They've been getting an eyeful at Memorial Stadium the last few days. First, Jose Canseco almost hit a ball through the left field wall Saturday, and now Wally Joyner has come to town.
Every spring, baseball breeds phenoms. But not like these. Not like Jose Can-Do and Wally the Wonder Boy. Not like the handsome 228-pound Cuban bodybuilder with a taste for the occult and a twin brother on the way up. Not like the chirpy, friendly, baby-faced Mormon from the deep South who's off to one of the hottest slugging starts in baseball history and has Angelenos calling the Big A "Wally World."
The slim Joyner, who looks like an Angels batboy rather than the team's first baseman, and Canseco, an Oakland outfielder, are the top two in the majors in RBI and are Nos. 1 and 3 in homers.
"Don't know if anybody ever hit 15 homers in his first 38 games as a rookie or not," said California Manager Gene Mauch of Joyner. "You'd doubt it. Anyway, I don't care. I've enjoyed it."
Ironically, another Wally did this, too. In 1930, Wally Berger hit 15 in 38 games and 17 in his first 42 on the way to the rookie record of 38 homers (which Frank Robinson tied in '56).
Already, mini-legends are being born about the diametrical duo of the dark, solitary, tape-measure Canseco and the graceful, effortless, bright Joyner.
By the batting cage, the Angels' Brian Downing sought out Fred Lynn, the only player to be MVP as a rookie, to tell him somebody was on his heels. "I've batted behind Joyner in 15 games so far," said Downing, "and I've come up with one man in scoring position. He's driven in everybody else."
Yes, that's 38 RBI in his first 38 games. Which has the Angels in first place and Mauch comparing the 23-year-old to that sweet-swinging Senators batting champion, Mickey Vernon. "I've never seen a young player with so much ease, grace and maturity," said Don Sutton. "The best thing we can do is keep the geniuses away from him."
In the other dugout, Earl Weaver was still talking about a single by Canseco over the weekend. "That line drive hit the wall and Mike Young's throw was on the way to second base when I looked for Canseco. He's a fast runner, and he hadn't even reached first yet."
Now, that's a rocket.
Ever see a ball hit harder?
"The one Mr. Robinson hit out of the stadium," said Weaver with asperity. "The one Reggie hit off the speaker in Detroit in the All-Star Game. I'll wait a while before I get too excited."
Then Weaver lost his cool, broke up laughing. "But he sure nailed that one, didn't he?"
Lots of players get hot for a few weeks. The Orioles' Young had 20 homers and 49 RBI in 51 games last summer. But because it was the dog days, not spring, few noticed or made him the next Mantle. Now he's cold; nobody cares much about that, either.
Joyner and Canseco won't have that blessing/curse. First impressions last.
Last September, his first month, Canseco reached Comiskey Park's roof. In batting practice this month, he hit a ball out of Milwaukee County Stadium -- something never before done. Then came the Baltimore Bullet, which the 21-year-old calls "the hardest ball I ever hit." With 12 homers, 36 RBI, a near-.290 average, he has our attention.
Five years of weight work have added 40 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame, giving him a 50-inch chest and 18-inch biceps. And this is a player who, by age 12, forced a league to turn a field in the opposite direction so he'd stop breaking windows.
"He's gonna be tough," said Weaver who, like many, is awed at Canseco's bat speed. "He lets it go. This happens once in a lifetime -- maybe," said Oakland exec Bill Rigney. Even Canseco, who's 18 pounds bigger in just a year, said, "It's a strange new power I have now. I can feel the compression of the ball. It just explodes. There's a temptation to see how far I can hit it. I resist."
The flinty Mauch, like Weaver, still wonders if the strikeout-prone Canseco may prove to be more Ron Kittle than Jimmy Foxx. "Canseco'll probably get enough hanging curve balls and cookie fastballs to hit his 30 to 35 homers. He's so strong no direction in the park is safe," said Mauch. "He can be handled, but you better be right."
A palm reader had told Canseco's mother -- who died of a brain hemmorhage in '84 -- that her twin boys Jose and Ozzie both would be very famous, but one's fame would precede the other's by two or three years. Canseco's father told him this tale. The Yankees organization has just converted Ozzie from pitcher to outfielder. Jose said, "Remember you heard this from me. In two years Ozzie is the player I am."
Jose Canseco already has enough swagger for two stars. But he may have twice the talent, too.
Joyner's just the opposite, with his Dale Murphy Charm School manner and the sort of hippy build that got Lou Gehrig the nickname Old Biscuit Pants. "The Nautilus machines and my body finally came to an agreement," said Joyner, who'd never hit more than 12 homers in a year until he conked 14 in 54 games to be Puerto Rican league MVP last winter.
Joyner has always hit line drives, from his high school days in Stone Mountain, Ga., to his career at Brigham Young, where his accent was so thick his teammates couldn't understand a word. But now the drives are going over the fence.
Public speaking reformed his speech, and nothing was ever wrong with his lefty stroke. With 20 RBI in his last 14 games and seven homers in 10, he's at the peak of his streak. He even had a homer rained out. "I've seen eight of his at-bats on cable TV," said Weaver, "and three have been homers . . . Guess we'll pitch him like Babe Ruth. Up and in, low and away."
Orioles scout Jim Russo said: "When we get to Joyner in the report, Weaver and I will have a bad connection. I'll say, 'Sorry, Earl. I can't hear you.' "
Although Canseco has been no day at the beach to those around him, Joyner works at being a joy. At one point, he gave so many interviews, sometimes getting to the park five hours early, that he was frazzled. Reggie Jackson, who has taken on the tutor role, told him: "Don't hoard yourself, but don't overuse yourself, either."
And Joyner seems to have picked up the trick. "Right now, I'm enjoying the thrill of newness and trying not to get a big head," he said. "I'm still Wally Joyner. Someone who can have friends . . .
"I can very easily stumble and crash," added Joyner, who had a half-season slump at Edmonton last year. "I'm just trying to act like a sponge and absorb . . . At first it was, 'How will he react?' Now it's, 'What'll he do next?' "
These are the weeks, pungent as grass and dirt on a hot night, when a rookie goes around the league the first time. He's opening the book of a career while there's still no book on him. "Yankee Stadium next," Joyner said, grinning.
The diet of curves at the knees and heat at the head hasn't been deemed necessary. Yet. Check back in July.
In the morning, you wander through new towns. At night, you terrorize new pitchers. It lasts about half a year. Then, everybody starts finding out the truth. And it's plenty soon enough.
"I look too young to be a ballplayer," said Joyner, who is 6-2 and weighs 185 pounds. "No one knows who I am."
For Joyner and Canseco, that'll change fast. Before too long, everyone will realize how good they are or aren't. They'll be the first to know.