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Your Balboni Chase Retrospective - Part 1: Steve Balboni, 1985

  • Part 1: Steve Balboni, 1985
  • Part 2: Short Seasons, Missed Opportunities
  • Part 3: The One that Got (Traded) Away
  • Part 4: Royals Renaissance
  • Coda: The Moose Chase
  • April 1985 arrived, looking to be a great year to be a Royals fan. The Royals had just been crowned American League West champions for the fifth time (or 5.5th, if you want to count the odd half-season championship of 1981). The rotation was full of amazing young pitchers, George Brett, after a down year, dedicated himself to being in the best shape of his life before it became a cliché, and Dan Quisenberry had just, for the second year in a row, saved more games in a season than any other reliever in the league ever had.

    And it was not a point of embarrassment that the team's single-season home run record was merely 34.

    1985 was not a time when 50-home-run seasons were expected as a matter of course. The most recent one had been in 1977 by George Foster, but that seemed a fluke. The big Hall-of-Fame bashers like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle who routinely surpassed the half-century mark were Homeric-era legends. (Yes, pun intended.) League home run leading numbers were, as often as not, below 40. And so were the single-season records for many teams.

    Team Single-Season Home Run Records as of Opening Day, 1985
    Team HR Player Year
    Yankees 61 Roger Maris 1961
    Athletics 58 Jimmie Foxx 1932
    Tigers 58 Hank Greenberg 1938
    Cubs 56 Hack Wilson 1930
    Pirates 54 Ralph Kiner 1949
    Giants 52 Willie Mays 1965
    Reds 52 George Foster 1977
    Red Sox 50 Jimmie Foxx 1938
    Twins 49 Harmon Killebrew 1964, 1969
    Orioles 49 Frank Robinson 1966
    Rangers 48 Frank Howard 1969
    Phillies 48 Mike Schmidt 1980
    Braves 47 Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron 1953, 1971
    Brewers 45 Gorman Thomas 1979
    Cardinals 43 Johnny Mize 1940
    Indians 43 Al Rosen 1953
    Dodgers 43 Duke Snider 1956
    Angels 39 Reggie Jackson 1982
    Padres 38 Nate Colbert 1972
    Astros 37 Jimmy Wynn 1967
    White Sox 37 Dick Allen 1972
    Mets 37 Dave Kingman 1976
    Royals 34 John Mayberry 1975
    Expos 32 Andre Dawson 1983
    Blue Jays 30 John Mayberry 1980
    Mariners 29 Willie Horton 1979

    The Royals weren't in last place. Granted, two of the teams below them were more recent expansion teams (1977), but the Expos joined the league at the same time as the Royals, and the other two teams that joined with them already had more. Moreover, five other teams were not so far above the Royals in that department, none of them having yet had a 40-homer season.

    So it was relatively without fanfare that Steve Balboni approached John Mayberry's team record. As the Royals battled the Angels for the top spot in the A. L. West, no newspapers made note of the approaching team-record-breaking event. The Kansas City Times, September 16, 1985, had this to say about Balboni's 32nd home run, just two shy of Mayberry with 21 games left to the season:

    Steve Balboni had a sacrifice fly and a bases-empty homer in the opener (ed - the Royals played a double-header that day), giving him a career high 79 RBIs

    Yes, his career best in RBIs was more noteworthy than the fact that he was just two away from tying a club record. The Star didn't even say that much, noting only the facts of the game.

    Five days later, "Bones" hit # 33. It was the headline of the game story - because it was a grand slam which put the Royals in line for a win over the Twins after being swept in four prior games by the Mariners. Here, the Mayberry chase was finally noted...briefy. From the Times (09/21/1985):

    [The home run] was also his 33rd of the season, putting him one behind John Mayberry and the club season record.

    Even tying the record one game later didn't rate more than a minor mention in the context of the game recap. From the Star, 09/22/1985:

    Steve Balboni provided the thunder - clapping (sic) a three-run eigth-inning rally that tied the game at 5-5 by unloading his club-record-tying 34th home run against Twins' reliever Mark Davis.

    ...

    Balboni then worked Davis to a 1-1 count before unloading home run No. 34, tying John Mayberry's single-season club record set in 1975.

    That's IT. I think it's safe to say that there were no fan countdowns to seeing the Mayberry mark broken.

    That said, the big day was indeed given its proper due. The September 27th edition of the Star had a prominent article on the front page of the Sports section, "Balboni's 35th Homer Breaks Team Record", with a little "Bye-bye to Mayberry" sub-heading. Interestingly enough, Royals Stadium (now Kauffman) apparently had a homer-suppressing reputation even back in that less homer-happy era, as the article notes:

    Balboni is particularly pleased with his record at Royals Stadium (16 home runs at home, breaking Mayberry's 14 - ed), a facility that has frustrated power hitters through the years. "That's why the club record is as low as it is," Balboni said. A lot of other club records are a lot higher. A lot of them are 40 or more. It's a lot easier to hit them on the road."

    The Royals' low record, while not as embarrassing as it is today, was clearly still notable to some.

    The Star followed that up with a full-page celebration of Steve Balboni, including a detailed listing of every one of his 35 home runs of the year, in the Sunday sports section of September 29.

    After that, though, it was back to homers just being homers. Perhaps if the local reporters knew that no Royal for at least thirty-one more years would surpass the number 36, that final home run of the year, on October 3 against the Angels, might have gotten more attention for extending and establishing the new record. But with the team record still ahead of three other teams' and just one behind that of the Mets, White Sox and Astros, the soon-to-be-crowned World Champions' position in baseball history was looking quite comfortable.

    This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.