For six World Series games, I have been waiting for Steve Balboni to kiss one Bye-Bye and justify one of the best nicknames in sports. I've seen him come to the plate 24 times against all nine St. Louis pitchers, and except for his first at bat in Game 3 -- when he backed Tito Landrum up against the left field wall, 380 feet from home plate -- the longest belt Balboni has is the one he wears to hold up his pants. And that includes last night, when he got two singles, the second one in the all-important ninth inning. Watching him hit has been like watching a turtle turned upside down. No homers. No extra-base hits. And, until last night, no clue.
But perhaps I was impatient.
There is a final chance left for Balboni.
Dick Howser has been watching and waiting far longer than I, which is to say that Balboni hasn't received much mail addressed to "Mr. October." You know how managers keep a "book" on hitters, to know what to throw them in certain situations, like slider away, fast ball up and in? The way Balboni had hit in the postseason, the Cardinals literally could have thrown the book at him and he wouldn't take it deep.
Against Detroit in the 1984 playoffs, Balboni was one for 10. Against Toronto in this year's playoffs, Balboni was three for 25. So far against St. Louis, after last night's bonanza, he is six for 21. Mye-Mye, Balboni is batting .179 in postseason play. Ten hits -- all singles, thank you very much; two runs batted in, 16 strikeouts. To give this some sort of context, if you stretched Balboni's postseason hits together, they barely would be longer than Buddy Biancalana's name. So tell us, Don Pardo, what do we have for Mr. Balboni for playing our game?
The truth is, I root for Balboni, and I'm happy about last night. It's a personal thing: He's bald, I'm bald. (No doubt about it, Vinny, the last baseball player who got me this excited was Joe Garagiola.) In his baseball cap, he looks like Mike Stivic, the Meathead. I always liked that show. As shy as he is, he still seems like a nice, gentle man. Reggie Jackson says affectionately that Balboni is one of the softest, sweetest players in the game. Unlike Joaquin Andujar, he didn't blame the umpires for his deficiencies in the Series, and unlike with John Tudor, you don't need a tetanus shot before talking to him. Balboni has been forthright about his bad performance, saying he has had "a terrible Series" and that batting has been "a struggle."
But let's face it, when Balboni hits the ball, he can do some damage in a hurry. He's 6 feet 3, 225 pounds, and if this was softball your outfielders would be playing him so deep they'd be taking cabs to their positions. Bye-Bye hit 36 home runs this year. In the American League, only Darrell Evans and Carlton Fisk hit more. In his two seasons with the Royals, Balboni has 64 homers and 165 RBI. You don't think the guy's due? If he was any more overdue, he'd be evicted.
And so, in an effort to help Balboni get his home run swing back, we've contacted some of his relatives and solicited their advice.
Pat (Mai-Tai) Balboni, a cocktail waitress in Columbus, said she saw Bye-Bye lifting his back foot when he swung. "Tell him he's got it backwards," she said. "He should be copying Mel Ott, not Rin Tin Tin."
Carlos (Jai-Alai) Balboni, a charter boat operator in Miami, said Bye-Bye's problem was that heavily taped bat he always hits with in batting practice. "What's with that bat?" Jai-Alai asked. "Why does he tape it? The bat's got a pulled muscle? Tell him to practice with a real bat, not something off the set of St. Elsewhere."
Vernon (Shoofly-Pie) Balboni, a gas station attendant in Memphis, said the problem was all in Bye-Bye's head. "The problem's all in his head," Shoofly-Pie said.
Nick (Wise-Guy) Balboni, a bail bondsman in Brooklyn, remembered his mother and father lighting candles for Gil Hodges in 1952 when Hodges suffered through that woeful 0-for-21 Series. "Tell the people of Kansas City to light candles for Bye-Bye," Wise-Guy said. "If that doesn't work, tell them to call me. Maybe I know some people who can help."
Willie (Sky-High) Balboni, a self-employed venture capitalist from "here and there in Chicago," said the problem was that Howser was hitting Balboni too low in the order. "They got him down there with Biancalana, a kid who looks like he should be taking tickets at Disneyland. He's 6-8, 295. Howser did the smart thing last night, moving him up to sixth. It was either that or trade him to the Bears."
Stanley (Wash-And-Dry) Balboni, a moist towelette wholesaler in Seattle, told Bye-Bye not to worry. "Just go up there and take your cuts," said Wash-And-Dry. "And if that doesn't work, borrow some pine tar from Brett."
He's got one more chance now.
Wave Bye-Bye to the nice folks.