MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Free-agent first baseman Wally Joyner proved yesterday that money isn't everything, choosing to end a bitter relationship with the California Angels and accept a much smaller contract from the Kansas City Royals.
Joyner signed a one-year deal that will pay him $4.2 million and retained the right to become a free agent next year. He could have re-signed with the Angels for four years and close to $16 million, but instead said farewell in a teary news conference at the Fontainebleau Resort.
"This is probably the toughest decision I've ever had to make," said Joyner, who had spent nine years in the Angels organization. "I've enjoyed my time with the California Angels. That's where Wally World started, but in my opinion, I didn't see any future with myself and the Angels."
Joyner had tears in his eyes and his voice cracked on several occasions as he explained why he had broken off negotiations with Angels senior vice president Whitey Herzog the night before.
Herzog apparently had been caught in the middle of a long-simmering feud between Joyner and Angels management. He made a last-ditch attempt to get the first baseman under contract on Sunday night, but Joyner, 29, decided that it was time to move on.
"I think Wally made a decision that he didn't want to be with the fTC Angels," Herzog said. "I'm not saying it's the wrong decision. I respect his decision very much."
Despite the late offer, in which the Angels were willing to compromise on a clause that would guarantee some of Joyner's salary in case of a lockout in 1994, Joyner apparently felt he was no longer wanted in Anaheim.
"Obviously, signing a one-year deal, it wasn't and never has been a money issue," Joyner said.
The problem apparently went much higher than Herzog, who was praised by Joyner and agents Barry Axelrod and Michael Watkins. Joyner also praised owner Gene Autry, leaving Jackie Autry as the obvious -- but unstated -- target of his dismay.
"I've had problems with the Angels, but I apologize for making a scene," he said, tears welling up again. "I didn't think this was going to happen. There has been a lot of pressure building up."
Unintended or not, it will play as great theater in Southern California, where a legion of Joyner fans are certain to cast Mrs. Autry as the villain in the club's latest passion play.
In Kansas City, however, the Royals were happy to take Joyner off their hands. General manager Herk Robinson was looking for first-base help and he was hoping to get it without giving up one of his front-line pitchers. He succeeded without even having to give up a long-term contract.
Joyner normally wouldn't be eligible for free agency after the 1992 season. Under the terms of baseball's basic agreement, a player can file for free agency once every five years, but the Royals waived their repeater rights for the short-term deal.
"We were willing to do that to get a player of his caliber," Robinson said, "but we hope that he'll be with us for many years."
The acquisition changed the posture of the Royals at the winter meetings, where they were rumored to be pursuing a trade for Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace. Royals officials confirmed that Grace had been discussed, and said that the Royals would be free now to work on other areas of concern.
"We still want to make a deal," Royals manager Hal McRae said, "but now we're not under pressure to make a deal."
The Royals apparently have been approached by a number of teams interested in starting pitcher Kevin Appier, but Robinson has been resistant to the idea of doing anything that would weaken his pitching staff.
The Orioles have first baseman Randy Milligan available for trade, but there apparently were no serious talks between Robinson and general manager Roland Hemond.
Wally Joyner yesterday joined the list of baseball's highest-paid players. The top 10 contracts by average annual value (figures were obtained by The Associated Press from player and management sources and include all guaranteed income but not income from potential incentive bonuses):
Player, .. .. .. club .. .. Years .. .. Avg.*
Bobby Bonilla, .. NYM .. ..'92-96 .. .. $5.80
Roger Clemens, .. Bos .. ..'92-95 .. .. $5.38
Dwight Gooden, .. NYM .. ..'92-94 .. .. $5.15
Jose Canseco, ... Oak .. ..'91-95 .. .. $4.70
Andy Van Slyke, ..Pit .. ..'92-94 .. .. $4.22
Nolan Ryan, .. .. Tex .. ..'92 .. .. .. $4.20
Wally Joyner, .. ..KC .. ..'92 .. .. .. $4.20
Tony Gwynn, .. ... SD .. ..'93-95 .. .. $4.08
D. Strawberry, ... LA .. ..'91-95 .. .. $4.05
Tom Candiotti, ... LA .. ..'92-95 .. .. $3.88
*-in millions, rounded off to nearest .$10,000