Bay Area native, '85 Series hero Biancalana backing Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Here's the funny thing: Roland Americo Biancalana — better known as "Buddy" — played his high school ball at Redwood (Calif.) High, less than 27 miles from AT&T Park. So the former Kansas City infielder and longtime Trivial Pursuit answer received an email the other day asking which 2014 World Series camp he was behind: Giants or Royals?
"I said, 'The Royals,'" says Biancalana, now 54 and based in Arizona, where he co-runs PMPM Sports, a consulting and coaching collective that helps athletes consistently reach their peak performance level. "The city was too good to me. How can I not root for the Royals?"
Biancalana, one of the unlikeliest stars of Kansas City's 1985 World Series champs and the Royals regular with the second-highest Fall Classic on-base percentage (.435) vs. St. Louis behind George Brett (.452), still gets baseball cards and letters in the mail, a testament to the staying power of the October stage.
Because in terms of fame in The Show, Buddy received only 15 solid minutes — 311 games from 1982 through '87, all but 18 of them with the Royals, in which the infielder posted a .205 career batting average and a .553 career OPS. And yet the man made the absolute most of 14 of them: The California native, who became a starter as late as Sept. 20 of the Royals' championship year, blossomed into something of a pop-culture icon after the Series, during which he hit .278, walked five times and drove in two runs. Thanks to his fall heroics, Biancalana transcended Kansas City, transcended sports — even garnering a feature in People magazine.
"That was a great week of my life," he says now, "to put it mildly."
But the crowning moment, so to speak, was when late-night host David Letterman picked him as a satirical target.
Earlier in the summer of '85, one of the biggest narratives in baseball was Pete Rose chasing Ty Cobb's all-time hit record. So Letterman's "Late Night" show started a segment that featured a "Biancalana Hit Counter" — the staff put this little mug shot of him next to a little mug shot of Rose on this little blue box, and Dave would click this little red button at the top anytime our man Buddy got the (occasional) hit. Yuks all around.
Rose passed Cobb on Sept. 11, 1985. Biancalana finished his big-league career with 113 hits — more than 4,000 shy of Ty or Pete.
Watch the Boulevard Royals Live postgame show on FOX Sports Kansas City after every Kansas City Royals postseason game.
The jabs were the brainchild of Letterman writer Jeff Martin, who told The Associated Press later that year that he was "looking for a guy without a lot of hits, and he had a catchy name. (More so) than Johnnie LeMaster or something.
"I saw a game at Fenway Park (in 1984) and I saw Buddy talking to some fans during batting practice. I thought he looked like a nice guy."
Fortunately for Letterman and Martin, he was. Biancalana embraced the gag and even appeared on the show after the Series, offering Dave his World Series bat as a peace offering of sorts.
"I used this for half the season," Biancalana famously quipped on-air. "As you can tell, there are no ball marks on it."
Letterman laughed, and the audience ate it up.
Royals shortstop Buddy Biancalana was a hit on David Letterman's show after the '85 Series.
"He's somewhat shy, but he was very cordial," the former Royal says of the talk-show icon, who is slated to retire next year. "The experience of being on the show — it was just fun. It's just something that not everybody gets to do. And it was fun and it got me some publicity, so it was good.
"Publicity, as long as it's halfway decent, is good thing. So I embraced it and I had fun with it."
Still, he notes, it's not as much fun as Kansas City is having now.
"I just think back to the exhilaration of the whole city, and that's what I'm enjoying most about this," Biancalana says. "When I watched (the playoff) games at Kauffman Stadium, the thing I noticed first was the amount of excitement of the fans. To me, that is totally cool. Because I don't think the fans know how much these players appreciate it and notice it and thrive on it. That energy is powerful, and when you get a whole city behind a ballclub, that's a very, very cool thing."
As Yogi Berra infamously opined, 90 percent of the game is half mental, and Biancalana's focus these days is primarily on that side of the equation. He co-authored a book in 2010 with business partner Steve Yellin on their findings, called "The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes."
The crux: When players get in "the zone," so to speak, how did they get there? And, more to the point, how do they get there again? Or stay there? How did the Michael Jordans or Jack Nicklauses find that zone time and again?
"If you've ever wondered why a golfer goes out and shoots a 69 one day and a 79 the next day," Biancalana says. "What's happening during the 69? We teach the golfer how to access what took place when he shot that 69."
He says something called the "fluid motion factor" is the key — in layman's terms, unlocking a way to harness muscle memory, the most effective muscle memory, consistently. Biancalana credits his .278 batting average in the Series, 73 points above his lifetime mark, to finding his inner sweet spot, if only for a fortnight. Eighteen months later, he was out of the game.
"I didn't know how to repeat it," Biancalana says.
These days, he does, and tries to help others do the same. Golf instructor David Leadbetter is an acolyte of Buddy's program, as is old teammate Brett and LPGA stalwart Carol Mann. And Biancanala sees gobs of positive, constructive mental mojo in the Royals of now.
"(They're) similar (to us)," Buddy says of Kansas City's newest American League pennant winners. "Except the depth of their bullpen is much (stronger). I think our starting pitching was better than theirs. However, the way they're playing defense and their team speed is very similar. And certainly, they play the game hard and they're going about it all the right way and they certainly have a lot of momentum ....
"I'd be really surprised if the Royals did not win it. ... They're riding such a wave of momentum. The city is so energized, and (that's) very powerful as an athlete.
"And the Giants, they've been there three times in the last five years. I was just (in the Bay) over the weekend; there's not a ton of buzz. They're ready for it, of course, but I think the favorites are the Royals."