Splitt’s perfect delivery never wavered

By Trevor Hayes

Sports are a distraction and escapism from the world. But they can teach us, too. Athletes show us what it means to do out best and serve as role models for ideals like character, courage, perseverance and dedication.

Wednesday morning when I got to work, a co-worker informed me that Paul Splittorff had passed away. I wasn’t shocked, but I am still deeply saddened. Nine days ago, the Royals announced that the longtime broadcaster and club leader in victories had oral cancer and melanoma.

There’s no way I can write something better or more comprehensive about the passing of Splittorff than what the fine folks at the Kansas City Star and with the Royals have already produced.

What I can say is that it was a pleasure to have Splitt in my life and relate what he meant to me. I worked for the Royals in 2007 and 2008 and got the chance to meet the “Ole Lefthander” a few times. Unfortunately, in 2008 when I worked in the press box, he was taking a hiatus from broadcasting after an illness robbed him of his voice. During the 2008 Big 12 basketball season, Splitt – who called it all from Royals baseball to college basketball and high school football – was forced to take a break from broadcasting due to a virus that also caused him to lose weight.

Ever determined – a trait that he exhibited from day one in the Royals organization – he worked his way back to the booth and was doing analysis on Opening Day in 2009. His speech slurred and voice shaky, he left the team during the middle of an early season road trip. It was too much, too soon. Ultimately, he never fully returned to his year-round second career, but he was always working to get there.

Last season he worked mostly on pre- and post-game shows, which I unfortunately couldn’t see living out of the K.C. market. Even up to the announcement of his battle with cancer on May 16, Splitt was still working – almost 27 years after moving seamlessly from the field to the booth.

He retired in July 1984 – I was born in November of that year – to make room for the Royals young staff to grow despite earning a spot on the team with a club high 13 wins the season before. He was a workhorse. A career .537 win percentage and 166 victories with a 3.81 ERA and 88 complete games – his numbers aren’t flashy. In 1990 he didn’t receive a vote from the BBWAA for Hall of Fame election – but he is a Kansas City legend: a 1987 Inductee to the Royals Hall of Fame, the team’s first 20-game winner and its leader in victories since 1975.

The closest I ever came to seeing him pitch is from video highlights and that ESPN miniseries “The Bronx is Burning” from a years back. A generation older friends and family can tell me all about his dominance on the mound and the numerous memorable matchups with the hated Yankees in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I joined the Splittorff bandwagon in 1993 when my family moved to Kansas City – nine years after his 14-season playing career came to a close. K.C.’s Ford C. Frick Award winner, Denny Mathews, never broadcast on TV much and as a typical kid growing up in the 1990s, I watched more TV than was good for me – which included hours of Royals baseball. So maybe more so than Denny, Splitt’s voice and a combination of Dave Armstrong, Bob Davis and Fred White formed the soundtrack to my childhood summers.

People always say they feel like their favorite team’s broadcasters are like family because they feel like they spend so much time with them. Splitt was drafted in 1968 before the team ever played a game, transitioned to broadcasting immediately after his retirement in 1984 and was still on Royals TV broadcasts this season. Kansas City – myself included –spent a lot of time with Splitt.

So to the three Paul Splittorffs I know – the one with the high-leg kick, coke-bottle lenses and pinpoint accuracy from old highlights; the one whose voice is the background to several nights spent playing or doing homework in front of the TV; and the one who I was humbled to meet as I started my professional career – I will always remember you. And more importantly, I will never forget the lessons you taught me with your steady delivery, on and off the field.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

2 Comments

Thank you for a well written and heartfelt post. I am from the older generation who saw him pitch — and yelled Splittorff’s name in encouragement more than I can recall. When the opportunity arose for me to meet him, briefly, he was as classy and gracious in person as I ever could have hoped. His passing hit me hard yesterday, and I want to thank you for a nice tribute to the Royals “legend.” Paul Splittorff was to a couple of generations in KC what Ron Santo was to the same generations in Chicago. And that is saying a lot.

Trevor, Thank you for your outstanding tribute to Paul Splittorf “SPLITT is worn on the Royals jerseys in 2011. for good reason.

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