Arlington star, Royals legend Splittorff dies
Paul Splittorff went from youth stardom in Arlington Heights to Kansas City royalty.
A fortunate twist of fate as an American Legion baseball player for Splittorff's boyhood home team paved the way to fame in his professional life. The big left-hander became the winningest pitcher in Kansas City Royals history and then was a successful broadcaster for nearly a quarter-century with the franchise.
So, the loss of Splittorff on Wednesday morning at age 64 to cancer because of complications from melanoma had a significant impact in two places he would have considered home. Splittorff passed away at the family home in Blue Mound, Mo.
Funeral arragements are pending, and Splittor is survived by his wife, Lynn, and a daughter, Jennifer, and son, Jamie.
"He was just a good guy, a really good guy," said Lloyd Meyer, who was Splittorff's American Legion manager on the 1965 team that finished fifth in the nation.
"Paul was a classy young man from a wonderful family," said Bob Frisk, a retired Daily Herald high school sports writer, columnist and editor who has followed high school sports for six-plus decades. "He just made you feel good by being around him because of his incredibly positive attitude. He always had a smile, always had time to talk."
Splittorff, who was born in Evansville, Ind., was admitted to a Kansas City-area hospital May 16 for treatment of oral cancer and melanoma. The public first became aware of his health issues when he had some trouble with his voice at the 2009 season opener against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Meyer visited with Splittorff and his mom last summer and said he noticed a slight difference in his speech but no other noticeable problems.
"I thought he was in good shape and in good spirits," Meyer said, "He didn't say anything (about his health). Everything was good and everything was fine."
Splittorff credited Meyer and the Arlington American Legion program for putting him on track toward stardom with the Royals from 1970-84. He still holds franchise records for wins (166-143 record), starts (392) and innings pitched (2554 ⅔) and is a member of the team's Hall of Fame.
Splittorff was a starting pitcher in the first game ever played at Royals Stadium against the Texas Rangers. He was the 1969 expansion team's first 20-game winner in 1973 (20-11) and went 19-13 in 1978. He was 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA in four postseasons with the Royals and made one relief appearance in the 1980 World Series.
Not bad for a kid who was hardly a hotshot prospect coming out of Arlington High School in 1964.
"I actually remember Paul better for basketball than baseball at Arlington," Frisk said. "He made our all-area team when we only picked five players. I'll never forget the game he had on the road against a very good Riverside-Brookfield team, a surprisingly easy Arlington win by about 25 points that was considered a big upset."
Splittorff didn't last a year at Quincy College and came home to pitch for Arlington's American Legion team in 1965. Hard-throwing Tom Lundgren was considered a better prospect for a team that included Mark Newman, the current Yankees senior vice president for baseball operations.
In the American Legion World Series, Meyer said Splittorff pitched in a game and the home plate umpire said, "tell me about the lefty." The umpire was a coach at Morningside College, an NAIA school in Iowa where Splittorff went on to star in basketball and baseball.
"He had good stuff but that summer he wanted to throw hard like Lundgren and two or three times he got the heck beat out of him," Meyer said, "Then he went back to pitching.
"He happened to be in the right spot at the right time. He didn't blow anybody away but he got better and better. He was big and smart and an intelligent kid."
Those attributes ultimately stood out to others -- including American League hitters -- as the expansion Royals selected Splittorff in the 25th round of the 1968 amateur draft.
"He didn't throw that hard but he was one of the smartest young pitchers I ever saw," veteran Royals scout Art Stewart, who saw Splittorff pitch in high school and American Legion, told royals.com. "Even as a young pitcher he retained what he knew on a hitter. None of us were smart enough to draft him because he didn't throw hard.
"So he went to college and we drafted him. Then I saw him after we signed him and he was throwing harder, his fastball was a little better. He always had the good breaking ball, the good changeup."
It didn't take Splittorff long to move up through the Royals organization. He made his major-league debut on Sept. 23, 1970 against the White Sox at old Comiskey Park.
"He gave me some of my greatest thrills as a young Herald sports writer in the summer of 1965 with the Arlington Heights American Legion team that went to the World Series," Frisk said. "Writers, players, coaches and families all bonded during that amazing run.
"It was a tremendous highlight for me to see Paul make his major-league debut in 1970 at the old Comiskey Park and then follow his very successful career."
Splittorff lost his debut to a White Sox team that lost a franchise-record 106 games. But in June of 1971 he was with the Royals for good as one of their mainstays until his retirement in June 1984.
Splittorff then embarked on a broadcasting career in which he initially did high school games to learn as much about the business as possible. He broadcast Royals and college basketball games for 24 years.
Splittorff had worked to overcome his voice troubles of recent years and still worked some games. This year he did pregame and postgame shows and was in the booth for a series in Texas but was unable to make a scheduled trip of broadcasts at Yankee Stadium.
"He worked at it and did speech therapy and I really thought there was a point where he was sounding like himself," said Royals broadcast partner Ryan Lefebvre to royals.com. "We really didn't know the extent of it and we respected the fact that he didn't want to talk about it, not to mention that if somebody asked him about it, he'd say, 'I'm doing fine.'"
It's a line that would also succinctly sum up the success-filled life of Paul Splittorff.