old and I’m the No. 1 Wally.”

George did his part, too, playfully calling Joyner “a punk.” And with the appearance came another valuable lesson for Joyner.

“I’m supposed to get a cassette out of it,” he said.

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The legacy of Joyner grows daily. He is humble. He is friendly. He is willing and able. Five or six more other attributes and you have the Boy Scout oath.

“If I was in Atlanta, if I was in Boston, I wouldn’t have any of this,” he said. “It’s just that the setting here is perfect. I always seem to be in the right place at the right time.”

When he was in 10th grade, Joyner met Murphy at an awards banquet in Atlanta. Murphy, formerly of BYU, was a rookie for the 1978 Braves. The two got along famously and kept in touch as Joyner moved through high school and Murphy through National League pitching. Joyner said Murphy is his role model of sorts. Murphy said it isn’t necessary.

“What a great guy,” Murphy said. “He’s really worked hard and I’m just really, really excited for him. I know what he’s been through. It’s not easy to make it.”

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Rumor also has it that Murphy helped Joyner get a baseball scholarship at BYU, which would be nice, except that it didn’t happen.

Actually, a scout happened to see Joyner during a Redan High School game in Stone Mountain, Ga. Joyner hit two home runs and added two ground-rule doubles. The scout’s report called Joyner a blue-chip recruit. The report found its way into the hands of Coach Gary Pullins of BYU.

Joyner had written to Pullins earlier and mentioned that he had scholarship offers from Auburn, Georgia Tech, Georgia and a variety of junior colleges. Would BYU like to get into the hunt?

What Joyner failed to say was that they weren’t exactly full scholarships. Pullins went for it anyway, and soon he was on the phone with Joyner, offering a scholarship without ever having watched him play.

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Joyner arrived at the BYU campus one day with his proud parents and an older brother. “My brother is about 5-9 and he looks like an athlete,” Joyner said. “I didn’t.”

Pullins met the happy family and handshakes were exchanged.

“Hey, Wally, glad to have you with us,” Pullins said. “You look like you’re in good shape. You look like you’re ready to go.”

Brent Joyner, Wally’s brother, didn’t know quite what to do. “I’m not Wally,” he finally said. “This is Wally.”

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Pullins then saw the younger Joyner, all 6-1 and 160 pounds of him. It was like discovering that your blind date is the one with the great personality.

“He looked at me and the smile went away from his face,” Joyner said. “He knew he was in trouble. This would probably be the last time he’d take any scout’s word without first seeing the guy play.”

But Joyner hit .333 his freshman year, then .445, then .462. Pullins smiled often, as did the Angels, who selected Joyner in the third round of the June free-agent draft in 1983. Three seasons later, after stops in Peoria, Waterbury and Edmonton, Joyner became the Angels’ starting first baseman.

He joins a much-heralded collection of rookie hitters. There is Pete Incaviglia of the Texas Rangers, Jose Canseco of the Oakland A’s, Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants and Andres Galarraga of the Montreal Expos. Joyner may be the least publicized of the group, in part because of the others’ reputations as home run hitters.

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Joyner swings as if it were the most natural thing to do in the world. Canseco hits as if he were smashing a car window with a tire iron.

But what’s more fun to watch: A line drive that splashes gently into the gap or a ball that dives over a fence?

Warns Manager Gene Mauch of those who choose the latter: “The bloom will go off on some of those roses. But I don’t think it will go off on our kid.”

Mauch may have a point. Joyner’s .338 batting average is considerably higher than Canseco’s .257 and Incaviglia’s .155. Clark is hitting .338, and although Galarraga has a .417 average, he also has 44 fewer at-bats than Joyner. Joyner has more hits, runs and, get this, home runs than any of the other rookies. And only Canseco has more RBIs--18--a figure that ties him for the major-league lead.

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“I’m a rookie, Jose Canseco’s a rookie; there’s a lot of young players in the game right now,” Joyner said. “If you pop off and you think that you’re better than you are and you think that you need more respect than you’re getting, then you’re going to get in trouble.

“There’s guys out here who have 15, 16, 17 years under their belt and you’re no better than they are. In fact, you’re worse off than they are because they’ve been playing longer. You have to realize that and keep your mouth shut and play hard. You’re going to get complimented and you’re going to get the respect a rookie should get.

“But if you pop off . . . there’s been a couple of times where I don’t think Pete Incaviglia should say things he does, but that’s him and that’s the way he is. That’s not the way I enjoy playing. I enjoy playing consistent, hard and let the people think what they might about me.”

Joyner took exception to Incaviglia’s season goals, one of which supposedly was to be chosen Most Valuable Player of the American League.

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“Sure that’s great to shoot for, but what happens if he hits 25 home runs, is he going to think that he failed?” Joyner said.

Jackson already has taken Joyner aside and preached the importance of keeping a proper perspective. Five home runs are five home runs, not 40 by season’s end.

“I could very easily go to October and still have five home runs,” Joyner said. “What he was telling me was, ‘Don’t try to change things to hit home runs. Do what you’re doing, which is being successful.’ ”

Veterans Rob Wilfong, DeCinces and Jackson have taken a special interest in Joyner.

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“Usually, when you run across a young fellow like that with so much talent, they’re not as gifted mentally as they are gifted physically,” Jackson said. “But he’s very gifted mentally because he’s willing to take coaching and assistance, I don’t call it criticism.

“The only time I said something one time was about running to first base. I said, ‘Always run through the bag. It looks good.’ I asked him if he were tired or hurt. He’s never sloughed off since. He was feeling down on himself, which is a normal reaction. But you always play hard.”

During spring training, Joyner approached Jackson. “Let me take you out to dinner,” Joyner said, “I want to talk baseball.”

Another time, during a spring training game in 1985, Joyner found himself in an A game lineup. He was a bit nervous, men were on base and the Cleveland Indians decided they were going to bring in a left-hander to face the left-handed Joyner. In trotted reliever Jamie Easterly. Joyner didn’t know Jamie Easterly from Jamie Farr.

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“All of a sudden, Reggie is behind me. He puts his hand on my shoulder and says, ‘Now listen, this guy throws a nice ball to hit, not overpowering, pretty decent curveball, but his fastball is a nice ball to hit.’ ”

Joyner fouled off the pretty decent curveball a few times and then, sure enough, Easterly came in with the nice fastball, which Joyner sent to the outfield grass, scoring a run.

"(Jackson) came out and got the intimidation out of mind,” he said. “That’s one thing that’s probably hurting Canseco because they don’t have someone like that. I’m just lucky to have someone the caliber of Reggie Jackson help me out.”

Joyner said he can go to anybody on the Angels for help. He likes them, they like him. A nice arrangement.

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Just about everything is going well for Joyner. He has hit safely in 11 of his first 16 games and remains a smooth defensive first baseman. Rookie doubts? Not from Mauch.

“He had an experience with (pitcher) Matt Young in Seattle,” Mauch said. “Matt Young struck him out, broke his bat (0 for 4 for the evening). I couldn’t wait until the next day.

“You never learn anything about a guy when he’s going good. It’s how they react when things don’t go so well for them. That’s when you learn about them.”

The next night, in a game against Rick Langford and the Oakland A’s, Joyner got three hits, two RBIs and scored twice. In the most recent series against the Twins, Joyner went 7 for 12, scored 5 runs and had 2 RBIs.

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Murphy was right, then. “We know you can play.” Telegrams are no longer necessary.

“I don’t think he needs anybody to wish him good luck, not the way he plays ball,” Murphy said. “He’s going to be really great.”


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