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Paul Splittorff, 1946-2011

Paul Splittorff was a Royal for his entire professional life, a life that was cut short at the age of 64. Drafted by the Royals in 1968 out of Morningside College in the 25th round, Splittorff had a somewhat fast rise through the Royals minor league system, throwing his last minor league pitch in 1971 at the age of 24. He was called up to the Royals for good that year and went 8-9 with a very good 2.68 ERA. From there Splitt became an integral part of the best Royals teams of all time. He was never an ace of the staff, but always one of the most reliable pitchers the Royals had. While wins are not the be all, end all they used to be, Splittorff is remembered for being the winningest pitcher in Royals history.

His last days were probably not as he intended them. Last Monday afternoon, a story broke that he was in the hospital and had been read his last rites. Reports indicated that he would not make it through the week, and those reports weren’t quite correct, but it wasn’t much longer. The malady that had caused his voice and speech to go after so many years as an excellent broadcaster had been made public. You all know the story of what happened, so I won’t go through that with you again.

My first experience of Paul Splittorff was as a broadcaster. Unfortunately, I’m not old enough to have seen him pitch and become the Royals all-time wins leader, so for the longest time I had no idea that he was ever a pitcher. I think it says a lot about his acumen as a broadcaster that he made a kid who loved baseball and had a thirst for baseball history unaware of his previous career. As an announcer, Splittorff had a smooth voice and a way of describing a game that very few could. As you’ve all read by now, he honed his craft the way a young journalist would, working high school games and getting any experience possible in order to become the best possible announcer. That’s an admirable trait.

The thing about an announcer is that they are a part of your life for six months out of the year. You let them into your home and into your car and you hear their voice all the time for the entirety of the season. While they don’t know you, you sort of feel like you know them. You learn the cadence of their voice and what might set them off and what makes them happy. Their voice permeates throughout your house during dinner and while you’re ironing and while you’re vacuuming and while you’re just sitting and playing with the dog. They become a part of your family unbeknownst to them. When that outfielder happens to be a former player for your team, well, they’re welcomed in even more so with open arms.

Some of my first memories of Royals baseball are from the days when they were on channel four in Kansas City and Splittorff teamed with Denny Trease. That was one of the best Royals television broadcast teams. Both were very smooth and both explained the game extremely well. I remember one particular game in Oakland. I can’t remember the year or what happened, but I remember that I realized that day that Paul Splittorff was a former Royals pitcher. This was before the internet, of course, so I couldn’t immerse myself in his statistics as I’d do today, but I just remember him saying something about when he struck out Reggie Jackson, and it absolutely floored me. I wouldn’t say that I had developed a new respect for him or anything because I already thought he was a great announcer, but even as a young boy I understood how odd it was that he was so good at broadcasting after being so good at pitching.

Of course the legacy Splittorff leaves is more important than his 166 wins or his 3,000 plus broadcasts. I never met the man, but everything I’ve ever heard about him is that he’s a fantastic human being. He was very private, but not withdrawn. His on air personality was as engaging as anyone I’ve seen broadcast a baseball game, and I assume that he was as engaging outside of the broadcast booth as well. Some people say that the Royals have had some bad luck with their greats such as Quisenberry, Howser and now Splittorff, but I disagree. I think we’ve had great luck to have such extraordinary people that we mourn in spite of never meeting.

I remember the day Dan Quisenberry passed away. He was taken too young, just like Paul Splittorff. I remember the devastation and the loss in the hearts of Royals fans and Kansas City residents in general, and I didn’t think it was possible for someone to be more beloved. Then over the past couple of weeks after learning of Splittorff’s health, I saw that this city has so much love for its people. The outcry of emotion is all you need to see to learn how big of an influence Paul Splittorff had on Kansas City. He was a great pitcher, a great announcer and a great man. He will be missed dearly. The guest we’ve allowed in our homes will no longer join us for dinner, but we have amazing memories of his time in uniform and in the booth and in the community. We’ll miss you, Splitt.

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