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.

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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!).