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Wally’s World Has Become Unsettled : Baseball: Joyner’s knee is healing, and he hopes to play again before the season ends. But are the Angels in his future?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He will play again, probably within three or four weeks. Of that much Wally Joyner is certain.

“It’s a setback, but with time it will heal itself and there will be no residual side effects,” Joyner said of the broken kneecap that has idled him since July 11.

A few minor details must be settled before he picks up his first baseman’s glove again. One is ensuring that the tedious healing process is complete. Only last week was Joyner permitted to begin riding an exercise bicycle and to do isometric exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee. And, although trainer Ned Bergert said there’s no reason he can’t return this season, Joyner said the knee still won’t allow him to do strenuous work.

“I haven’t seen any regressions, and that’s helped me continue to keep my sanity, because over the past six, seven weeks I’ve lost my sanity a couple of times,” he said. “One of the reasons why is my optimistic outlook. If somebody says, ‘Four to six weeks and you’ll be OK,’ I say, ‘I’m going to be ready in four.’ The way I look at it now, the worst possible thing is that I can’t play any more this season. I look at it that way so if I come back with a week or two left, that’s a bonus.”

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When he does play again, there’s another detail to be decided: What uniform he will be wearing. It’s becoming increasingly likely that if Joyner does play for the Angels again, it would be only briefly and only to showcase him for a trade the club has been trying to make.

The maturing of first baseman Lee Stevens during Joyner’s absence makes Joyner logical trade bait. His numbers and age (28) are good enough to bring a rich return, perhaps in a deal to fill the Angels’ need for a power-hitting third baseman or an everyday second baseman.

“There’s no sense in getting worried until something happens,” Joyner said of the notion that he has played his last game as an Angel. “It’s not up to me. It could hurt me in the long run if I said I enjoy playing here, and it could hurt me if I said I didn’t. It’s up to the Angels to make that decision and to make the moves. I’ve done it too many times and been disappointed too many times making the first move.”

This has been a year of disappointments for Joyner, who traces his injury to being hit in the right shin by a pitch from Milwaukee’s Chris Bosio on May 15 and damaging the knee by not walking properly on that leg. Joyner continued to play on the injured knee until a stress fracture was diagnosed.

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“Prior to the injury, I was doing well. It might have been my best season. It could have been easily,” said Joyner, who peaked at .318 on May 24 and was hitting .268 with 41 runs batted in--second on the club to Lance Parrish’s 44--when he was placed on the disabled list on July 16. “But we’ll never know.”

Joyner’s disappointment began last winter with a salary dispute, another in a series of showdowns with the club. After his standout 1987 season, when he hit .285 with 34 home runs and 117 RBIs, the Angels renewed his contract for 1988 at $340,000 after acrimonious talks. He settled shortly before an arbitration hearing in 1989. And he went to arbitration last February to get the $1,750,000 he sought instead of the Angels’ offer of $1,225,000. He will be eligible for free agency after the 1991 season.

“I’ve never been bitter, just disappointed,” Joyner said. “Arbitration doesn’t bother me at all. The negotiations don’t bother me. It’s the negotiations before getting to arbitration that get me. It’s frustration and more frustration. But this is not the right time and it’s not my place to talk about that now. It’s kind of hard for somebody on the disabled list to talk about what his future with the team is.”

He expects the future to hold many changes for the Angels, and one of those changes could be the permanent installation at first base of Stevens, who has done a creditable job in Joyner’s absence. A solid defensive player who is streaky at the plate but has power, Stevens is hitting .239 with 20 RBIs in 41 games. Stevens has had exactly half as many at-bats as Joyner did in 83 games, 310-155, so comparing their statistics is not unreasonable.

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Stevens has hit five homers and scored 20 runs, which compares favorably to Joyner’s eight homers and 35 runs scored, but Joyner has more than twice Stevens’ totals of hits (83-37) and doubles (15-5). Joyner also strikes out less, 34 times to 45 by Stevens.

“Obviously, he has replaced me and he plays first, but I think he’s done me a favor by playing well because there’s been less pressure on me to hurry back,” Joyner said.

“I know my injury is not career-ending, career-threatening. Wherever I’m playing next year, I’ll play like Wally Joyner. Hopefully, it will be for the Angels. If not, I’ll make the adjustments.”


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