Forgotten Player of the Moment – BUDDY BIANCALANA
(by ED AGNER)
Because Pieman rules! And I came up with this idea long before Simmons name-checked him. Friggin’ Simmons. I have witnesses!
Let’s go back in time, shall we? Back to ancient times when I was in junior high, Reagan was president, Phil was trying to corner the t-shirt market, Bill was in diapers and the Royals were one of the best organizations in baseball. Oh, so very long ago.
Back about 19 and 85, the Royals dominated the American league with pitching and defense. Ayup. That was the Royals M.O. throughout their run as one of the best teams of the mid-70’s through the mid-80’s and it worked pretty well for them. They churned out good pitchers like the Peter Gammons churns out incomprehensible prose. They churned out good fielders like Voros churns out hate from scouts. The churned out good hitters…Well. That they didn’t do so much.
Sans George Brett, the Royals didn’t exactly develop much in the way of hitters. The Royal strategy – and the strategy Braves fans know all too well once John Schuerholz jumped from Kansas City to Atlanta – was to gobble up good pitchers in the draft, get some Good-to-OK bats on the cheap (or steal them from other organizations when the hitter hadn’t developed yet/wasn’t getting a chance – Helllloooo Amos Otis, Hal MacRae and sweet-sweet Steve Balboni!), get lots of speed all around and make sure the gloves are good up the middle. It made enough sense considering that Royals played on the fake grass and their stadium played huge. I’m certain scouts played a huge part in this too, but I haven’t read that book yet.
Anyway, so the Royals in ’85 ran through the AL West thanks in large part to a really great pitching staff – holding off a slugging, yet defensively-challenged Angels team by one game. Enter the ALCS against Toronto, where the Jays pulled a Yankees-esque collapse after leading the series 3-1. Wow! A Bobby Cox post-season collapse? Novel.
The Royals entered the ’85 series as the decided underdog against the Cardinals. These were the Whitey Ball Cards against the slap hitting Royals. Yes, a total of four home runs were hit. And yes, a nation turned it sleepy eyes from this series. And now and then I wonder why everyone hates the Midwest? Yeesh.
And then our boy Buddy enters the spotlight in the World Series. In my mind, for a while there, I confused Buddy Biancalana with Jim Walewander. There’s no good reason why. And there’s a pathetic reason for why I finally got them straight involving a girl, Walewander’s Clipper years, and the Dead Milkmen. And even I am too ashamed to tell that story. So let’s just move along.
Buddy was possibly the no-hittingest of no-hitting short stops – and a switch non-hitter too boot…which made him sort of the white Ozzie Smith…except for all that pesky fielding ability. Actually, Buddy was perfectly average as sure-handed short stops go, though his range was…pretty poor. Derek Jeter poor. Which makes me think that Buddy didn’t stay in the bigs very long due mainly to announcers not wanting to say “Past a diving Biancalana” a whole lot. I can understand that. But really, the whole selling point of Buddy Biancalana is the name. Let’s face it, that’s what makes him a cult favorite. Buddy BEE-ANNN-ca-LANNN-a. And even better, his real name is Roland Americo Biancalana. Like a Kraftwerk b-side.
Back to the ’85 World Series, our boy Buddy goes lights out…well for Buddy Biancalana, anyway. Five hits, 2 RBI and a .435 OBP – well, he batted 8th and was walked 5 times to face the pitcher’s spot – and was big in helping the Royals win Games 3 and 5 of the series (not as big as Don Denkinger was in helping the Royals win Game 6 though. I now await Bill James’ wrath.)
Anyway, Bret Saberhagen, Don Denkinger and a Juaquin Andujar meltdown win the Royals the World Series, and David Lettermen becomes infatuated with saying Biancalana’s name throughout the World Series. And a cult hero is born. Buddy becomes a punch line along the lines of Bud Melman. (God, there’s no way of explaining this to Bill.)
Somehow, for some strange reason, the Royals kept Buddy around for the ’86 season. Not only that, they let him bat 190 times. Eww. In Dick Howser’s defense, he was suffering from a brain tumor at that time. (Yeah, I’m going to Hell for that.) Well, at least Letterman approved. For whatever that’s worth.
The Royals finally caught on that Buddy was…well…stinky and finally traded him in a 1987 deadline deal to Houston – for Mel Stottlmyre…Jr. Buddy finished out the ’87 season going 1-24 and never again graced the bigs with his presence. We are truly at a loss.
But life after the bigs hasn’t been a bed of roses for our boy Buddy – he’s had a few minor league coaching gigs though, somehow managing to get himself fired from both the Phillies and Devil Rays organizations. He’s still out there trying to get a coaching gig in case the Royals want to shake the Curse of the Buddy. Odds are good that Allard Baird would hire Onix Concepcion by accident though. Poor poor Pieman.