Wes Marfield lives in Kansas City and perpetually believes the Royals have a chance to make the playoffs. His writing has appeared on Deadspin and CollegeHumor.com. He also Tweets infrequently @PapaMarf, though he mostly created his account for the Steve Balboni avatar.
This lumbering brute had an up-and-down career. Honing his craft in Southern California, it wasn’t long before he was belting out hits across the country in front of sold out crowds. Although our hero’s stock pinnacled after picking up some much-deserved hardware in 1994, his legend and outward appearance still strike a chord with fans that were lucky enough to cross paths with this mountain of a man in his prime.
That last paragraph could easily be describing legendary Grammy-winning rocker Meat Loaf. It can also sum up the career of former Royals Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin. So when I think of a 1990s first baseman, my mind drifts back to memories of a man affectionately known as “The Hammer.”
I use the term “first baseman” loosely here, because Hamelin was primarily used as a DH while the more sure-handed, light-footed Wally Joyner spent the majority of the time manning the Royals other hot corner in the early-to-mid 90s. But according to his 1990 Upper Deck rookie card, Hamelin was a first baseman. And that’s good enough for me.
Major League Baseball, as you’re probably well aware, didn’t complete a full schedule in 1994 due to the players’ strike. But by the time the season came to an abrupt end on August 11, an overweight, glasses-wielding 26-year-old named Bob Hamelin had captured the hearts of Kansas City fans. He burst onto the scene with six home runs in April, and racked up 24 long balls and 65 RBI in the shortened campaign that eventually culminated in him taking home American League Rookie of the Year honors.
The Royals were four games back of the division leading White Sox at the time of the strike, finishing with a respectable 64-51 record. KC’s “Boys in Blue” posted an 83-79 mark in 2003 to finish the year above .500, but that was the only time they’ve done so since “The Hammer” roamed first base, the on-deck circle, and the postgame cold cut line. So it’s only fitting the best season the Royals have had since winning the World Series in 1985 was transpiring while a similarly portly man was crooning “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” to packed arenas across the country, picking up a Grammy along the way.
Like most good things from the decade, both men fizzled out of the spotlight by the turn of the millennium. Hamelin never regained his Rookie of the Year form, and played his last Major League game in 1998 after injury-plagued stints with the Tigers and Brewers. Mr. Loaf clung to his chart-topping hit, but has yet to produce another swoon-inducing ballad like to the one that shot him to fame. He made a pseudo-comeback on “Celebrity Apprentice,” so who knows – maybe we haven’t seen the last of “The Hammer” yet. Hell, Wally Backman is still coaching minor league baseball, so anything is possible.
Personally, I’d prefer to just hold on to the memories of a slovenly man huffing around the bases as a half-empty stadium waved inflatable hammers in his honor. And he’ll be hard pressed to make a better exit from the game than his abrupt retirement in the middle of a minor league contest in 1999.
Legend has it that as a member of the Toledo Mud Hens, Hamelin grounded out, took himself out of the game, kicked some loose equipment in the dugout and told his manager simply “I’m done.”
Maybe the game passed him by. The hitters got bigger, stronger, and devoted themselves to not-so-legal workout regimens that “The Hammer” had no interest in. Maybe the injuries caught up to him. Maybe he just lost interest in the game that made him a Kansas City celebrity in the mid 1990s. Guess we’ll never know for sure. But play one more inning in a minor league game with a path that wasn’t certain to ever lead him back to the show?
Bob Hamelin did a lot of things for baseball. He just wouldn’t do that.