So the Royals have this home-run record, and it has somehow survived for three decades.
The mark has lasted through 100-loss seasons, and it has endured through American League pennants and championship parades. It has lasted through the Steroid Era (how? we’re not quite sure) and it has persisted through a nine-year period in which the franchise brought its fences in 10 feet to juice up the power numbers.
It has survived four full presidential administrations, and the start of another. The record is old enough to be a doctor or an adult with a mortgage and a young family.
At this point, of course, you are expecting to hear the name Steve Balboni, the follicly-challenged, mustachioed slugger who clubbed 36 homers in 1985 and etched himself into franchise history. Nearly 32 years later, the Royals are still waiting for somebody to break Balboni’s record. But this is not that story. This is about the Royals’ other embarrassing home run record.
In 1987, the Royals finished 83-79 and logged a second-place finish in the American League West. They drew 2,392,471 fans that season. The memory of the 1985 World Series was still fresh.
The Royals also hit 168 homers as a team, the 12th most in the American League, yet the most in franchise history. And now, nearly three decades later, the record still stands.
Never mind that 21 different franchises hit more than 168 homers last season, or that 27 major-league clubs have team records that surpass 200 homers. Never mind that only the San Diego Padres (177 homers) and Pittsburgh Pirates (171) have team records in the neighborhood of the Royals’ 168.
The record, like Balboni’s individual season mark, stands as a testament to both the difficulty of hitting a home run at Kauffman Stadium, one of the largest parks in baseball, and the Royals’ inability to draft, develop (or hold onto) power hitters over the last 30 years.
But amid a sluggish beginning to the season, there exists an interesting scenario: The 2017 Royals may finally be in position to break their other home-run record.
“We wanted to add a bigger power component to our lineup,” Royals manager Ned Yost said last week. “It’s been a bigger part of our game than it has been in the past.”
As the Royals began a four-game series Monday at Yankee Stadium, they had cranked 47 homers in 43 games, including eight during a three-game series last weekend in Minnesota. The total put them on pace for 177 homers in 162 games, and that was before rookie Jorge Bonifacio roped a solo homer to left in the third inning Monday night.
Much of the load has been carried by Salvador Perez (11 homers) and Mike Moustakas (10). Both players entered Monday on pace to break Balboni’s club record. And designated hitter Brandon Moss has eight homers after an anemic start in April.
But some of the contributions have come from surprising places. Whit Merrifield has four homers. Drew Butera has two. After homering Monday, Bonifacio has five in 26 games, including three in his last four starts.
What’s even more surprising, perhaps, is that the Royal are on pace to break a club record while receiving just six total homers from Eric Hosmer (four), Lorenzo Cain (one), Jorge Soler (one) and Alex Gordon (zero) through 43 games.
For now, the increased power has not resulted in more run production. The Royals entered Monday averaging just 3.37 runs per game, the fewest in the major leagues. Their 47 homers were tied for 19th in baseball, while their on-base percentage (.293) and overall slugging percentage (.368) both ranked 28th.
The Royals’ pace could slow, of course. Their opportunity for a team record in homers could crash should the front office elect to trade a slew of possible free agents before the trade deadline, a list that includes Moustakas.
But after 30 years, Yost believes it’s possible that the power can hold up. Moustakas and Perez are on pace for career highs in home runs. Hosmer, Cain and Soler could add more as the season progresses. Bonifacio has been a pleasant surprise.
“You just kind of grow into it,” Yost said. “You grow into that. You understand your power a little bit more and how to use it.”
For now, the Royals are accessing their power more often. They are still hopeful it can turn into more runs.