BASEBALL CITY, Fla. -- Having once replaced Hall of Famer Rod Carew in the California Angels' lineup, Wally Joyner has now displaced future Hall of Famer George Brett in the batting order of the Kansas City Royals.
The first baseman will bat third in the revamped lineup, with Brett, approaching 39 after being a fixture at No. 3 for most of his 18 years with the Royals, dropping to fifth. Demoted, Brett called it, adding:
"No one likes to lose their position, but it's not like I'm losing it to a guy from Double-A. Wally is a proven All-Star. At this point in our careers, he's the better hitter."
The assignment is a show of respect for Joyner, who said he appreciates it, particularly since he remains disturbed by the portrait he believes owners Gene and Jackie Autry painted of him during the negotiations that led to his departure from the Angels as a free agent. He signed a one-year, $4.25-million deal with Kansas City that permits him to become a free agent again next winter.
"The one-year contract was a quick fix for both the Royals and myself," Joyner said. "I asked for the repeater rights as leverage, but my desire is to sign a multiyear contract with Kansas City. Now that I've been here a couple of weeks, I feel more strongly about that than when I signed. It's the well-run, class tTC organization I had always thought it was. I have no regrets."
Speaking by phone, Jackie Autry implied that the Angels have no regrets, either.
"I'm tired of talking about it," she said. "I don't care what Wally says anymore. I don't want to bash him, but a lot of people, including some of his peers, have come to us and said we're probably better off without him.
"Gene Autry tried to do everything he could for him, but [Joyner] was always taking shots at the Angels. You can get tired of that in a hurry."
It is Joyner's contention that the Autrys questioned his desire and effort and labeled him more of a loner than a leader in the clubhouse. Was any of that in the Royals' scouting reports?
"The only thing we looked at was his overall production," General Manager Herk Robinson said. "No one's perfect, but Wally had no shortcomings in our eyes at all."
In his 5 1/2 years -- he missed the second half of the 1990 season because of a knee injury -- as perhaps the finest player ever produced by a comparatively unproductive Angels farm system, Joyner batted .288 and averaged 19 home runs and 86 runs batted in.
Now, Joyner only cares about what is being said by the Royals. Said Robinson: "I think we're as good as any club in the division now, as good as any in baseball, and I don't think I could have said that if we hadn't signed Wally and hadn't traded Bret Saberhagen."
The Joyner signing allowed the Royals to compensate for the run production lost by Danny Tartabull's departure as a free agent and opened the door to the trade that sent Saberhagen to the New York Mets for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller.
The Royals, believing the status quo wasn't good enough to compete in a tough division, have undergone a transformation since the beginning of the 1991 season. Gone are Bo Jackson, Tartabull, Saberhagen, Kurt Stillwell, Kirk Gibson and Bill Pecota, among others.
Few teams have a set lineup entering spring training, but Manager Hal McRae is planning this lineup: Brian McRae, center field; Jefferies, third base; Joyner, first base; McReynolds, right field; Brett, designated hitter; Mike MacFarlane, catcher; Miller, left field; Terry Shumpert, second base, and David Howard, shortstop. "Great balance," McRae said of his batting order. "Difficult to pitch around. A lot of ways to attack. We can run, or sit back and slug. We plan to do both."
And Joyner? "One of the best left-handed hitters in baseball," McRae said. "Easy power and a consistent stroke that never changes no matter what the situation is. I mean, when you say third in the order, that says it all, particularly on this club, where you've got four guys capable of hitting third -- McReynolds, Brett, Jefferies and Joyner."
Brett, a year after winning his third batting title at .329, batted .255 last season when forced to wear a heavy knee brace after suffering a partial ligament tear in April. He called his first full season as a DH "three hours of nightly hell," but now believes he knows how to handle it.
Of the decision to drop Brett in the batting order, McRae said it was time to lift the pressure of carrying the club from Brett's shoulders.
"It's always been, 'As Brett goes, so go the Royals,'" McRae said. "That doesn't have to be the case anymore. We have people who can share the responsibility. George is in great shape, and I think he feels he has something to prove. I expect him to have a good year, .280 to .300 with double figures in home runs and 80 to 100 RBIs, but he can do it as a complement to the others. He doesn't have to hit .330 and 30 home runs."