In 1985, Steve Balboni hit 36 homers and the Royals won the World Series. Neither has been the same since.
Thanks to Carlos Pena, the Tampa Bay Rays’ single-season home run record now stands at 46, meaning that every American League team has had a player hit more than 45 home runs in a season. Every National League team has had a 45-homer hitter except for the Marlins (42, by Gary Sheffield in 1996) and the Mets (41, by a number of players). Twenty-nine out of thirty major league teams, including every recent expansion team, has enjoyed at least one 40-homer season.
The thirtieth team is the Royals, whose list looks like this:
Year Player HR
1985 Steve Balboni 36
1995 Gary Gaetti 35
1975 John Mayberry 34
1987 Danny Tartabull 34
1998 Dean Palmer 34
Only five other times has a Royal hit even 30 homers in a season, most recently by Jermaine Dye, who hit
Balboni’s impact, I’m happy to say, reverberated around baseball. From 1986 to 2000 no team won the World Series with a player that hit 36 or more home runs that year on the roster, even though 43 such teams made the playoffs. I wrote a whimsical column on The Curse of the Balboni for ESPN.com during the 2000 playoffs. Unfortunately, just as The Curse was starting to gain traction – there were a few references to it in the mainstream media the following postseason – the Diamondbacks broke it (along with the more well-recognized curse of the Ex-Cub Factor) that October.
The Royals’ curse, however, continues. And in a perverse way, it gives us Royals fans something more to root for. Maybe the Royals won’t make the playoffs this year, but there’s always the chance that we’ll get a lot more excited than we ought to be about someone’s 37th homer of the season. Maybe it will be Gordon. Maybe it will be Billy Butler. Maybe Jose Guillen will surprise us all. Maybe we’ll have to wait until Mike Moustakas arrives, or for the college slugger the Royals will select with their first pick this year. Maybe the first Royal to hit 37 homers still waits to be born. But eventually it will happen. It must happen. Steve Balboni, you’ve been put on notice: your reign of terror will eventually come to an end.
(I hope you all liked that segue at the top of this item, by the way. I can’t be the only one who read The Westing Game in high school, can I?)