Former Royals LHP Splittorff dead at 64

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KANSAS CITY, MO. (AP) - Paul Splittorff, the big, blonde left-hander who became the winningest pitcher in Kansas City Royals history and a popular broadcaster for the team, died Wednesday of complications from skin cancer. He was 64.

The Royals said Splittorff died at his home in the Kansas City suburb of Blue Springs, Mo. His family announced 10 days ago that he had been battling melanoma and oral cancer.

“This is a very difficult day for our organization,” Royals owner and CEO David Glass said. “We will not only miss the insight and humor that he injected into every telecast, but most importantly we will miss his friendship. He epitomized class.”

Fans noticed on opening day in 2009 that his speech had become slurred, though Splittorff kept his health issues private until his plight was reported by online columnist Greg Hall.

“He didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him,” Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre said.

Drafted by the expansion Royals in the 25th round in 1968, Splittorff spent his entire 15-year career in Kansas City. A tall, bespectacled lefty with a high leg kick, he often appeared to squint into the catcher’s mitt as though he was having trouble seeing the sign. This sometimes proved disconcerting to hitters who wondered if they should be ready to bail out if the ball came flying toward their head.

He retired during the 1984 season with a club-record 166 victories.

“When you’ve known somebody for so long and they’ve been such a big part of your life, it’s never easy to say goodbye,” Frank White, the Royals‘ eight-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman, told The Associated Press. “Our kids went to the same schools and grew up together. I have so many memories of Paul.”

Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett called Splittorff’s death a tremendous loss for the community and the team.

“He helped put the Kansas City Royals on the map and was such a great player for so many years,” Brett told KMBZ radio. “He wasn’t a real boisterous guy in the clubhouse. He just went about his work quietly and let everybody else get the headlines.”

Splittorff was born in Evansville, Ind., and raised in Arlington Heights, Ill. A two-sport star in baseball and basketball at Morningside College in Iowa, he made his major league debut on Sept. 23, 1970, and soon became a mainstay in the rotation.

His best year was 1973 when he went 20-11, the Royals‘ first 20-game winner. Splittorff was not a hard thrower but had command of several pitches and always prepared carefully for every outing.

“He really got the most out of his ability,” said Denny Matthews, the Royals‘ radio broadcaster who called every major league game Splittorff pitched and became his close friend.

In 15 seasons, Splittorff was 166-143 with a 3.81 ERA. He also holds the Royals record for starts (392) and innings pitched (2,554 2-3).

He was particularly effective in the Royals‘ memorable playoff battles with the New York Yankees in the 1970s and `80s. In seven postseason games, he was 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA.

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