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Former Royals LHP Splittorff dead at 64
Question of the Day
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.
“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.
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.
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.
He was also teased by former teammates for holding the informal record of giving up the longest home run in Kauffman Stadium history _ a shot by Chicago White Sox slugger Dick Allen that carried almost to the top of the hill behind left field.
Splittorff lacked the natural talent of many of the top pitchers in Royals history, such as Steve Busby and Cy Young winners David Cone and Bret Saberhagen. But the fact he retired with more victories than any of the others is a testament to the iron-willed work ethic that characterized both his baseball and broadcasting careers.
“Paul didn’t have that electric slider or that devastating curveball,” White said. “But he was always steady and he always studied, always worked hard to do his very best. That’s why he was so successful both on and off the field.”
Even before he retired, Splittorff was preparing for a broadcasting career, covering high school football and basketball games for a local radio station.
At the time of his death, he was in his 24th season as a television analyst for FOX Sports Kansas City despite the speech problems that cropped up a couple years ago. White took over for him full time after opening day in 2009.
“He showed me how to prepare for games. He showed me what magazines to read, how to get ready,” White said. “We actually did a couple of games together. During those two brief broadcasts, it was really fun. I will never forget those two broadcasts. They were very meaningful.”
Though he did pre- and post-game shows, Splittorff was never able to regain the clear, distinct voice fans had known for more than two decades.
But he never quit trying.
“I never worked a game with him where I felt like he was giving a little less effort today than he did yesterday, whether it was research, talking to a player of a coach about a guy he didn’t know much about,” said Lefebvre. “There was never a day where he just leaned on being Paul Splittorff.”
Splittorff is survived by his wife, Lynn, daughter, Jennifer, and son, Jamie. Funeral arrangements were pending, and the Royals said the team will wear a memorial patch on the sleeve of their jerseys the rest of the season.
“He has completed his journey,” he said then. “Our skipper is safe at home.”
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