Days like today are tough to get a grasp on and sometimes even tougher to write about, as today lifelong Kansas City Royal Paul Splittorff passed away at the age of 64. He had been battling melanoma and oral cancer. During the Opening Day broadcast in 2009 you could tell something wasn't right as the always perfectionist Splitt was having difficulty speaking. Though we all knew something was wrong, Splittorff never mentioned what he was going through, and it didn't come out publicly until May 16th as to the extent of his illness. That was how the man many came to love wanted it. Splittorff was never one to draw attention to himself, he was much more likely to take an interest in others. That showed through brightly during his time with the Royals as a pitcher and only more so during his second career as a broadcaster. He was a part of the Royals television broadcasts for 24 seasons and was on televeison as recently as May 7th.
Paul Splittorff finished his career with a 166-143 record and a 3.81 ERA before retiring in 1984. He holds the Royals record for all-time victories. Not bad for a 25th round draft pick from small Morningside College, where he was on both the basketball and baseball team. An original draft pick of the Royals in 1968, the first draft the Royals participated in, Splitt was a career Royals man. Arguably he has given just as much time to the Royals organization as anyone, right up there with Ewing Kauffman, Denny Matthews, and George Brett.
I never knew Paul Splittorff the baseball player. Actually I never got to opportunity to meet Splitt, other than seeing him at the ballpark helping with the television broadcasts. I knew Splitt the broadcaster though, growing up watching him on Royals broadcasts and covering college basketball. In the late 80's and early 90's, the days before I ever had satellite television, I remember many Saturday afternoons spent listening to Splitt and Dave Armstrong call Big 8 basketball on local television. Unlike many of today's former athletes who are broadcasters, broadcasting was a career for him. He had that perfect voice for sports and his insight whether it be baseball or basketball was invaluable. You could tell how seriously he took the job as a profession. Splitt was a professional in everything he ever did.
I've read in the past and again recently that former Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight was not a person who favored talking to the media after games, but Splitt was one of the few exceptions. Knight would always make the time to stick around and talk with Splitt. That is the type of effect he had on people, and it is characteristic of how well recognized Splitt was for his astute broadcasting skills.
At the end of his first career as a Royals pitcher, Kansas City had three young pitchers coming up in Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, and Danny Jackson. It was likely one of those three would end up taking Spliit's spot in the rotation, as at age 37 he was coming to the end of his career. If most of us were in those shoes, it would cause friction, but of course it was the furthest thing from the case with Splitt.
Splitt took the young pitchers under his wing and made sure to teach everything he could as a pitcher, so that he would leave the team, and the game, in proper shape. He wasn't just teaching them about baseball, he was teaching them about humanity, and how to be proper stewards of the game in which he blessed Kansas City fans with a wonderful 15-year career.
In the end, Splitt's legacy in the hearts of the Kansas City community will go far beyond what he ever did in a single game on the mound. As with his personality, he'd want us to move forward and not want to spend any time talking about himself, but for today and probably long into the future we will remember all the great things he did both on the mound and in the booth. To honor him, he Royals will be wearing "Splitt" patches for the rest of the 2011 season. We'll miss you Splitt.
Kansas City Royals Career Records
WAR 20.9 (9th)
Wins 166 (1st)
Games (Pitcher) 429 (3rd)
Innings Pitched 2554.2 (1st)
Games Started 392 (1st)
Complete Games 88 (2nd)
Shutouts 17 (2nd)
Selected Additional Readings About Splittorff
Arlington star, Royals legend Splittorff dies Daily Herald - a hometown newspaper
Splitt Joe Posnanski
Splittorff a game from start to finish Steve Cameron (Fox Sports, and friend of Splitt)
Iowa State, Big 12 Remembers Paul Splittorff Iowa State University
Former Royals Pitcher, Broadcaster, Paul Splittorff has died Royals Review
Paul Splittorff career highlights The HardBall Times
Former Royals lefty, broadcaster Splittorff dies Kansas City Royals