There is nothing not to love about Steve Balboni, at least for me.
First of all, I love native New Englanders in baseball. It is not the fertile prospect market that the South or California is. So when the Massachusetts born and New Hampshire raised Balboni made it to the show, that was a good thing.
He also had a great nickname. “Bye Bye Balboni”! It had great alliteration and referred to how far his home runs flew.
Balboni was also a classic slugger from a different age. He was pudgy, he was bald and always looked older than his age. If you told me he was in a beer softball league and not major league baseball, I would believe it.
He would swing from his heels and either smack a homer or strike out. And between 1985 and 2001, he was the unreachable bar. I will explain that later.
Balboni was drafted by the Yankees in 1978, always awkward for a Native New Englander. To be fair, he was drafted from Eckerd College in Florida.
The Yankees of the late 1970s and early 1980s was productive for producing first basemen. Don Mattingly made it through the farm system. So did Balboni and Fred McGriff.
With Balboni crushing the ball in Triple A in 1981, 1982 and 1983, he clearly was punching a ticket to the majors as a right handed slugging first baseman and DH. But with the parent team already employing Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly and Don Baylor, there was no room for Balboni.
After the 1983 season, the Yankees send Balboni and Roger Erickson to Kansas City for reliever Mike Armstrong, who gave the Yankees 1/2 a good season, and a minor league catcher named Duane Dewey.
It was a steal for the Royals who cashed in on 28 homers his first year in KC. He gave the Royals a thumper in the middle of their lineup who became a fan favorite and helped Kansas City win the Division. He even finished 19th in the MVP vote.
In 1985, he launched a career high 36 homers. Balboni also struck out a league high 166 times, but hey! He was a crowd pleaser. Either Royals fans cheered for his homer or the opposing team cheered for his strikeout. He had 4 multiple home run games including launching a game tying 11th inning homer off of Rollie Fingers in a 4-3 win over the Brewers.
In the post season, he participated in the greatest and most bizarre rally in Royals history.
Jorge Orta reached on the Don Denkinger blown call at first base. But that would have been an obscure footnote if Balboni did not follow it with a single to put the tying and winning runs on base.
Onix Concepcion came in to run for Balboni and scored on Dane Iorg’s single to force Game 7.
Balboni reached base 3 times, driving in 2 runs in the Royals 11-0 game 7 clincher.
Over the next bunch of years, he continued to crush homers and strike out a ton as he bounced around between the Royals, Mariners, back to the Yankees and then to the Rangers farm system with a brief cameo in Arlington.
He continued to stay in baseball, working for the Giants organization ironically when they played Kansas City in the 2014 World Series.
But he also was a statistical oddity for a while. He hit 36 homers for the champion Royals in 1985. No other World Champion for the rest of the 20th century had a player who topped Balboni’s 36 homers.
Not the 86 Mets nor the 87 Twins. Certainly not the 88 Dodgers. Canseco was hurt for much of 1989 so he didn’t pass 36.
With all the homers flying out of the yard post strike, no champion topped Balboni. The Torre Yankees never had the big masher with Bernie Williams tending to lead the team in the high 20s low 30s. So until Luis Gonzalez clobbered his 57 for the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, Balboni was the champion standard.
Several teams have passed the Balboni mark since, but he remains a beloved player in Royals history and for anyone who grew up with baseball in the 1980’s.
He was unpolished and not exactly nuanced. He looked like a regular guy who swung for the fences each time… and got a World Series ring along the way.