Paul Splittorff, all-time leader in wins by a Royals pitcher, passed away Wednesday morning from complications from melanoma.
I wish I had a Splittorff story. By all accounts, he was a class act and a great baseball ambassador for Kansas City, where he spent his entire career.
The closest I came to meeting him – really MEETING him – was when I was eight years old. Maybe you’ve been to your local mall or hotel lobby for a Royals Caravan in the winter. One night, my uncle, a lifelong baseball fan, came by our house and told me we had to go see some Royals players.
I grew up in Hays, Kansas, which, if you’re not familiar with Kansas or western Kansas specifically, is about four hours west of Kansas City. This being November or so, I couldn’t think of a reason for the Royals be anywhere near town. On the way, my uncle explained the caravan and why they did it and who we might see.
We arrived to see a line filling the main trafficway in The Mall (Hays isn’t known for creatively naming its businesses…) where, up on a stage, were four or five ballplayers of past and present. I think the actual players on hand were Steve Farr and Jerry Don Gleaton (and maybe Mike Kingery, but I really don’t recall exactly), but with them was John Mayberry and Paul Splittorff. As we waited, my uncle told me about Splittorff and his playoff heroics and Mayberry and his power. When I got to the stage and up the steps for an autograph, I’d learned something about two Royals greats.
Splitt mostly kept his head down, signing away, but would always pause to look everyone in the eye as they shuffled along with their autographed photo. I don’t recall saying anything, and if he said much of anything, it was the usual pleasantries one would extend towards an unknown eight-year-old. I wish I’d said something. Our paths never crossed any other time.
Then in 1989, I really started becoming obsessed with the Royals and they finally ended up on a Hays affiliate where Denny Trease was joined by Splittorff on the broadcast. That would be how I would get to know Splitt. I’ve known his voice longer than I’ve known three of my own sisters.
To say that Kansas City will miss him is an understatement. He was a Royal from their very beginning until early Thursday morning when the illness he didn’t talk about, that he worked through, finally won.
I debated even writing this because, hey, I never truly met the man and I don’t know that it’s my place to speak about him. But I can talk about what he represented and what I remember about him as a fan, both from when I was growing up and from the present day.
Before Thursday’s game in Baltimore, the Fox Sports Kansas City crew gave a touching tribute to the man they’d grown to know as a friend, not just a teammate or partner. The Orioles, to their credit, held a moment of silence prior to the game to honor him. Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White took it a bit further, observing an inning of silence in the top of the first and it seemed the fitting tribute to a man who spent his life surrounded by the sounds of the ballpark.
There’s another reason I think it’s okay to use this forum to remember Splitt.
I didn’t expect to be as shaken up about Splitt’s passing as I realized I was this afternoon. Again, I’ve never met the man. But I’ve met those who’ve been impacted by cancer -it’s a terrible disease that affects millions of individuals and families. I’ve known friends who have lost loved ones to it and friends who have seen loved ones battle and overcome. My father has had a battle with oral cancer himself and thankfully has shown no traces of it returning, but I know that my family is incredibly fortunate and such things can always be around the corner. I’m sure other survivors and their families hold that thought in the back of their mind every day.
Research for better, easier and less debilitating treatments is always ongoing, but there’s always so much more to do. Having information on prevention to reduce risk is important too. The American Cancer Society provides support, information, and other resources for the prevention and early treatment of cancer.
And for more information on melanoma specifically, you can visit the Society for Melanoma Research.
And while you’re surfing, you should let Joe Posnanski tell you about the Paul Splittorff he knew.