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Rookie Wally Joyner, veteran Dave Kingman in slugging feats

By Phil Elderkin / June 9, 1986



Anaheim, Calif.

Pick a number: 1. Rookie slugging sensation Wally Joyner of the California Angels is really a young Ted Williams without the disposition for grand opera.

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2. Wally Joyner fell off a cereal box while hitting his first home run.

3. In any Mr. America contest, Wally Joyner would be the thin guy holding the warm-up suits.

4. Wally Wonder is a boyish 23 with a wife and two cute little girls.

Personally, I like No. 4, which also happens to be true. What is it with this kid who leads the majors in home runs with 17, yet hit no more than 12 in any of his three minor league seasons? Is L. L. Bean suddenly selling Krypton muscles by mail?

Time will make the final judgment on this left-handed hitter, who has a shot at the rookie record of 38 home runs held jointly by Wally Berger and Frank Robinson. But in his metamorphosis from singles hitter to slugger, Joyner, who stands 6 ft. 2 in. and weighs 180 pounds, has shown increased power, plus the ability to handle all kinds of pitching. And to many observers it almost seems to have happened overnight.

``That's where everybody is wrong,'' explained Moose Stubing, the Angels' batting coach. ``It didn't happen overnight. This kid has been listening and learning from his managers and coaches for a long time. Lifting weights on a regular basis has probably done the rest. His wrists are about as strong as anybody's I've ever seen.

``When it comes to hitting the ball while it's still in front of the plate, he's like George Brett and Don Mattingly,'' Stubing continued. ``Most hitters can't do this without throwing themselves off balance.

``Joyner has been hitting home runs because his concentration is so great, plus the fact that he's been picking up the ball just as it leaves the pitcher's hand, which is a tough thing to do consistently. But if a hitter can read what a pitcher is throwing before the ball is in on him, he can do things like that.''

Joyner has also been getting tips on just about everything, including hitting, from the veteran Reggie Jackson, who in May hit his 536th home run to pass Mickey Mantle on baseball's all-time list.

``I've been good for Joyner, because no matter how well a rookie is going or how much confidence he has in himself, he always needs someone who has been there before to reinforce his beliefs,'' Jackson told me. ``The respect for my opinion is there, and when I tell him all the good things about his hitting, he knows he can really believe it.

``Now I don't want anybody to think I taught Wally how to hit,'' Jackson added. ``You can't do that with anybody, because we're all different. What I do for Joyner is give him the menu of the day as far as the opposing pitcher is concerned.

``I know the pitchers in this league and he doesn't. So I tell him how this guy's fastball runs inside, or that this pitcher is liable to start him off with a breaking ball. Or, that this guy throws a slurve, meaning half slider and half curve. But I can only tell him. He still has to hit for himself.''

Asked how he gets ready for a pitcher, Joyner replied: ``I've always worked on centering the bat on the ball. This requires a lot of concentration, but it works. If you're successful, you're going to get a bigger piece of the ball to drive.

``I have always felt that by the time I get into my swing I've transferred my power from my back leg to my front foot. I guess nobody believes me, but I haven't been trying to hit home runs. They've just been going out for me.''

Thanks, Wally, and please pick a number! Kingman moves into some lofty company

Dave Kingman is just about the last batter American League pitchers want to face with the bases loaded -- and the Oakland slugger showed why last week when he blasted his 16th career grand slam home run. The first-inning blow off Detroit's Dave LaPoint put Kingman in some pretty lofty company, tying him with Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron for fifth place on the all-time list. The only players with more are Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams, 17 each; Willie McCovey, 18; and all-time leader Lou Gehrig, who had a phenomenal 23.