Mike Trout just had a rookie season for the ages. Are you worried that he might be susceptible to the sophomore slump? If you know you about Wally Joyner and believe the old adage about how history repeats itself, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
During the winter break before the 1986 season, Rod Carew had passed the first base baton to a young phenom drafted by the Angels in the third round of the 1983 draft, Wally Joyner. When the season started, Joyner came blazing out of the gate. By the end of the first half of the season, Joyner was riding a .313 batting average and a .543 slugging percentage. Fans had a “Wally World” section in the stands to cheer him as he waved the barrel of his bat low in the strike zone before getting set to hit. But he wasn’t just an offensive splash in the pool, he also saved runs on the field with his glove. “I’ve never played with any better first baseman,” said veteran shortstop and teammate Rick Burleson.
Just like Torii Hunter took Trout under his wing last year, Joyner had a mentor in veteran third baseman Doug DeCinces. DeCinces didn’t want the pressure of great expectations to weigh on Joyner, so he kept reporters in check when they tried to compare Joyner to baseball greats or give him hyped-up nicknames. Once the Angels scoreboard read, “WALLY THE WONDER BOY,” and DeCinces made sure that message never appeared again.
It was good for Joyner to have had a mentor, because he quickly became a national story. Nike signed him to a promotional deal. He became the first rookie in the history of baseball to be voted onto the All-Star team by the fans. He was not only invited to be in that year’s All-Star Game Home Run Derby, he won the dang thing! (He tied the NL’s Darryl Strawberry for first place.) At the end of the year, Joyner finished with a .348 OBP, 22 HR, 100 RBI and 82 runs scored. Joyner was this close to being the Angels’ first ever rookie of the year, being narrowly edged out by Oakland’s Jose Canseco for the honor.
The Angels reached the post season that year and faced the Boston Red Sox for the American League Championship, and Wally Joyner tore it up. In Game One, he ripped two doubles off Roger Clemens (who just happened to be the AL’s MVP that season). In Game Two, Joyner hit a home run off Bruce Hurst. He was only able to play in the first three games of the series before he had to sit out with a debilitating infection. But in those three games, he hit .455, had an OBP of .538, scored three runs, and the Angels were up two games to one.
When the season was over, you had to wonder at the remarkable year he had. You also had to wonder if he was going to be able to reproduce it, or if he was going to suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump.
Here’s to hoping that history repeats itself with Mike Trout, because Wally Joyner didn’t simply reproduce his rookie year during his second season in the big leagues – he bettered it. He played five fewer games in 1987, but his numbers were bigger.
In his sophomore season, Joyner cranked out more home runs, knocked in more RBIs, and scored more runs than he had in his impressive rookie campaign. He even stole three more bases.
So Wally Joyner proved it – you can have a phenomenal rookie season and then avoid the sophomore slump. And I’m sure Mike Trout’s talent and hard work will prove it once again this year.
Thanks to baseball-reference and Craig Neff’s April 26, 1986 Sports Illustrated article “The Wonderful World of Wally” for their help with this article.