The Wonderful World Of Wally

Wookie, sorry, rookie Wally Joyner is turning the American League into an amusement park and the Angels on to his power
May 25, 1986

Here is your free guide to Wally World—please take it and step to the right. Remember: no smoking, drinking, cursing, booing or feeding peanuts to Terry Forster in the bullpen. You'll find the boyish-looking rookie attraction, Angel first baseman Wally Joyner, in the left side of the batter's box doing his usual Vic Power imitation, sweeping his bat low across the plate like a broom while he awaits the next pitch. Please watch out for high-flying home runs as you enter the park.

Wally World opened at Anaheim Stadium this month. One fan draped a WALLY WORLD sign over the terrace-level railing in rightfield, another started a Walleee! cheer, and that was it. An age of good, clean fun had begun. At first Joyner felt sheepish about it, the way he had as an Atlanta teenager pestering his friend and role model, Dale Murphy, a fellow Mormon, for free Braves tickets. Now Joyner likes his theme park so much he takes it on the road with him. In Wally World, he has discovered, almost no one can get him out.

Through Sunday, Joyner, who's 23, was hitting like no rookie since Fred Lynn (see box, page 31) and homering like no Wally since Moon. Although he had no more than 12 home runs in any of his three minor league seasons, Joyner pounded five of them last week alone—hitting two in a game twice, against Boston and Detroit—to take over the major league lead with 15. (On Sunday the poor kid wasted one, slamming a homer against Detroit in a game called because of rain.) He also ranks first in the majors in RBIs with 37, just three ahead of A's rookie Jose Canseco, whose powerful superstructure makes Joyner look like, well, Wally Cox, if a 6'2", 195-pounder can be so described. "You hit 15 homers in two months, you're supposed to look like this" says California DH Reggie Jackson, tensing his own thickly muscled chest and biceps to demonstrate.

Jackson and Joyner, someone old and someone new, have kept the Angels atop the AL West this season. Jackson, who turned 40 on Sunday, is enjoying his own little wallop world, what with a .323 average, 17 RBIs and seven homers. His seventh, hit last week against the Red Sox, gave him 537 for his career and moved him past Mickey Mantle into sixth place on the alltime list. But this is Joyner's time, and Jackson doesn't mind sharing the spotlight.

Besides batting .312 and ranking second in the American League in slugging percentage (.631) and total bases (99) and fourth in runs scored (30), Joyner has saved at least two games with deft fielding. "I've never played with any better first baseman," says veteran shortstop Rick Burleson, who has been in the same infield with, among others, George Scott.

Joyner's shy grin can't hide his excitement. "It's all new to me, everywhere I go," he says. Indeed, each new stop can be a thrill ride. Last Friday, for instance, in his first swing ever at Tiger Stadium, Joyner blasted a Dan Petry fastball off the facing of the rightfield roof. Jackson greeted him with a handshake and a smile as he returned to the dugout. "This is a nice park to hit in," Reggie told him. When Joyner hit another upper-deck homer in the seventh, Jackson, who is the rookie's unofficial mentor, stood in the on-deck circle applauding.

Joyner's sudden power surge is largely the result of thrice-weekly Nautilus work in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, where he played winter ball. He added 10 pounds of muscle to a physique that in college had drawn comparisons to a bowling pin, and won the Puerto Rican League triple crown with a .356 average, 14 homers and 48 RBIs in 54 games. "I've been surprised by his home runs this year but [assistant to the general manager] Preston Gomez hasn't," says Angels manager Gene Mauch. "Last winter he saw Wally hit 'em out of the deepest part of every park in Puerto Rico."

Joyner was so prepotent in the winter league that Mayaguez actually held a Wally Joyner Day. "They gave all the fans photos of me that read 'Wally Joyner, Triple Corona,' " he recalls. "When I went oh for five with two errors and three strikeouts they started booing. Every time I came back to the dugout after an inning they threw the pictures at me in little pieces." Back in the locker room, his teammates covered the trophies he had received with their caps, in honor of his three-strikeout hat trick.

The Angels knew, however, that days like that would be rare for Joyner, so they handed him first base this spring. His .387 preseason average convinced management it had not erred in bidding adieu to Juan Beniquez, Daryl Sconiers and Rod Carew.

Carew, who never did get a proper sendoff from the Angels, is now in semi-retirement, coaching the fast-pitch softball teams his three daughters play on. He, too, has taken pleasure in Joyner's fast start. "I'm pulling for him," Carew told SI's Armen Keteyian. "He's got a great personality. I used to tell him, 'Here I am, helping you, and you're going to take my job.' Wally would give me one of his laughs and have this sheepish grin on his face. I told him, 'I'm only kidding, Wally. I can help you.' That's what we're all in this game for."

Joyner has already earned his place among history's great Wallys. He's sixth on the alltime list for single-season homers, ahead of Wally Pipp (12), and is closing in on Wally Moon (24), Wally Westlake (24), Wally Moses (25), Wally Berger (38—good for a share of the overall rookie record with Frank Robinson) and Wally Post (40).

For obvious reasons, Wally World should not be confused with its namesake, Walley World, the Disneyland-like park in the movie National Lampoon's Vacation, whose big draw was an animal character named Marty Moose. The only Moose in Wally World is Angel hitting coach Moose Stubing, who says, "My main concern is to see that he makes every plane and bus."

Joyner has scarcely heard of some of the players he's being compared with, guys like Mickey Vernon. His is an eager, no-nonsense approach: Rather than using batting gloves, he usually wraps his bat handles with tape, the way kids do. After his first big league hit, in Seattle, he instinctively asked for the ball himself instead of letting his teammates do so. "We're not going to forget about you," third baseman Doug DeCinces assured him afterward. "Let us ask for it."

Joyner is such a delightful kid—modest, polite, unassuming—that the whole Angel team seems intent on protecting his future. Jackson gives him detailed scouting reports on pitchers and talks to him about everything from media pressure to finance to the sociology of major league life. DeCinces, who himself endured a hellish rookie year in Baltimore trying to succeed Brooks Robinson, has become a personal ombudsman for Joyner, keeping watch over the press for unfair comparisons, overblown nicknames and the like. He nearly hit the roof when the Anaheim scoreboard flashed WALLY THE WONDER BOY one day, a message that hasn't appeared since.

Actually, Joyner's very survival has been something of a wonder. The youngest of five children, he was born with orange skin, the result of an Rh factor that forced him to have two complete blood transfusions in his first 24 hours. "They put the blood in my head and took it out my toes," he says. "They could see me changing color as the blood went through me." At age nine he contracted a kidney disease that entailed a dangerous backup of fluids and bacteria and caused him to gain 15 pounds overnight. If his parents had waited a day longer to bring him to the hospital, said doctors, he would have died of heart failure.

Growing up in Stone Mountain, Ga., Joyner honed his baseball reflexes in basement games with his brother Brent, pitching a Wiffle Ball from ridiculously short range. "Sometimes all you could hear was the whooosh!," says Joyner. Figuring that "you catch the ball the same no matter where you play," he tried to emulate the great middle infielders even though he always played first base. To build range at BYU he put tape marks on either side of him and had his roommate try to drive fungoes through, with doing that evening's dishes at stake. The result? "Wally covers halfway to second base," says infielder Rob Wilfong.

Joyner, who lately has been dubbed Dale Murphy West, met the real Murphy, then a struggling first baseman, at a 1978 Atlanta prep baseball banquet at which Dale spoke. The two hit it off from the start and became close enough over the years that Joyner would sometimes pick up Murphy's fiancée, Nancy, at the airport on her visits to Atlanta. An hour before Joyner's first big league game last month he received a good-luck telegram from the Murphys.

Joyner's adjustment to the bigs has been smoothed by his friendship with Jackson. "I've worked with young players before, but this guy has taken advantage of me more than anyone else," says Reggie. "He asks about everything. He wants to learn." When Jackson calls Joyner "a man with things in proper order in his life," he refers to Joyner's devotion to his parents, his wife, Lesley, a former BYU gymnast he married while in college, and his two young daughters. Jackson says he wants to instill in Joyner similarly sound baseball priorities and "a good professional approach."

Jackson, in turn, has come to draw on Joyner for help. "If I'm having a problem with something at the plate, I'll ask him what I'm doing," says Reggie. "He and I are in tune with each other." Jackson says Joyner "gives me someone to compete against, in a good way. He makes me bear down more."

After Friday night's game, reporters swarmed to Joyner, fresh off his two homers, who was already doing wrist curls in front of his locker. When Joyner set down the dumbbells, Jackson slipped through the media mob, picked up the weights and went into the trainer's room, where—not quite out of sight—he started doing his lifts. Yes, the competition is healthy in Wally World.

Everything, in fact, seems healthy in Wally World, except perhaps Joyner's hair, which is noticeably thinning. But Joyner openly jokes about that. As he told the Los Angeles Times recently, "I take my hat off and there goes my reputation of looking 17 years old."

"What's not to like?" says Angel broadcaster Ron Fairly, a former teammate of Wally Moon's on the Dodgers. "He's such a good, all-American kid. You'd want to stand next to him in a rainstorm because you know lightning won't hit him." Indeed, that may just be the way of Wally World.

PHOTOV.J. LOVERO

A ROSTER OF CLASSY FRESHMEN

Wally Joyner and Jose Canseco (right) are on track for what could be two of the best rookie seasons ever. At their present paces, Joyner would hit .312 with 65 home runs and 162 RBIs and Canseco .286 with 47 home runs and 145 runs batted in. Here is a list of all rookies who have satisfied at least two of three criteria: a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 runs batted in.

BA

HRs

RBIs

Jimmy Williams, 1899 Pirates

.355

9

116

Al Simmons, 1924 A's

.308

8

102

Del Bissonette, 1928 Dodgers

.320

25

106

Dale Alexander, 1929 Tigers

.343

25

137

Wally Berger, 1930 Braves

.310

38

119

JoeVosmik, 1931 Indians

.320

7

117

Hal Trosky, 1934 Indians

.330

35

142

Joe DiMaggio, 1936 Yankees

.323

29

125

Rudy York, 1937 Tigers

.307

35

103

Ted Williams, 1939 Red Sox

.327

31

145

Walt Dropo, 1950 Red Sox

.322

34

144

Tony Oliva, 1964 Twins

.323

32

94

Jim Rice, 1975 Red Sox

.309

22

102

Fred Lynn, 1975 Red Sox

.331

21

105

Ron Kittle, 1983 White Sox

.254

35

100

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)