Rookie Wally Joyner, veteran Dave Kingman in slugging feats
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.
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.
Kingman has supposedly turned a new leaf in his dealings with the news media this year; after several years of silence he's talking to reporters again. The trouble is, he still doesn't say anything much unless he likes the question. Asked if he planned to play the three or four more years needed necessary to reach 500 home runs (he had 407 going into the season and 12 more already as of this writing), Kingman mumbled something as he fled into the trainer's room, which is off limits to reporters.
But manager Jackie Moore didn't think the question was outside the strike zone. Said Moore: ``If Dave wants to, I think he can do it. He's very aggressive at the plate, and with his power he's capable of taking any pitcher over the wall. If you manage a free swinger like Kingman, you have to learn to turn him loose and not let his strikeouts bother you. The thing is, Dave hits enough home runs so that you can live with his strikeouts.'' Tony Gwynn discusses hitting styles
Two years ago, after less than one full season in the National League, 24-year-old outfielder Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres hit a league-leading .351. Last year wasn't quite so spectacular, but his .317 average was still fourth best in the league, and now this season he's back up around the .340 mark.
Asked recently if he had been able to share some of his hitting expertise with his younger brother Chris, an outfielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, Tony replied: ``In the first place, we seldom see each other long enough to talk hitting. In the second place, our styles are different. I'm strictly a contact hitter, while Chris -- well, he has some power that someday is going to translate into home runs.
``All I've really been able to tell Chris is that pitchers with good control who consistently move the ball around give me the most trouble. A perfect example of the type I mean is the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela. The fact is, I've never done very well against Valenzuela, and in one game last year I was so frustrated that I decided to guess on the next pitch, something I never do. So far, it's the first home run I've ever hit off Fernando.'' Around the majors
Philadelphia slugger Mike Schmidt, who entered the current season needing just 42 home runs for a career total of 500 is also his team's all-time leader in runs batted in. Schmidt, whose $2 million-a-year contract runs through 1987, will play beyond that time only if he feels physically comfortable doing so. ``Having to play at half-speed to reach a certain goal wouldn't interest me,'' he says. Schmidt, who already has Hall of Fame credentials, has indicated that he might someday like to manage.
According to batting coach John Vukovich of the Chicago Cubs, the most common problem among young hitters coming up to the big leagues for the first time is their insistence on pulling everything. ``At the big-league level you can't do this,'' Vukovich explained. ``Of course the first time you tell a kid this he doesn't believe you. But after a while they begin to realize that the pitchers up here don't give in that easily; that you learn to adjust and go the other way occasionally or you wind up back in the minors.''
Which was the greatest team of all time? It's an unanswerable question, of course, but most old-timers give the nod to the 1927 New York Yankees (110-44 during the regular season; 4-0 against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series). That was the year Babe Ruth hit his 60 home runs, more than the entire team total of each of New York's seven American League rivals. Overall, the Yankees powered 158 balls out of the park that year, with Ruth and Lou Gehrig (47) combining for 107, while the next highest team output was the 56 hit by the Philadelphia Athletics.
If Ruth needed a push that year to reach 60, he got it from Gehrig, who actually led the Babe in home runs (38 to 35) as late as Aug. 10. After that, though, it was all Ruth, who hit 25 homers to Gehrig's nine in what remained of the season. Lou did have one consolation, though: He bested the Babe in RBIs, 175 to 164.