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Wally’s World Is on Earth After All

Banners don’t hang from bleachers out in Wally World anymore. The mania that grabbed a baseball world by its adrenal gland back in June has faded.

Wally Joyner, we found out, is not Roy Hobbs or Shoeless Joe but sometimes just another 24-year-old kid in a batting slump.

Everyone knew this day would come. It’s just that no one really wanted to believe it. Reggie Jackson warned Joyner. Boy, did Reggie ever know. So did Doug DeCinces and Bobby Grich.

Mortal men, Angels among them, cannot do what Joyner did to the American League for half a season and get away clean. You don’t just walk into town one day with a bat and glove and rewrite the records of grown men.

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You should at least have to shave first.

Joyner, though, had to find out for himself--the hard way. The only way, really. He had to play through it. He had to learn about perspective and returning to a planet called Earth and coping with media hounds and hot August nights.

“More than anything,” the veteran DeCinces said, “the mental approach is tougher the last half of the season.

“As a veteran, you understand how fast the last month can change. We talked to him a lot at the start, but you just have to experience the season. To him, it’s all new.”

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It’s still hard to comprehend that at the All-Star break, Joyner had hit 20 homers, knocked in 70 runs and owned a batting average of .313.

Since, though, he has 2 home runs and 25 runs batted in. His average has dipped to .290.

Friday night, minutes after the Angels clinched the American League West, Joyner stood drenched in champagne near his locker. There, he tried to explain the enormity of his rookie season.

“You can’t prepare for it,” he said. “You have to ask for help. Reggie told me that it was a long season and that there was this big dog out there and that if I didn’t stay on top of it, it would bite my nose off. Don Sutton told me to stay relaxed when times were bad.”

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In the end, though, it was something Joyner had to feel for himself. So while the Angels are headed for Boston and the American League championship series, Joyner searches for his magic swing.

Once a virtual lock for Rookie of the Year, he now may lose it to Oakland’s Jose Canseco. Joyner may not even be his team’s most valuable player. Yet, by anyone’s standards, Joyner’s rookie season has been phenomenal. He seemingly came from nowhere to lift the spirits of an aging team.

Joyner tried to put it in perspective.

“My dream a year ago was to have a successful season in winter ball and have a shot of making the team in spring training.”

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Instead, he did the unbelievable, spoiling everyone in the process.

In a way, it was his fault for becoming almost mythical in our eyes. He created a monster that was himself.

He had us fooled into believing that he, and not baseball’s best player, Don Mattingly, belonged at first base in the All-Star game.

It was Joyner’s fault for soaring so high so fast, making any slip seem like a 10-story fall.

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Joyner will finish with one of the finest rookie seasons ever, yet some will be disappointed with his second-half performance.

But how, really, can you top May 26, when his two-run, ninth-inning homer beat Dave Righetti and the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. Or June 16 in Anaheim, when Joyner broke the heart and no-hitter of Charlie Hough in the ninth inning, leading to a dramatic Angel victory?

How do you top Wally World T-shirts and “Dance Fever” guest spots and “Today” show interviews?

Well, as Wally discovered, you can’t. After the All-Star break, Joyner admittedly cracked a bit under the pressure.

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“The question always was, ‘When was he going to go into a slump?’ ” Joyner said. “Well, it finally happened. And I kind of feel that everyone pushed it on me. Who’s to say that I wouldn’t have gone into a slump anyway? But I think it was forced upon me.”

Next year, Joyner’s feet and feats will be more firmly planted in a Wally world of reality.

“They’re always going to happen,” Joyner said of slumps. “Next season and the season after that. It’s just a matter of handling the circumstances.”

Joyner in recent weeks has been bothered by nagging injuries, but feels his swing returning.

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If it does, you can expect the banners to return in right field, the T-shirts, too.

Thoughts will turn to Joyner in Fenway Park with the game on the line and the Green Monster just a short swing away. And here we go again. . . .


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