In 1983 the BYU baseball team played a season that would be remembered for decades, one that saw the team win the Western Athletic Conference championship and climb to become the No. 1 college team in the nation.
The 1983 team finished the season 54-11, an astounding mark that still stands as the most wins in a single season in school history. Even more impressive than the win total, or the No. 1 ranking, may be the six players from that team who went on to play Major League Baseball.
Wally Joyner was one of the most notable players from that team. He was drafted by the California Angels in the 1983 amateur draft and made his major league debut in 1986 for the same club, which later changed its name to the Anaheim Angels.
In his rookie season, Joyner was voted into the All-Star game by fans and tied for first place with Darryl Strawberry in the Home Run Derby. Joyner finished in second place for the Rookie of the Year Award, losing to the great home run hitter Jose Conseco.
Joyner later went on to play for the Kansas City Royals for four years, the San Diego Padres for four years, the Atlanta Braves for one year and finished his career where it began, with the Angels, in 2001. He is currently a hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers.
“Free at last,” Joyner said to a Los Angeles Times reporter when asked what went through his mind during his last night as a professional in a 2001 interview. “The last 1 1/2 years have been work. The pressure is off. The game is fun again, because I can watch it and boo with everyone else.”
The 1983 BYU baseball team upset the No. 1-ranked San Diego State Aztecs in Provo to win the WAC championship that year. The Cougars were ranked third at the time and lost the first of a best-of-three series with the Aztecs. The Cougars rallied in the second meeting of the two teams, despite a monstrous thunderstorm that postponed the game, and went on to win the third game to claim the WAC title.
Former player Cory Snyder remembers that game. “It was against San Diego State, and I remember when the crazy storm came and that we came back and won,” Snyder said. “Winning the WAC championship was really special that year.”
Snyder won the NCAA Freshman of the Year Award in his first year at BYU and was a three-time All-American with the Cougars. In his first three at bats in the 1983 season, his first with the team, Snyder hit three home runs off of the first three pitches he saw. He went on to play in the MLB from 1986 to 1994, his best season coming in 1987 with the Cleveland Indians when he hit 33 home runs and collected 82 runs batted in.
“It was just a time when I just enjoyed baseball,” Snyder said of the 1983 season. “I didn’t worry about anything much other than playing baseball.”
Snyder and Joyner played against each other in the pros and are friends to this day. “Wally was a great player, a great friend of mine,” Snyder recalled. “We actually have a baseball card with both of us on it from when we played in the pros.”
Following the WAC championship, the Cougars entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed but were not able to host any tournament games because there was no lighting at the old Cougar baseball field to play a night game. The Cougars were later upset in the first round by Arizona State and sweet-swinging Barry Bonds.
That BYU team established a program enriched with history. Current BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood, who played third base for the Cougars from 1985 to 1988, said the team paved the way for the state of the current baseball program.
“I think that’s the team that put BYU baseball on the national map and made it nationally relevant,” Littlewood said. “I know I was mesmerized by Cory Snyder, Wally Joyner, Rick Aguilera and the many other great players on that ’83 team, and in fact they were probably the reason I decided to go to BYU myself.”
Ralph Zobell has been covering BYU baseball since 1977 and remembers the 1983 baseball team and the unheralded amount of talent it had. He noted that the thing that made the team successful was that it came together and was well coached by Gary Pullins.
“For instance, Aguilera came to BYU as a shortstop but made the conversion to be a very successful relief pitcher,” Zobell said.
Was this the best BYU baseball team in history?
“We’ll never know, because I have great respect for the 1968 and 1971 BYU teams that made it to the College World Series and the 1958 and 1961 teams that qualified for the College World Series but never got the chance to play there because of school policy to not play on Sundays,” Zobell said. “That Sunday play rule was later changed by the NCAA … in 1961.”