Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
OK, it might be a bit of a cheat to list these together. But the fact they happened on the same day just two years apart, and so recently, puts them together in my mind, and therefore on my list. I wouldn’t consider these two tied for a spot, just a duplication of a feat that should be noted here.
With that out of the way, let’s try to put these twin events in perspective. As you almost certainly know, the Royals’ single-season home run record was a comically-low 36 and it stood for a comically-high (considering the low bar to clear) 32 years. That’s a little unfair; when Steve Balboni hit those 36 home runs in 1985, that was a really good number, enough to finish third in the AL. The previous team record of 34 was set by John Mayberry in 1975. So it seemed reasonable that Balboni’s mark would fall before the turn of the century. It wasn’t really until the steroid era came and went that the Royals’ inability to develop or acquire someone capable of 40 home runs–a mark every other team in the majors had managed to reach–became truly ridiculous.
Mike Moustakas finally toppled Balboni’s mark in 2017, hitting 38 home runs. It was nice to have a more recent mark, but it still didn’t get the Royals over that 40-home run mark. But they didn’t have to wait long to get there.
I don’t think anyone would have guessed that Moustakas’ successor was on that 2017 team. If they did, they likely would have chosen Salvador Perez, but he hit a career high of 27 that season, at age 27. Given his age and his position, though, it would have been hard to predict him breaking the record with a lot of confidence.
And very few fans would have picked Jorge Soler, who played in only 35 games and hit just .144/.245/.258 with two home runs. Soler had flashed plenty of power in the minors and when he played for the Cubs, but nothing like 40-home run power. Even in 2018, when he was much better, he only hit nine homers in 257 plate appearances, so about 20 for a full season.
But in 2019, he exploded. After an offseason working with private hitting coach Mike Tosar, Soler had his best season. He hit seven home runs in the first month, seven more in May, and eight in June. He was also staying healthy for the first time, so Moustakas’ record definitely seemed in play.
After six home runs in July, Soler was only 10 behind Moose with two months left. He then blasted 10 home runs in August to tie the mark; now the only question was how high he could set his own record. Soler passed Moustakas on September 3 and became the first Royal to reach 40 homers the very next night. When he hit his 45th on September 16, a 50-homer season seemed possible. But then he hit a drought, going nine games without a long ball. Soler recovered to hit three in the final two games of the season, with number 48 coming in a game that has already appeared on this list. Soler ended the season leading the AL in home runs, which of course was the first time a Royal had done that.
Given how long it had taken for any Royal to reach 40 home runs, and then given how far Soler had gone past that number, it seemed unlikely that it would be repeated any time soon. But Perez had other ideas. He had missed the entire 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he started working with Tosar as well after that season. Salvy hit 11 home runs in 37 games in the shortened 2020 season, which is a 48-home run pace for a full season. But doing that for a full season is a lot different.
That didn’t matter. Perez hit five home runs in April 2021 and five more in May. So far, he was only on pace for 30 bombs, but he hit nine in June and seven more in July. That meant he had 26 for the season, so 48 seemed out of reach. Perhaps he was staying fresh from manager Mike Matheny’s judicious use of the DH spot, as Salvy hit 12 home runs in August. Now 40 was certain, and 48 was on the board. A seven-homer binge in the first 15 games of September , and suddenly 50 was a prospect, with Perez now at 45 with 17 games to go. But then he went into a drought, too, hitting one home run in 10 games. Back at Kauffman Stadium for the final six games of the year, Salvy rewarded the home fans with #47 on September 28 and #48 in his first at-bat on September 29. Two years to the day of Soler’s 48th, there was now a tie atop the leaderboard. The crowd of 10,373 demanded, and received, a curtain call from one of the most popular players in franchise history.
But when he returned to the dugout after the top of the second, he slipped going down the dugout stairs and sprained his ankle. Although he would play in the last four games as the DH, the ankle was clearly bothering him, and he would manage just one hit in those games. While it would have been fantastic if he could have reached 50, he had to settle for a tie with Soler and the major-league home run crown as a consolation prize.