I know that it is rather silly to hold up a baseball player as a hero. As an adult that is no doubt true, but to a kid following a baseball team year round for years and years, it is understandable. A lot of who I call "heroes" are sports figures. Last week Harmon Killebrew died. Today Paul Splitorff has passed.
The true Royal fans referred to him as "Splitt". He was part of one of the all time great pitching rotations in Kansas City history as well as baseball history. Splitt played during a time when the Royals went from expansion team to an appearance in the World Series.
I never hid the fact that he was my favorite pitcher in the rotation as long as he was with the Royals. I loved to watch him pitch. I have no idea how many times I saw him pitch. He was not an over powering pitcher but a classy one. He loved the Kansas City area and spent his whole career with the Royals.
Splitt would become the first pitcher in Royals history to win twenty games. He won more games (166) than any other pitcher in Royals history. He played all fifteen years of his career in Kansas City and the city loved him. That was back in the day when players did spend a career with a team. There were Twins, and Orioles, and Red Sox and so on. The Royals were Frank White, George Brett, Dennis Leonard, Freddy Patek, Amos Otis and Splitt. They were Royals for a career.
I remember when the Royals finally got past the Yankee wall and made it to the Series in 1980. Jim Frey pulled Splitt from the starting rotation against Philadelphia and used him as a middle reliever in that disastrous confrontation. I was irritated. Apparently Splitt was irritated as well from a quote in the Kansas City Star this morning.
When he retired in 1984, he did it with class as was his way. The Royals were sporting some pretty good young pitchers like Saberhagen and Cone when Splitt realized that it was time to "hang up the spikes" as they say in baseball.
He went on to a broadcasting career that included calling Royals games as well as Big 12 football, basketball and baseball. He was as classy of a broadcaster as he was a pitcher. He was completely neutral in all the games he called except for maybe the Royals games.
He was 64 when he died this morning.
I know that with all the tragedy that the country is going through this spring with the Tuscaloosa and Joplin Tornadoes and the Mississippi floods, that it may seem trite to spend a post on a baseball player. It probably is. I think Splitt deserves a mention though.
Like all young boys a lot of my heroes were sports figures. In baseball alone I could easily name many who I loved to watch play. There was Yaz, Brett, and Mantle. There was Maris, The Baltimore Robinsons, Frank and Brooks. Johnny Bench and Ozzie Smith were in there. Also Ryan, Messersmith, and Boog.
There were pitchers who were much better than Splitt. But Splitt always held a special place for me. He had a pitching style that was beautiful with a high leg kick and long step off of the rubber.
Yes it may sound silly to write about a boyhood baseball hero at this moment But he will be missed, especially in Kansas City.