Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reason #5: The Record.

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 33 in 2000. It’s pathetic, really. The Royals are about to start their 40th season, and Steve Balboni is their most prolific power hitter ever? Blame the ballpark if you want, but Kauffman Stadium was actually one of the best home-run parks in the majors from about 1996 to 2004, when the Royals moved the power alleys in ten feet. Unfortunately you only saw that effect on display when the Royals were in the field, which is why those power alleys were moved back.

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 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?)


Gaus said...

5th grade. I think I still have my copy somewhere. What a great book.

Anonymous said...

I loved The Westing Game, but darned if I recognize the reference.

Anonymous said...

Never mind. I read #5 first, and then went up the page to read # 4, so I didn't get the segue then - now I do.

The Westing Game rocks.

Anonymous said...

There is a Royals record that is worse than this one - RBIs in a game. It's been done numerous times, but the record is still 7. In and of itself, that's not that horrible, but the fact that Jerry Grote (JERRY FRICKIN GROTE) was the first to do so has appalled me ever since.

I too, will irrationaly applaud when somebody finally hits #37, but I'll applaud even louder when somebody gets an 8 RBI game.

KCDC said...

I feel like an idiot, but I must know where I missed the westing game reference.

Anonymous said...

kcdc, during the reading of Sam Westing's will, each section of the will begins with the number of that section, in ordinal form: "First", "Second", "Third", "Fourth" all the way through "Nineteenth" I think. The third section, the last sentence is, "The fortune goes to whoever finds the" with no noticeable terminator to the sentence - during the reading of the will, a joke is made at that point by a character later revealed to have been Sam Westing in disguise. The sixteen potential heirs are then handed pieces to a puzzle (of sorts), and operate on the assumption that what they are supposed to find is the answer to the puzzle.

Only later, after the puzzle has been solved but no real resolution appears to have been reached, does one of the participants realize that the sentence at the end of the third section wasn't finished, and deduces, correctly, that the conclusion of that sentence is the word "Fourth" which began the next section - the winner is "the one who finds the fourth", i.e., the fourth identity of Sam Westing.

In the same manner, Rany ended the "Reason # 4" blog post with "he'll be the one to finally break" and finished the sentence with the title of this blog post, "The Record".

I didn't recognize it until I read the # 4 article and saw the ending; originally I read this article and didn't realize what he meant.

Nathan Hall said...

Part of the problem in Kansas City is that the Royals have by and large made a lack of power part of their identity. Young hitters in the organization are taught to take the ball the opposite field to the exclusion of pulling it for power. Ryan Lefebvre says the Royals hitting coach wants all the players (regardless of their natural proclivities and abilities) to start every plate appearance looking for a pitch on the outer half of the plate. Paul Splittorff declares just about everyone a "right-center left-center hitter with gap power" and the team on the whole is obsessed with the "little things," even though the reason they win 60-70 games every year is that they don't do the big things like hitting homers and striking out batters.