Sunday, January 17, 2010

First TTM of 2010 - Group of 79 Project - Steve Balboni

What a great way to get this project moving again. I really enjoyed Steve Balboni when I was younger. Keep in mind that a lot of my enjoyment of players in the early 1980's came from playing Statis-Pro Baseball. I lived in a rural area and we didn't get cable television in our house until 1989. The only televised baseball I got to see were Phillies games and way back then we didn't have the newfangled interleague play. Nonetheless, I have fond, fond memories of Balboni's incredible power. Besides that, this was the quickest turnaround time on a TTM I've had. I sent it out on a Friday and got it back Wednesday of the following week.

Balboni is one of those "What if?" players. On the one hand, what if he played now? I don't think he's a major leaguer now. Career .293 OBP. Even Andre Dawson had better (Aw, snap!). But cow holy, could Balboni clout a ball. Even with that sorry OBP, his career OPS+ was 101. That's some serious power, especially when you factor in he played most of his career in Kansas City. Which is the other big, "What if?". What if he played in a more home run friendly stadium? Only 48 of his career 181 home runs came at Kaufmann Stadium.

Balboni was drafted out of Eckerd College in the second round of the 1978 draft by the New York Yankees. He struggled in his first season as a professional, hitting just .205 with a single home run in 62 games. Ugh. From there, though, he got into the swing of things. He led the league with 26 homers and 91 RBI at Fort Lauderdale in his first full season as a pro. Moved up to the Southern League in 1980 and again led the league in homers and RBI. He made it three leagues in a row, three years in a row as he pounded the International League for 33 homers and 98 RBI in 1981.

With his fourth consecutive home run title in 1982 (in only half a season of play) he earned some playing time with the Yankees. He did not fare well and repeated the scenario in 1983 (minus the home run title. He "only" hit 27 homers in 84 games at Columbus) - devastated AAA pitching, struggled in the majors.

The writing was on the wall for Balboni as a Yankee in 1983. A young upstart by the name of Don Mattingly had been converted from an outfielder to a first baseman by the Yankees and the Yankees opted to go with his high average, contact approach (Mattingly didn't develop home run power until he hit the majors). The Yanks dealt Balboni to the Royals in the offseason.

The Royals made him their starting firstsacker and he continued with his home run hitting, belting 20 or more in four straight seasons. Balboni slammed 36 home runs in 1985 which is STILL the Kansas City Royals single season home run record.

The end came fast and hard, at least from the major league standpoint. Released from the Royals, he signed with the Mariners. The Mariners sent him back to the Yankees who then released him following a season where he hit .192. The Texas Rangers picked up Balboni and he spent the next three seasons in the minors, winning two more home run titles (how many players can you name that won six home run crowns on ANY level?). Balboni went out with a bang in his last professional game, as a designated hitter for the Texas Rangers. Balboni finished his career with a 3 for 4 game.

A prodigious yet forgotten power hitter, it's a great honor to have an autographed card of his.

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