Joyner on Hall ballot for first time
First baseman made a big splash in rookie year of '86
He burst out of anonymity in the mid-'80s, a baby-faced yet balding first baseman with a golden swing and silky glove. The Angels have unveiled a lot of star players throughout their history, but Wally Joyner may still be the only folk hero produced by that franchise.Joyner punctuated his systematic climb up California's chain to land in Anaheim in 1986. It was the perfect time for a fresh breeze to blow through southern California, and a celestial convergence of factors lifted him above the crowd. He was replacing a Hall of Fame first baseman, Rod Carew, and never gave pressure a chance to undermine him, a phenomenal April (.333, six homers, 16 RBIs) thrusting him into the nation's consciousness. He was a centerpiece on a veteran-laden team which, with manager Gene Mauch's guidance, swashed its way to an American League West title. Those Angels otherwise were a collection of free-agent mercenaries, and Joyner gave them an identity, for which he gained national celebrity. For that summer's All-Star Game, Joyner became the first rookie selected to the starting lineup since the vote was returned to fans in 1970. Joyner's name was punched out 917,972 times, compared to 783,846 for Don Mattingly, who besides the advantage of shining on the New York stage was in the midst of a .352 season with 31 homers and 113 RBIs. Joyner not only was out of this world, he had one of his own. His splashy arrival coincided with the release of the first of the "National Lampoon Vacation" movies, in which Chevy Chase drives the Griswold clan to the fictional WallyWorld amusement park. The Angels were in Yankee Stadium in late May when a package arrived at the visitors' clubhouse, containing dozens of "I'm Going To WallyWorld" T-shirts courtesy of the film's distributors. Teammates snapped up and immediately slipped into the tees, and a phenomenon was born. Anaheim Stadium, located five miles from the genuine Disneyland which had inspired the movie knockoff, became WallyWorld on game days. Joyner finished that rookie season batting .290 with 22 homers and 100 RBIs -- and came up just 12 points shy of Oakland's Jose Canseco in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. But in that season's MVP vote, Joyner finished eighth, higher than any of his teammates. Joyner stepped it up the ensuing season -- clubbing 34 homers and driving in 117 runs -- before settling into a steady, never-again-as-spectacular career.
The Griswolds also vacationed in Europe and Las Vegas and had a Christmas family reunion before Joyner took his last cuts in the middle of the 2001 season.Joyner found closure that year, returning to Anaheim as a veteran presence on the bench. Worn down by a series of injuries, he abruptly announced his retirement in mid-June. That now lands him on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot as one of 17 first-time candidates. A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election. Results of the 2007 BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be announced on Jan. 9, and the induction ceremony will take place on July 29 in Cooperstown. Joyner may fall far short of that 75 percent vote, but 30-something Angels fans may be unanimous in choosing him not only their favorite player, but favorite adolescent memory. With his sudden impact under the wide shadow always cast by the Dodgers and their tradition, Joyner simply made it fashionable to be an Angels fan. Of course, he was much more than just an image, or just an Angel. Joyner retired with a lifetime batting average of .289, and chalked up his 2,000th hit and 200th home run within days of each other in 2000. Joyner departed Anaheim as a free agent after six seasons, and put in nine seasons with three teams (Kansas City, San Diego, Atlanta) before returning to his baseball cradle in 2001. He was batting .243 in 53 games with the Angels when he gave himself a 39th birthday present: Retirement. "I still felt great when I was on deck," Joyner said at the time. "I felt great walking back to the dugout. It was what was in between that wasn't so great anymore."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.