Major League All- Star Game : Another World : ALL-STAR GAME FLASHBACK : Long Gone Are Wally World Days, but Angels’ Joyner still Considers Them a Bonus
Supposedly, getting there can be half the fun. Or, in the case of Wally Joyner’s All-Star experience, it can be all the fun.
Wally World was open and getting rave reviews in the early summer of 1986. Joyner had become an overnight sports idol and the first rookie to start an All-Star game since the fans began voting for the starting lineup in 1970. He was the 15th rookie starter in All-Star history and the first since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
Joyner’s name had been punched on slightly less than a million ballots--he finished sixth overall in the voting--and no one was saying he didn’t deserve the honor. He hit four home runs in three days in April; went on a five-homers-in-five-games binge in May; knocked in his 50th run in mid-June, and was riding plenty high by July.
He made his major league debut on April 8 and by the All-Star break, a little more than three months later, he had racked up some truly impressive numbers: a .313 batting average, 20 home runs and 72 RBIs.
Heck of a half-season.
But the kid sensation didn’t get much of a chance to wow ‘em in the All-Star game.
Joyner made the trip to Houston, enjoyed the pregame festivities, tipped his hat to the crowd when he was introduced, popped up to shortstop and went home. American League Manager Dick Howser inserted Yankee Don Mattingly in the lineup after Joyner popped out against the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in his only at-bat.
“It was a deep pop to short, though,” Joyner said, smiling.
So maybe the game wasn’t that great. But getting to the game was big, big fun. This was, after all, Joyner’s season of content, so don’t expect him to complain about anything. Nineteen hundred and eighty-six was a very good year indeed.
“You know, I’m sure everyone that made the club wanted to get at least one at-bat,” Joyner said. “I was so excited to be there, I really didn’t care if I struck out.
“I never expected to make the team to begin with. I mean, at first base? There was Don Mattingly and Alvin Davis and Eddie Murray . . . just go down the list. It was one of the highlights that I’ll always remember of 1986. So many things happened that year, but as time goes by, making the All-Star team will be one of the memories that gets more and more valuable.”
Joyner and his wife, Lesley, made the most of their time in Houston, however. They renewed their friendship with Dale Murphy and his wife, Nancy. They met then-Vice President George Bush. And Wally rubbed shoulders with baseball’s best, getting his first chance to meet the elite of the National League.
“I felt out of place,” Joyner said. “Everyone was very friendly and I had a great time, but I just felt out of place.”
These days, Joyner insists he’s not a home-run hitter, but back then he felt right at home in the home-run hitting contest. He brought some pop to the park that day and managed to slug four balls beyond the great walls of the Astrodome, the most of any American League player. He tied the Mets’ Darryl Strawberry for the title.
“It’s a good thing distance doesn’t count,” Joyner said, laughing. “Mine were these gray-painters that scraped over the fence and Darryl was hitting speakers in the upper deck.”
Reality was just beginning to invade Wally World in July of 1986, and it hadn’t taken the form of a power outage yet. The constant press attention had become tiresome , in Joyner’s words. And after he declined an interview with a reporter in Cleveland, the first in a series of No-More-Mr.-Nice-Guy stories hit the papers.
“I was already ‘Joyner the Jerk’ by the All-Star game,” Joyner said. “I told one guy, ‘No, I can’t do the interview.’ So the headline says, ‘Joyner Belies Nice-Guy Image.’ ”
Joyner never sought that image and his businesslike approach to media and fan relations doesn’t really support it. His homer heroics have tailed off markedly--he had a total of 56 in ’86 and ’87, but hit just 13 last season and two in the first half of this year--and his popularity has waned.
A horrible start this year hurt him at the All-Star ballot box and he finished a distant sixth in the voting. Joyner, however, is the first to admit he’s no longer baseball’s darling and says he is comfortable with his new lot in life.
And he has his past glories in perspective.
“I’m not saying I won’t ever have a year like that again,” he said. “But no matter what happens, I did it and I enjoyed it and it’s something that doesn’t happen to a lot of people. Making the (All-Star) team is a great honor. You don’t play the whole first half of the season hoping to make the All-Star team, but it’s kind of like an award of appreciation, an added bonus.”