Biancalana. Doesn't that have a nice lilt to it? Go ahead. Divide it into syllables and say it out loud: Bi-an-ca-la-na. Sounds like a crisp, white wine. Excuse me, but might I have a bottle of Biancalana, please? Buddy Biancalana. That's a great name, isn't it? You want to know his real name? Roland Americo Biancalana Jr. How can someone named Anthony Irwin Kornheiser not root for someone named Roland Americo Biancalana Jr.?
You know, it hasn't always been easy being on the Biancalana Bus, no sir. Buddy hasn't exactly been Kansas City's answer to Honus Wagner. In his brief major league career -- 156 games over slivers of two seasons and chunks of two more -- Biancalana's batting average is .194, a nifty number for a weekend bowler, but more or less underwater for a major league baseball player. This season, he jolted the old horsehide at a .188 clip. Numbers like that tend to make a brief career briefer. Excuse me, but have you considered getting a day job?
When players slam long home runs, they say they dialed 8 (for long distance). Biancalana had to dial 0 and ask for an outside line just to dial 9. When Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's record, David Letterman, who first showed his baseball savvy by calling Terry Forster "a fat tub of goo," began the Buddy Biancalana Watch, telling people how many hits Buddy needed to catch Pete in case they wanted to plan ahead. Let's put it this way: if you're thinking of visiting Hawaii anytime in the next 35 years, book the trip.
So guess what?
With hitters such as George Brett, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr, Willie Wilson and Lonnie Smith to choose from, who do you think has the best on-base percentage of any regular in the World Series?
(Well, now that you mention it, maybe one glass, thanks. And a breadstick.)
Eight for 16. Fifty percent. Four hits, four walks.
"We've been pitching Biancalana like he's Babe Ruth," groused Whitey Herzog.
And if you find that hard to believe, how about this? The battle of shortstops in this World Series matched Biancalana against Ozzie Smith, which was sort of like matching Pablo Picasso against Earl Scheib. Not that Buddy isn't a good fielder, he certainly is. But Ozzie may wind up in Cooperstown, and Buddy may wind up in siding. So not only is Biancalana hitting 270 points higher than the Wizard of Ahhhs, but with the same number of fielding chances, Buddy is 18 for 18, and Acrobatic Ozzie has one error.
Cue Dom DeLuise: "Surprised?"
Buddy, baby, talk to us.
"Am I surprised?" Biancalana said, repeating the question and grinning. "I'm not going to say I'm surprised, but I'm pleased." Looking out at all the reporters who had gathered around his locker after Thursday night's game in St. Louis, he said, "You guys are surprised. Maybe the Cards are surprised. Maybe my manager is surprised. I'm not."
Can you do a back flip?
"I can do a somersault. I'll save it for Game 7," Buddy said, giggling and having a heck of a time. "I'm feeling real good about myself now. I'm having a good Series, and it feels good after the way people got on me during the season. Don't misunderstand me, it was justified -- my numbers speak for themselves. But I took this as a second chance after the year I've had, and I may have opened some eyes and shut some mouths."
At 25, he still looks young enough to be carded, and when he took a small, furtive sip of the beer he was holding, he might have been a teen-ager from an S.E. Hinton novel. Except that far from feeling alienated, Biancalana felt more secure than ever. "I don't think it can feel any better than this," he said, thinking it over. "I guess maybe I could hit a home run to win a game." He laughed. "Maybe that's in the cards for the sixth game." Everywhere he looked, all he could see was blue sky and candy. "It's been very satisfying. It's going to be nice winter to walk around in, if we win the Series."
And if the Royals didn't, could he still enjoy the walk?
"Yes. As of now, yes I could."
As of now -- and believe me, I never thought I'd be writing this -- Buddy Biancalana is in the hunt for the car. And he knows it. "I thought about it a little before the Series -- could it possibly be me? But to be honest with you, it crossed my mind (Thursday) when I got on three times."
Wouldn't it be something if he won it? How long do you think it would take Letterman to call and invite him onto the show? Fifteen seconds?
"I'd go," Biancalana said happily. "But I'd need some of you guys to write me some lines. I'm not very creative."
Dick Howser, who has to be almost as happy at Biancalana's blossoming as Biancalana is, was in another room, delightedly telling people that the key move in turning Biancalana from beep-beep to boom-boom was batting him eighth in this DH-less Series. "They're pitching around him to get to our pitchers," Howser said jokingly.
And so it was asked of Howser: if Biancalana is this good moving up one spot in the order, when are you going to bat him cleanup?
Howser laughed. "Not within the next two days, I can assure you."
May I propose a toast then to Kansas City's new star. This, Buddy, is for you.