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A Royal Abuse of Power

The Royals have been powerless for almost half a century now. What gives? Joe Posnanski takes a look at the "Curse of Balboni."

Ed Zurga

Joe Posnanski has long since moved from our fair city for the bright lights of bigger media publications, but he can't seem to shake the Royals. JoePo has a new piece up on his blog about the Royals and their history of power, or lack thereof. In it, he details the power outage at Kauffman Stadium for over 40 years, and lunacy of Steve Balboni's iron grip on the franchise single-season home run record.

How astonishing is it that the Royals home run record is 36? Well there are countless ways to look at it. Here’s one: The New York Yankees have had FORTY ONE players hit 37 or more home runs in a season. The Chicago Cubs have had 27. Jim Lemon, Tony Batista, Gus Zernial and Phil Nevin have all hit 37 homers in a season. Rafael Palmeiro did it TEN TIMES. David Kingman did it three.

So, I think it’s fair to say that the Kansas City Royals home run record is one of the more astonishing in sports. From 1998 to 2007 — the Selig Power Hour Decade — 157 players hit 37-plus home runs. More than 15 per season. Obviously no Royals player was even on that list. But even more remarkably, in that absurd stretch when baseballs were flying out like planes in Atlanta, the Royals had TWO PLAYERS who hit even THIRTY homers: Dean Palmer hit 34 in 1998 and Jermaine Dye hit 33 in 2000.

Yes, that’s right. The Royals have not had a 30-home run hitter since 2000.

Think about that for a second. The Royals have had just two 30-home run hitters in the decade of the sillyball era. Here are some of the players who have hit 36 or more home runs in the silly ball era - Aaron Hill, Jayson Werth, Morgan Ensberg, Preston Wilson, Ed Sprague, Geronimo Berroa, Mark Reynolds, Rich Aurilia, Jeromy Burnitz, Dean Palmer, Phil Nevin, Tony Batista, Todd Hundley, Richard Hidalgo. They aren't all Barry Bonds superstars here. They actually have twice as many 30-home run seasons in the less home run-friendly decade of the 1980s (Balboni in '85, Brett in '85, Tartabull in '87 and Bo in '89).

Royals 30-Home Run Seasons

Steve Balboni 1985 36
Gary Gaetti 1995 35
Dean Palmer 1998 34
Danny Tartabull 1987 34
John Mayberry 1975 34
Jermaine Dye 2000 33
Bo Jackson 1989 32
Danny Tartabull 1991 31
Chili Davis 1997 30
George Brett 1985 30

Why have the Royals been so power-deficient? The stadium of course, is a big factor. Over the last decade, Royals hitters have hit just 45% of their overall home runs at home, their opponents have hit 46% of their home runs at Kauffman as opposed to their own stadium.

Royals Home Runs Royals Opponents HR
Home Road Kauffman Opp. Stadium
2013 55 57 70 85
2012 62 69 87 76
2011 53 76 68 95
2010 60 61 82 94
2009 65 79 69 97
2008 50 70 73 86
2007 49 53 79 89
2006 60 59 102 111
2005 51 75 80 98
2004 56 94 90 118
561 693 825 957
45% 55% 46% 54%

But the stadium is not a complete barrier to power. The Astrodome was notorious for being one of the toughest parks to hit a home run in, and yet they had five home run seasons better than Balboni's 36 (Jimmy Wynn in '67, Moises Alou in '98, and Jeff Bagwell in '94, '97, and '99). Dodger Stadium is a pitcher's park, and they've had six home run seasons that top Balboni (Mike Piazza in '97, Gary Sheffield in '00, Adrian Beltre in '04, Matt Kemp in '11, and Shawn Green in '01 and '02).

Posnanski illustrates the second part of the problem - player development.

The home run prospects kept on flaming out. Chris Lubanski was a 6-foot-3 outfielder who had unlimited power — our good pal, scout Art Stewart, told us we would "remember this day" when Lubanski signed and came up to take some batting practice — but he barely made it to Class AAA. The Royals drafted Brett Eibner — oh were they excited about getting Brett Eibner — a five-tool force from Arkansas. Power. Power. Power. He’s in minor league purgatory. It’s too early to make that same call about local hero Bubba Starling — one of the greatest Kansas City high school athletes ever — but at last check he was hitting about .150 in Class A ball so he’s looking pretty shaky.

The Royals have had 58 first round or sandwich picks in the June Amateur Draft. Of those, here are the ones that were taken with the thought they could develop into power hitters - Clint Hurdle, Dave Leeper, John Morris, Hugh Walker, Joe Vitiello, Juan LeBron, Dee Brown, Chris Lubanski, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Bubba Starling. That's a list of a few pretty decent hitters (Butler, Gordon, Hosmer), some athletes who never learned to hit (Walker, LeBron, Starling?), and some star-crossed guys that just didn't pan out (Hurdle, Vitiello, Brown). Also taken in those drafts? Lots and lots light-hitting catchers, speedy outfielders, "gamer" infielders, and oodles of pitchers!

Most Career Home Runs by a Player Developed by the Royals

Carlos Beltran 362
George Brett 317
Johnny Damon 235
Mike Sweeney 215
Jeff Conine 214
Frank White 160
Bo Jackson 141
Mike MacFarlane 129
Michael Tucker 125
Joe Randa 123

The Royals have a cavernous stadium, but its really no excuse in this day and age to not develop a few more 30-home run hitters now and then with one to break Balboni's record. But this organization has taken one look at that stadium and said "its hopless - let's find guys that can run and make contact and play defense." And who can blame them? Between the deep fences, the wind, the small crowds, the parking lot, social media, the Earth's magnetic field, its a wonder anyone ever hits a home run.