Steve Balboni is the strong, silent type. He's so strong he hit 28 home runs in only 438 at bats, 10 of them over the course of 14 games between June 23 and July 6. He's so silent that when he got married last summer he didn't tell anybody. He never wanted to be called Bye-Bye Balboni in New York, but when the Royals said "Hello, Balboni," he responded by helping them win a division title.
Balboni ended up with 77 RBIs, and he played a nice first base for someone so big: 6'3", 225 pounds. He's given to periodic slumps—his nine strikeouts in consecutive plate appearances tied the record set by the immortal Adolfo Phillips—but the Royals are patient.
"I think he's going to have an even better year," says Kansas City manager Dick Howser. "I think he's capable of winning the home-run title and driving in 100 runs if I can give him 500 at bats."
Bonesy, as he's now called, is also very popular with his teammates, who admire the way he goes about his business. They say he's even come out of his shell. "He's the kind of man my father always admired," says George Brett. "The one who believes that if you don't have anything good to say about a person, don't say it. He's shy, but he's a great guy, and I think he'll be even better now that he's more comfortable with us."
The Royals are banking on improvement from their young players, and also on good health; they made only one change of consequence, acquiring veteran catcher Jim Sundberg from the Brewers. Last year, for various reasons, Willie Wilson, Frank White and Brett all spent a substantial amount of time on the sidelines.
Brett's yearlong presence is essential, and to that end he engaged in an off-season conditioning program, getting down to 185 pounds. "People are going crazy because I worked out for the first time in my career," he says. "Big deal. A lot of guys workout."
With Balboni and Brett at the corners, and White and Onix Concepcion at second and short, respectively, the Royals have the best infield in the division, which may not be saying much. Wilson is the key man in the outfield, and he's still the same dangerous leadoff man. Darryl Motley may have maxed out at .284 with 70 RBIs, but Pat Sheridan (.282, 53 RBIs) should get better. Hal McRae and Jorge Orta do the DHing.
Nobody can be sure how good the Royals' starting pitching is. Bud Black was one of the best lefthanders in the AL, and Charlie Leibrandt finally got people to spell his name right. But Mark Gubicza, Bret Saberhagen and Danny Jackson are all sophomores, and who knows what jinxes lie ahead? Sundberg's experience should help pull them through. Then Dan Quisenberry arrives.
All in all, the Royals are a good, sound, solid, unspectacular, workmanlike ball club that will be there at the end. The strong, silent type.