Through the years, it seems like the Royals have had more than their share of first basemen who can hit for a good average but aren’t the typical power hitter you expect to see at that position. Sure, John Mayberry and Steve Balboni were power threats with less than sterling averages, but random players like Todd Benzinger, Gerald Perry, and Doug Mientkiewicz feel like the rule, not the exception. Even in 2015, Eric Hosmer hit .297 with 18 home runs, which is a fine season but not the traditional slugging first baseman (Hosmer would hit 25 homers each of the next two seasons). There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, because you can certainly find valuable players with that skill set. Such as Hosmer, or Wally Joyner.
Wallace Keith Joyner was born on June 16, 1962, in Atlanta. Childhood wasn’t always easy for Joyner from a health perspective; he was born with orange skin due to a hemolytic disease (essentially, and please excuse a layman’s interpretation, antibodies from his mother attacked his red blood cells). As a result, Joyner had two blood transfusions in the first 24 hours after he was born. Later, at age 9, a kidney disease caused a backup of fluids and bacteria, and Joyner gained 15 pounds overnight. Doctors later told his family that waiting a day longer to seek treatment could have resulted in heart failure.
These problems didn’t stop Joyner from becoming a star at Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia. He was named Georgia’s player of the year in 1980, his senior year, excelling on the mound and at the plate. For Joyner, a devout Mormon, Brigham Young University was a natural choice for college. Oddly, Joyner committed to BYU without meeting Cougars’ coach Gary Pullins, which led to a humorous moment when the Joyner family drove across the country to deliver Wally to college. Pullins sized up the arrivals when they called out to him, then began shaking hands with the strapping young man he figured was his new recruit. Nope, it was Wally’s older brother. Pullins had to keep himself together when he realized who his new player was; as he recalled later, “The thing to understand here is Wally coming out of high school had a pear-shaped body and was already losing his hair. He looked like anything but an athlete. The story changed when we put a bat in his hand.”¹
Joyner starred at BYU, and in his junior year the Cougars entered the NCAA tournament with the nation’s #1 ranking. But the loaded team, with future major leaguers Rick Aguilera, Cory Snyder, and a few others, lost early in the tournament. The California Angels selected Joyner with their third-round pick (67th overall) in the 1983 draft.
Joyner sailed through the Angels’ system, impressing the front office enough that they let future Hall of Famer Rod Carew leave as a free agent after the 1985 season, clearing the first base job for Joyner even though the Angels had every reason to expect to contend in 1986 after they finished one game behind Kansas City in the AL West.
The rookie didn’t disappoint, hitting .290/.348/.457 with 22 home runs as the Angels won the division and came within one strike of making the World Series, instead losing a classic ALCS to Boston. Along the way, he became a fan favorite; in the shadow of Disneyland, Angels fans began referring to Anaheim Stadium as Wally World, in a nod to the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. In the 1986 ALCS, Joyner had five hits in 13 at-bats over the first three games, but missed the last four games with a staph infection that ultimately required hospitalization. Still, Joyner finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Jose Canseco despite an OPS 30 points higher. At least he had an All-Star berth and top-10 finish in the MVP vote to console him.
Joyner was even better in 1987, hitting .285/.366/.528 with 34 home runs. The 1987 season famously had a jump in home run totals all around baseball, but that’s still a lot of home runs (Joyner finished in a five-way tie for third in the AL). But that season also may have created some false expectations for Joyner, who would hit more than 20 home runs in a season just once the rest of his career. There was nothing wrong with his 1988 (.295/.356/.419) and 1989 (.282/.335/.420) seasons, but he hit only 13 and 16 home runs, respectively, in those years.
Following a knee injury that cost him half of the 1990 season, Joyner rebounded with a fine .301/.360/.488 line in 1991. As a free agent, he hoped to stay in California. Angels owner Gene Autry had a close relationship with his first baseman. It seemed like a no-brainer, except Jackie Autry, Gene’s wife and the Angels’ chief financial officer, was not a fan. Oddly, the Angels’ front office and Joyner had feuded for years, dating back to that 1986 ALCS. Jackie Autry had rejected a long-term deal that Joyner and his agent had negotiated with the Angels. And despite California offering him four years and $15.7 million, he decided he’d had enough. On December 9, 1991, he accepted a one year contract worth $4.2 million with the Royals. At the time, a player could declare for free agency once every five years, but the Royals were willing to waive that rule to sign their new first baseman.
In an emotional press conference, Joyner said of the deal, “It appeased the moment. It solved problems right now. It also gives the Royals and myself a window to see if it’ll work out and, in my opinion, it will work out. I have a great desire to play for them.”²
After two subpar seasons, the Royals were a rebuilt team for the 1992 season. It took a while for all the parts to fit together. Following a 1-16 start, the team went 71-74, but that brutal beginning kept them in fifth place. Joyner was one of the few bright spots in the early going, hitting .324 as late as May 31, but slumped badly (perhaps due to a rib injury in late May) and finished at .269/.336//386. However, in late June, he reached an agreement with the Royals, extending his contract for three years and $13.8 million, plus a team option for the 1996 season.
But in 1993, Joyner showed why the Royals had faith in him. This time, he did not get off to a hot start, batting .266/.389/.354 in April. The team went a disappointing 9-14, although that was still better than the embarrassing beginning to 1992. In May, both Joyner and the team heated up. The first baseman raised his season line to .295/.407/.470 and smacked six home runs in the month; the team went 16-9 to climb into the thick of the AL West race.
Both held steady through June. The Royals ended the month just 1.5 games out of first despite a 38-38 record. After a seven-game hitting streak early in the month, Joyner ended June with a .290/.383/.435 mark.
Joyner was a big help as the Royals struggled to stay in the race in July. The team went 16-12 but lost ground, finishing the month four games behind Chicago in the division. But Joyner batted a sizzling .376/.443/.710 for the month.
Perhaps predictably, he couldn’t stay that hot. He hit .243/.295/.351 for August, his worst month of the season. Although the Royals went 15-14 for the month, and moved to within two games of first on August 19th, they ended the month six games out and in third place, needing a small miracle to win the division.
They didn’t get it, posting another 15-14 over September and three October games. Joyner struggled to a .208/.367/.417 line in just 30 plate appearances as he battled back problems. His last appearance came on September 15. Joyner finished the year with a solid .292/.375/.467 line, much closer to what the Royals expected.
Joyner got back over the .300 mark in each of the next two seasons in remarkably consistent fashion, hitting .311/.386/.449 in 1994 and .310/.394/.447 in 1995. Always a good fielder, Joyner led AL first basemen in fielding percentage in 1995, with a .998 mark after just three errors in 1,232 chances.
During that 1995 season, Joyner instructed his agent to approach the Royals with some choices for his 1996 contract option, which automatically kicked in when he reached 500 at-bats in 1995. Joyner appreciated the Royals not trying to keep him from the mark, and realized the team was trying to keep payroll low in the post-Ewing Kauffman era. Joyner was willing to renegotiate to spread the money over extra years, defer some of it, or be open to a trade. With Bob Hamelin and Joe Vitiello needing a look as the Royals moved to a younger roster, the third option is what happened. On December 21, 1995, he was traded with minor-league pitcher Aaron Dorlarque to San Diego for Bip Roberts and minor-league pitcher Bryan Wolff.
Joyner spent four seasons with the Padres, hitting .291/.376/.429 and helping the Padres reach the 1998 World Series. Unfortunately, he failed to get a hit in the Series (although he did get three walks in 11 plate appearances) after hitting .313 in the NLCS. Following the 1999 season, he was dealt to Atlanta. After a .281/.365/.402 season in his native state, he closed out his playing days with a partial season in his first major-league home. Wally World’s return to Anaheim was less successful, as he hit .243/.304/.351 in 53 games before he retired in June of 2001.
Joyner has had an interesting post-playing career. While he was still playing, Joyner had appeared in the movie Little Big League as himself, and also appeared (once again as himself) in a made-for-TV picture called The Darwin Conspiracy. Apparently taking a liking to the film industry, he has acted in several movies aimed at Mormon audiences. He has also served as hitting coach for a few teams and had a stint working with an MLB development program in Italy and Brazil. And he has found time to be involved in various business ventures. Oh, and there was his admission of steroid use during the 1998 season. Joyner admitted the usage in a magazine interview in 2005, saying he asked Ken Caminiti for help obtaining the pills, tried three of them and then threw the rest away. That made Joyner perhaps the unlikeliest player to be named in the Mitchell Report.
In Royals history, Joyner still ranks seventh all-time in batting average, tied with Hal McRae at .293, and sixth in on-base percentage with .371, which is two points better than George Brett. The 1994-95 strike/lockout cost him some games, so he only compiled 7.7 bWAR in Kansas City in what amounts to 3 ½ seasons. He fares better by WARP over at Baseball Prospectus, which credits him with 11.3. Frankly, that feels closer to the truth. Joyner didn’t hit home runs, but he obviously got on base at a good clip, plus was always regarded as a good defensive player.
Wally Joyner’s best games of 1993:
7/23 @DET: Homered twice and drove in six runs in a 7-6 win.
7/16 @TOR: Homered, singled, walked twice and scored four runs in 7-3 victory.
5/25 @CHW: Cracked home run and double and walked once, driving in two runs in 3-2 win.
6/23 vs. CAL: Collected three hits (two doubles) in 8-7 loss.5/19 vs. OAK: Went 3-4 with a walk, two RBI, and two runs scored in 13-8 triumph.
About the card
I’m not usually a big fan of horizontal cards, but I kind of like this one. I would recognize those lights and roof anytime. The back seems unremarkable, except I’d like to see a list of winners of the Owner’s Trophy. A quick Google search came up empty. I wonder if the Angels still award it.
- Faraudo, Jeff. “WCC Hall of Honor: Wally Joyner, BYU,” https://wccsports.com/news/2020/2/27/baseball-wcc-hall-of-honor-wally-joyner-byu.aspx, accessed June 11, 2020.
- Kaegel, Dick. “Royals sign Joyner to 1-year deal,” Kansas City Star, December 10, 1991
Etkin, Jack. “Joyner’s Swing Sounding Familiar,” Kansas City Star, September 4, 1992
Flanagan, Jeffrey. “Joyner Returns Favor to Royals,” Kansas City Star, December 22, 1995
Hofmann, Paul. “Wally Joyner,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/4f34cdd9, accessed June 11, 2020
Kaegel, Dick. “Joyner Agrees to Longer KC Stay,” Kansas City Star, June 27, 1992
Neff, Craig. “The Wonderful World of Wally,” Sports Illustrated, May 26, 1986
Reaves, Joseph A. “Royally Embittered, Joyner Joins K.C.,” Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1991