By In Stuff

Bye Bye Balboni

Well, the time is upon us. Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas has 35 home runs which means he is on the verge of finally, finally, finally, finally breaking the most absurd record in baseball today.

He — God willing — will soon break the Kansas City’s home run record of 36 … held by Steve Balboni for 32 years.

Yeah, that’s 36 homers for a WHOLE SEASON.

I went looking into the archives to find out how long I’ve been writing about this ludicrous record. It turns out I have been writing about it for twenty years.

Here’s a column I wrote in 1998 begging Dean Palmer — DEAN PALMER — to please just break this record already.

(It should be said that Palmer did hit 34 home runs that year, coming just about as close as anyone. The most home runs for the Royals since  Balboni was actually Gary Gaetti in a shortened 1995 season. Gaetti, given the full season, undoubtedly would have broken the record. Then, if the Royals home run record was, say, 39, held by Gary Gaetti, I’m not sure that would be a significant improvement.

* * *

February 28, 1998

BASEBALL CITY, Fla. – This is a pathetic record. It’s embarrassing, really. No Royals player has ever hit more than the puny 36 home runs Steve Balboni hit in 1985. Thirty-six home runs, that’s the team record. Geez, Mark McGwire will have that many by June.

(Editor’s note: This was actually a pretty good prediction — McGwire hit his 38th homer on July 11).

This is the year that record must go down. Dean Palmer is the man.Dean’s got power, no doubt about it,” Royals manager Tony Muser says. “He’s got real power. He’s got great bat speed. ”

Well, let’s hope so. It’s time somebody wiped this record off the books. It’s pitiful.There are guys out there, McGwire, Ken Griffey, Frank Thomas, who think of hitting 70 home runs, 80 home runs, they’re hitting buildings, smashing car windows, they’re scaring small children, there are people in baseball who want to change the rules, make the ball heavier, raise the mound, and meanwhile the Royals are still trying to break into the 40-home run club.

(Editor’s note: Notice no mention of Bonds here).

OK, in the old days you could understand. Kauffman Stadium, back when it was called Royals Stadium, used to be bigger than Idaho. They had great land races in there. President Carter declared it a state in 1977. John Mayberry, who could hit a baseball so hard it would actually hire an attorney, never hit more than 34 home runs in a season in that old cattle farm, and then he would complain to everybody.

“Every year, Mayberry wanted to move in those fences,” Frank White says. “He’d tell anyone who would listen. They were stealing home runs from him, all that. We all felt that way. … I had more than 400 doubles in my career. In another park, I’ll bet 70 of those would have been home runs.”

That’s fine. The Royals made up for it. Between 1975 and 1982, some Royals player led the American League in either doubles or triples every year but one. The Royals had 64 inside-the-park home runs in that old place. Wait, you want more stats, I’ve got the brand new media guide right here (Hey, did you know that Bob Oliver had six hits in a game in 1969?)

Point is, they’ve moved in the fences since then. They’ve lowered the fences. What’s the deal here?

“It’s the water display,” groundskeeper George Toma says.

“The grass makes it harder to hit home runs,” reliever Jeff Montgomery “With turf there’s more humidity.”

“That makes sense to me,” general manager Herk Robinson says.

“(Bad word), I don’t know,” manager Tony Muser says.

Well, here’s the real secret. The Royals have not had any power for while. There’s your story. Stop the presses.The Royals leading home run hitters the last four years have been Bob Hamelin (cut), Gary Gaetti (ancient), Craig Paquette (who?) and Chili Davis (old enough to be Gaetti’s father). 

Good hitters, but murderer’s row they ain’t (though recent film footage seems to show a player on that 1927 Yankees team who looks like Chili Davis).

(Editor’s note: Man, I wrote a lot of cheap one-liners back then. Of course, this was long before Twitter when you could unload all of your bad-dum-bump jokes and get them out of your system. I guess I was going for Shecky Greene vibe).

This time around, they do have the guy, Palmer, who hit 38 home runs with Texas two years ago hit a home run so far off Jeff Montgomery last year, that it actually changed Montgomery’s career.

“I watched that ball go about 20 rows into the bleachers, and I thought ‘Hey, I better make some adjustments here,’ ” Montgomery says.

Yes, it’s exciting and different to have an actual power hitter, a guy who in batting practice yanks pitches so hard the ball turns left in midair, who hits fly balls that jet stream out of the ballpark. The Royals have some other guys with decent pop, Jeff King, Jeff Conine, Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Gordon, all the Jeffs. But Palmer has more power and has a real shot at this thing.

Now, is it fair to ask a new guy to just come into Kansas City and break a sad team record for home runs? No, probably not. But this isn’t about fairness.This is about pride. Hey, if this record lasts much longer, they might just throw the Royals out of the American League.

(Editor’s note: This was when the Royals were considering moving to the National League. Topical!).

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19 Responses to Bye Bye Balboni

  1. Matt Williams says:

    Boy I hope you didn’t put a hex on Mike Moustakas.

  2. Rob Smith says:

    What’s the deal with the multiple “it’s the grass”, “it’s the water fountain” quotes? Are you trying to make me think I’m insane? Do I have a browser display issue? I guess I picked the wrong weekend to stop sniffing glue.

  3. Bryan says:

    1975 John Mayberry, 23 road HR, 34 total HR, that does break the Royals HR record of 27 that was held by 1970 Bob Oliver
    1989 Bo Jackson, 21 road HR, 32 total HR
    2017 Mike Moustakas. 21+ road HR, 35+ total HR
    *
    1997 Chili Davis, 21 home HR, 30 total HR
    1998 Dean Palmer, 21 home HR, 34 total HR
    *
    That’s all the seasons with 20+ HR by a Royal either on the road or at home.
    Information provided by baseball-reference.com Play Index.

    • KHAZAD says:

      Both of the seasons with 20 home HR were in the era (1995-2003) when the fences were moved in 10 feet.

      No opposing player has ever hit 20 home runs there in a career. The top 4 in home runs against the Royals (Arod,Thome,Konerko,Palmeiro) have a total of 185 HR against the Royals, but only 73 of those (39%) in KC, 112 elsewhere.

  4. Chris H says:

    I was a high-school kid in Columbus when Steve Balboni was at AAA there, for three seasons. He was the perfect minor-league player. He was a circus act. I swear we had been hearing about his exploits in Class A and AA ball for years, so like Guffman, we couldn’t wait for his arrival. Unlike Guffman, he didn’t disappoint. BR says he hit 33, 32 and 27 homers in three seasons in Columbus, spanning about 1200 at-bats. He was three true outcomes before it was a thing, and we ate it up. He hit them high and far, or he whiffed mightily, or sometimes he walked (in truth, he was two-and-a-half outcomes). And since it was before three true outcomes was a thing, it meant we got him for three years.

    The old Columbus stadium had a brick wall from its original configuration that was way beyond the left field fence – it was 457′ down the line. Supposedly Josh Gibson is the only player to have hit a ball over it. Balboni once hit one that was reputed to have gone out; no one could find the ball. It seems it got lodged in a tree that was planted between the fences; still, that’s pretty good company to be in.

    Granted, “the perfect minor-league player” isn’t really the guy you want at the top of your leaderboard. But a little part of me will be sad when Steve Balboni is bumped from the KC record books.

    • Bryan says:

      Hal McRae still keeping it old school, franchise records for Extra Base Hits in a season, Moustakas is at 53:
      *
      80 – Mets, 2006 Carlos Beltran, 1989 Howard Johnson
      83 – Marlins, 2007 Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla
      84 – Rays, 2003 Aubrey Huff; Padres, 1996 Steve Finley; Twins, 1964 Tony Oliva
      86 – Royals, 1977 Hal McRae
      *
      87 – Brewers, 2007 Prince Fielder, 1982 Robin Yount
      88 – Angels, 2002 Garret Anderson
      89 – Nationals, 2006 Alfonso Soriano
      90 – Pirates, 1973 Willie Stargell
      *
      92 – Braves, 1969 Hank Aaron; Reds, 1962 Frank Robinson; Red Sox, 1938 Jimmie Foxx
      93 – Mariners, 1997 Ken Griffey Jr
      94 – Astros, 2001 Lance Berkman; Dodgers, 1930 Babe Herman
      96 – Orioles, 2013 Chris Davis
      97 – Rangers, 1998 Juan Gonzalez
      99 – Jays, 2000 Carlos Delgado; White Sox, 1998 Albert Belle
      *
      100 – D’Backs, 2001 Luis Gonzalez; Athletics, 1932 Jimmie Foxx
      103 – Cubs, 2001 Sammy Sosa; Indians, 1995 Albert Belle; Cardinals, 1948 Stan Musial; Tigers, 1937 Hank Greenberg
      105 – Rockies, 2001 Todd Helton
      107 – Giants, 2001 Barry Bonds; Phillies, 1930 Chuck Klein
      119 – Yankees, 1921 Babe Ruth
      *
      Balboni 2nd in Strikeouts with 166 in 1985 to Bo Jackson’s 172 in 1989 as well as soon to be 2nd in HR.

  5. Dan Kiple says:

    I’m 70 and grew up with the A’s, Texans/Chiefs and Royals. My fondest memories from the KC Star were the columns by G.W. Gusewell and you, Mr. Joe. You have a special gift for sports writing. You connect a reader with the humanity of your subjects. Thanks, again❤️

  6. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    No surprise that Barry Bonds wouldn’t show up in a column about home runs from spring, 1998. Junior and Big Mac had both been in the high 50s in 1997, and Frank Thomas was just completing his Ted Williams years, just before settling into his George Brett years. In 1998, Barry, though a superstar, hadn’t really established himself as an elite-level power hitter, at least by the standards of the late 1990s. His high water mark was “only” 46, and that happened back in 1993. Funny thing is that 2001 is the only year Barry even made it past 49 (though his performance that year ensured that he would average, at best, one hittable pitch per game thereafter).

  7. Jeff says:

    It’s like the Steroid Era completely passed over the hitters for the Royals. Were they not aware of it? As a KC fan, I hoped they would hire Jose Canseco as the hitting coach so someone would finally surpass this pathetic record.

    • E.H. says:

      Oh, they were aware of it. The Royals were being so mismanaged by their cheap new owner, David Glass, that they couldn’t hit multiple home runs if their lives depended on it. They did get a few roid boys on their roster. One that immediately comes to mind is a catcher from the S.F. Giants, who was suspended before he even got to the Royals. Another one is KC’s ALL TIME worst contract player, Jose Guillen. Yep, good ole’ Jose is mentioned in the Mitchell report and even after that the Feds caught a boxload of HGH being sent to Guillen. He never played in the MLB after that.

      Oh, by the way KC paid Guillen 36 million for 3 years and he ended up getting about 300 hits. That comes down to about 36K a hit doesn’t it?

  8. MikeN says:

    When you wrote this, the record was only 12 years old. It’s been 19 years since you wrote it.

    • MikeN says:

      Who writes about a record that has held for just 12 years?

    • Bryan says:

      Writing tends to focus on recent events. The Royals enter the league in 1969. 1969-1992 there are only 46 seasons of 40+ HR:
      *
      7 Braves: Hank Aaron x3, Darrell Evans, Davey Johnson, Jeff Burroughs, Dale Murphy
      5 Athletics: Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire x2, Jose Canseco x2
      5 Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski x2, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Rice, Tony Armas
      5 Reds: Tony Perez, Johnny Bench x2, George Foster x2
      4 Cubs: Billy Williams, Dave Kingman, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg
      *
      3 Tigers: Darrell Evans, Cecil Fielder x2
      3 Rangers: Frank Howard x2, Juan Gonzalez
      3 Phillies: Mike Schmidt x3
      *
      2 Brewers: Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie
      2 Blue Jays: Jesse Barfield, George Bell
      2 Twins: Harmon Killebrew x2
      2 Pirates: Willie Stargell x2
      2 Giants: Willie McCovey, Kevin Mitchell
      *
      1 Yankees: Reggie Jackson
      12 teams with 0: Orioles, Angels, White Sox, Indians, Astros, Royals, Dodgers, Expos, Mets, Padres, Mariners and Cardinals
      *
      Only 10 of 26 franchises have more than 1 player with a 40+ HR season. Here are the recent events leading up to that 1998 article:
      *
      1993: Rockies and Marlins are formed, Mariners and White Sox get their first since 1969 with Ken Griffey Jr and Frank Thomas. Giants: Barry Bonds, Rangers: Juan Gonzalez’s 2nd with team, Braves: David Justice
      *
      1994: Because of the strikes only Griffey’s 2nd with Mariners and Matt Williams for the Giants
      *
      1995: 18 games lost to the strike, Albert Belle and Dante Bichette are the 1st for Indians and Rockies, Thomas’ 2nd with White Sox and Jay Buhner for Mariners
      *
      1996: 17 players hit 40+ HR, breaking the record of 8 set in 1961. Greg Vaughn gets traded and doesn’t hit 40 for any team. Marlins, Mets, Padres and Orioles get their first since 1969 with Gary Sheffield, Todd Hundley, Ken Caminiti and Brady Anderson. The Rockies have 3 players, 2 for the Mariners, 1 for the Cubs, White Sox, Giants, Red Sox, Rangers, Indians and Athletics.
      *
      1997: 12 players hit 40+ HR. Mark McGwire gets traded and doesn’t hit 40 for any team. Astros and Dodgers get their first since 1969 with Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. The Rockies have 3 players, 2 for the Mariners, 1 for the Yankees, Giants, Indians and Rangers.
      *
      1998: Joe writes the article before the season. The Cardinals, Royals, Angels and Expos haven’t had a 40+ HR season since 1969. The D’Backs and Rays haven’t played a game yet. The Orioles, Astros, White Sox, Twins, Marlins, Dodgers, Mets, Phillies, Pirates and Padres have one player with one or more 40+ HR seasons.
      *
      Those cursed Royals who only had George Brett instead of Brady Anderson, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Harmon Killebrew, Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Todd Hundley, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell or Ken Caminiti.
      *
      1998+: The Cardinals get two 40+ HR seasons each from McGwire and Jim Edmonds along with 6 from Albert Pujols. The Expos get two from Vladimir Guerrero and the Nationals get one each from Alfonso Soriano and Bryce Harper. The Angels get two from Troy Glaus and one each from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. The expansion D’Backs get one each from Luis Gonzalez and Mark Reynolds. The expansion Rays get one from Carlos Pena.
      *
      Meanwhile the Yankees remain cursed, they haven’t had a 40+ HR season from a player they drafted or signed as an amateur free agent since the Royals entered the league. Jeff Bagwell, David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton and others don’t play for the team that drafted them in their first MLB game but first MLB game is a lot quicker to find. Team in first MLB game (can be before 1969) for players who hit 40+ HR in a season since 1969:
      *
      9 Braves: Hank Aaron, Darrell Evans, Dale Murphy, David Justice, Vinny Castilla, Javy Lopez, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Jermaine Dye
      8 Athletics: Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Tony Batista, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Carter, Josh Donaldson
      8 Rangers: Jeff Burroughs, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Carlos Pena, Travis Hafner, Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Davis
      7 Brewers: Gorman Thomas, Greg Vaughn, Gary Sheffield, Nelson Cruz, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis
      7 Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli, Ben Oglivie, Jim Rice, Ellis Burks, Brady Anderson, Mo Vaughn
      *
      6 Astros: Ken Caminiti, Luis Gonzalez, Jeff Bagwell, Phil Nevin, Richard Hidalgo, Lance Berkman
      6 Reds: Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Adam Dunn, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Hamilton, Todd Frazier
      5 Angels: Dante Bichette, Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout
      5 Blue Jays: Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Cecil Fielder, Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado
      5 Nationals: Andre Dawson, Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero, Bryce Harper
      *
      4 Dodgers: Frank Howard, Mike Piazza, Paul Konerko, Adrian Beltre
      4 Giants: Willie McCovey, George Foster, Dave Kingman, Matt Williams
      4 Indians: Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Richie Sexson
      3 Mariners: Ken Griffey, Tino Martinez, Alex Rodriguez
      3 Phillies: Mike Schmidt, Ryne Sandberg, Ryan Howard
      3 Pirates: Willie Stargell, Tony Armas, Barry Bonds
      3 Twins: Harmon Killebrew, David Ortiz, Brian Dozier
      *
      2 Cubs: Billy Williams, Rafael Palmeiro
      2 Marlins: Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton
      2 Mets: Kevin Mitchell, Todd Hundley
      2 Orioles: Davey Johnson, Jose Bautista
      2 Rockies: Todd Helton, Nolan Arenado
      2 Yankees: Jay Buhner, Alfonso Soriano
      *
      1 Cardinals: Albert Pujols
      1 D’Backs: Mark Reynolds
      1 Padres: Derrek Lee
      1 Royals: Carlos Beltran
      1 Tigers: Curtis Granderson
      1 White Sox: Frank Thomas
      0 Rays
      *
      Information provided by baseball-reference.com Play Index.

  9. rdb says:

    Joe,

    Fine – you can have a better single-season HR record for the Royals. I’m less sanguine about never reading you writing about Steve Balboni again. I am a fan of yours, and I am also a fan of Balboni. Hands down, one of the most fun deeply flawed baseball players of my time. (Balboni, not you.)

    rdb

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