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BASEBALL : Angels Will Be Ones Left Crying Over Deal

It was terrific theater.

Wally Joyner stood at the press room podium at baseball’s winter meetings with tears in his eyes, unable to speak. The pressure of two months of futile negotiations, of a decision he never expected to have to make after six years with the Angels, was seeping out in a unexpected display of emotion.

No one cries at leaving a last-place team, but on Monday, Wally Joyner did.

Call that a crying shame.

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A shame that one of the most popular players in Angel history, the brightest star ever to come out of their system, the best hitter in their devastated lineup, should be allowed to get so fed up that he would take a one-year, $4.2-million in-your-face-Jackie Autry deal with the Kansas City Royals instead of a four-year, $15.750-million guarantee from the Angels.

Whitey Herzog, the Angels’ senior vice president for player personnel and the man assigned to negotiate with Joyner, didn’t cry, but he was equally emotional during a staff meeting that initially did not include owner Gene Autry and his wife, Jackie, Sunday morning but resulted in their being summoned.

According to those in the room, Herzog pounded the table and vented frustration over the restraints he was running into during the Joyner negotiations:

--Twice believing that he had a deal completed only to have it rejected by Jackie Autry.

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--The sense that he was trying to sign a man the Autrys didn’t want him to sign.

--His concern that he didn’t have the authority he thought he had when he was hired.

Herzog put it on the line: Either he does it his way, or not at all.

“It was the strongest thing I’ve ever heard in baseball,” one source said of the room-rattling address, adding that it ended with club President Richard Brown leaving to explain Herzog’s feelings to the Autrys, who returned with him to hear Herzog tell them:

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“I have things I want to do, and I don’t want roadblocks.”

The result?

“More respect for Whitey, and Jackie’s full support,” according to the source.

Or as Brown said: “You don’t bring Whitey Herzog in, pay him handsomely, and tell him how to build a team. He tells you how. I mean, his only restraint is the budget, and if he exceeds it, we discuss it.

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“He was definitely frustrated over the Joyner situation, but I think he’s comfortable that we did everything we could do.”

If there is better understanding about where Herzog is coming from and where he is headed, it is too late to retain Joyner, but maybe not too late to save the Angels.

Time will tell, though. After 31 years of this, it might take the Red Cross.

The fact is, the Autrys had a year to head off Joyner’s free agency. They had a year to correct a history of troubled relations, rather than allow a frustrated Herzog to drag the owners’ animosity toward Joyner out of the closet.

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Buzzie Bavasi once said that you don’t get .300 hitters mad at you, but Joyner was aware that the Autrys--Jackie for sure, he felt--questioned his intensity and pain tolerance, questioned even his absence from the ’86 playoffs while hospitalized for a staph infection.

Yes, they offered almost $16 million, but knew, perhaps, they must do so from a public-relations standpoint. Even Herzog questioned the Autrys’ sincerity.

Add all that to Herzog’s inability to get approval of a deal he twice thought was done and the recent, inexplicable eight-day break in negotiations, and it is no wonder Joyner left, resisting an appeal from Herzog, who had gained the Autrys’ approval to meet Joyner’s demands.

The final difference of $500,000 in up-front money did not seem significant, but added to what agent Barry Axelrod called the “underlying factors,” it was monumental to Joyner.

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“People will call us stupid for giving up $16 million, but let’s see how it plays out in four or five years,” Axelrod said.

The one-year deal is a risk only if Joyner is injured. He can become a non-compensation free agent again next winter, when the two expansion teams will also be in the bidding and the 26 existing teams will have lost three to five players each in that draft.

The Kansas City park is built for Joyner’s gap power. His home runs might decline, but his average, doubles and runs batted in probably will increase. The one-year contract reflects a limited market for first basemen and it looks like a rent-a-player scheme for the Royals. But it adds a measure of respectability to a lineup that will apparently lose Danny Tartabull and might eventually net Joyner a multiyear deal, particularly if owner Ewing Kauffman finds the right buyer.

The Angels? Herzog has established his authority, but Wally World is no longer part of his domain--the residents of which are probably crying, too.

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