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Sent on Mormon-News: 11Apr01

By Kent Larsen

Will Wally Return to Wally World?

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA -- Wally is back with the Angels, and the big question is whether he can recreate Wall World. Wally Joyner returns to Major League Baseball's Anaheim Angels as a veteran first baseman, just when the team needed him. But at the end of his career, Joyner doesn't have the promise he had in 1986, when he first joined the Angels as a rookie. In what will likely be his last season, Joyner could either go out with a bang, giving Wally World one last open season, or leave it virtually shuttered.

He created Wally World in that 1986 rookie year, just as the popular spoof movie "National Lampoon's Vacation" was released in theaters. When Joyner started knocking the ball out of the park left and right (he hit 15 home runs in his first 36 games), fans started holding up signs that read, "Wally World," connecting Joyner with the fictional amusement park that was the destination in the film. "The whole thing was kind of a dream, a little serendipity," Joyner says. "It was great."

But his wife, Lesley, doesn't agree. "It was hard" she says. Joyner's instant fame made heavy demands on his time, taking him away from his young family so that he could talk to reporters and fans as well as sign autographs. "To be honest," Lesley says, "I was happy when it all died down."

Joyner ended this first year with 22 home runs, a .290 batting average and 100 RBIs, as well as the love of Anaheim's fans. His second season was even better: 34 home runs, .285 batting average and 117 RBIs. But that year Joyner was one of a few team players that produced. The team didn't make the playoffs, and Joyner started having trouble with the front office.

"I still didn't understand that what I was in was a business," Joyner remembers. "I took things that were business too personally." The team owner, Gene Autry, and his wife Jackie had decided by then that spending indiscriminantly on high-profile players like Reggie Jackson wasn't working. Joyner, as the most recent star, felt left out and underappreciated. By 1991, while he was still producing (he hit .301 and had 26 home runs), Joyner was frustrated enough to leave, accepting a one-year $4 million deal with Kansas City. That one year stretched into four, and then he spent another four with San Diego, as his production declined. Last year, Joyner played a very unsatisfactory season with the Atlanta Braves, sitting on the bench waiting for the Braves to pull Andres Gallaraga out of the lineup each day.

Joyner was ready to retire, but he and his wife weren't sure. "Neither of us was positive it was the right time to quit." says Lesley. Then he got a break that allowed him to come back to the Angels. Their first baseman, Mo Vaughn, had surgery on his wrist,and was out for the season. He didn't wait to see what would happen, instead placing a call to the Angels asking for the job. "I think I can still start in this league," Joyner says. "And I wanted to be an Angel again."

Now he's 39 years old; old for a major league ball player. He's no longer a 22-year-old innocent. He has other things that draw him to home. His oldest, daughter Jessica, is 17 and being recruited by top colleges to play soccer. His wife, Lesley, has become an accomplished horsewoman with a quarter horse that won its first race on Saturday. With the demands of his family and the likely return of Mo Vaughn next year, Joyner believes this will be his last year in baseball.

But driving to Edison Field last week, Wally and Lesley were surprised at the reaction. "When we drove to the stadium," Lesley says, "I couldn't believe it. Parking attendants remembered us. One man remembered seeing me on a golf course. They remembered our daughters. It is a little like coming home."

But will Wally be coming home to Wally World? "It's silly, but it would be great, wouldn't it?" Joyner says. "I think if you are an Angel from that era, you feel like there's unfinished business. When I sat down and talked to my family about coming here this summer, it was unanimous. There is no other place I'd be doing this. I'd be retired. And now I get this great gift. I get to come back home and have a second chance. For that, I feel blessed."


Wally Whirled
Los Angeles Times 10Apr01 S2
By Diane Pucin: Times Sports Columnist


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