#25 - WALLY JOYNER, 1B
I first saw Wally Joyner play as an Angel in the 1986 preseason freeway series game between the Dodgers and Angels at Anaheim Stadium. Two seasons of mediocrity from Rod Carew hadn't clued me in to the fact that the future Hall of Famer and face of the franchise was quite replaceable. A home run from the kid replacing Rod, though, got me on board in a hurry.
Wallace Keith Joyner was drafted out of Brigham Young University by the Angels in 1983 and signed with them on his 21st birthday. Less than three yeas later he had made his major league debut and replaced Rod Carew as the everyday first baseman for the California Angels. No players have ever become a fan favorite in Anaheim as fast as he did. His rookie campaign saw him voted to the All Star game, a rare accomplishment for a rookie. When he was taken out of the game after one Plate Appearance there was an outcry. Wally incited passions. They renamed Anaheim Stadium "Wally World" (an ironic tip to "National Lampoon's Vacation"). He was the main attraction as the team headed toward the 1986 American League West title. After three games of the American League Championship series, though, he was hospitalized with a serious staph infection. The Angels would lose the series in a dramatic fashion. The brass ring was just out of reach. Wally would finish second in the rookie of the year vote.
For all these "almosts" there was never a complaint out of Joyner. He just kept producing. He had over 600 Plate Appearances in five of his first six seasons with the club. But just when it looked like he would be topping all of the record books for the club, the Angels let him go in free agency. He signed with the Royals for four years, eighteen million. The club had no direction and no good reason beyond saving money. The fans lost a favorite. Wally would rejoin the Halos for a seventh season in 2001 as a platoon 1B bat. It was a short stint, but the cheers from the stands fifteen years later were just as loud, just as appreciative and just as deserved.
In the Angels record books, many of Wally's marks still stand. His 18.4 Wins Above Replacement rank fourteenth all time. His .286 Batting average is still in the club's all time top ten at #10 for players with more than 1,500 Plate Appearances. At this writing, Mike Trout has 1,490 Plate Appearances, so lots of player all time rankings will be headed down a notch soon. He is ninth with 1,511 Total Bases, twelfth with 117 home runs and thirteenth all time with 961 hits. His 121 OPS+ ranks ninth in club history.
And he is first in the hearts of Angels fans for whom the bittersweet 1986 season epitomized the phrase "It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."