The KC Royals have seent their share of pitching talent over the years, but this original Royal provided years of consistency in the beginning.
When a player stays with a team for their entire career, it’s a big deal. For the KC Royals, many might immediately think of George Brett, or more recently, Alex Gordon. One pitcher who did this and is considered an original Royals, is Paul Splittorff.
Splittorff was an original Royal in that he was selected in the 1968 amateur draft, the franchise’s first. He was taken in the 25th round of that draft from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and would go on to become a mainstay and consistent arm in the Royal’s longtime rotation.
Splittorff was born in Evansville, Indiana though he attended Arlington High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He played both basketball and baseball and was successful in both sports.
Splittorff was noticed by an umpire when playing in the American Legion World Series. This Umpire was Don Protexter, a coach at Morningside College. He soon after headed off to Morningside College where he studied business and played baseball. Splittorff had a successful college career, and in 1967 played for the US baseball team, which won the Pan-American Games title in Winnipeg.
Splittorff started his Royals career shortly thereafter with the Corning Royals in 1968. As the Royals major league team didn’t play until 1969, Splittorf was considered to have started the first game in organization history when he started the first game for Corning. Just another reason why he is considered an original Royals.
Splittorff quickly made his way through the organization, hitting AA and AAA Omaha in 1969. Splittorff spent a majority of the 1970 season still at Omaha but earned his shot in September.
He started only 1 of his 2 games and gave up 7 earned runs over 8.2 innings pitched. He was sent back to Omaha in 1971 to work on his pitching, and he used to time to get even better. He got called up again in June and never saw the minor leagues again. He finished 5th this year in Rookie of the Year voting.
Splittorff became a star in the Royals rotation, though he was at times overshadowed by other pitchers with more power. He didn’t throw heat, focusing more on finesse to get batters out. Splittorff was not a high strikeout pitcher, often striking out less than 5 batters per 9, but he also had decent control of his pitches, limiting the number of walks he gave up.
Splittorff was a workhorse for the Royals over his major league career that spanned from 1970 to 1984, all in Kansas City, but 1972 to 1980 really showed his strength. During those seasons, it was typical for Splittorff to start 30 or more games in a season, dropping into the 20s only twice during that span, and pitching over 200 innings.
According to an article by John DiFornzo, Splittorff averaged almost 30 starts and 217 innings, along with an ERA between 3.13 and 4.24 during that span from ’72-’80.
In 1973, Splittorff became the Royals first pitcher in franchise history with a 20 win season, going 20-11 and pitching 262.0 innings on the season with an ERA of 3.98. A few years later in 1978, he finished 7th in Cy Young Voting after going 19-13, starting 38 of 39 games over 262.0 innings with an ERA of 3.40 and FIP of 3.82.
Splittorff was not always noticed as much as he likely should have been during his career. He was an important part of the team, but he wasn’t a flamethrower and he didn’t win awards year after year like some. Still, his high leg kick and squinting from the mound will go down in Royal’s history.
Splittorff still holds the Royal’s career records for wins (166), innings pitched (2554.2), games started (392), and batters faced (10829).
After retiring, Splittorff continued to be a part of the Royals organization as a commentator for both television and radio broadcasts.
Splittorff was an important member of the Royals organization and was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1987.
Paul Splittorff may not have been the flashiest pitcher and he may not have had the fastest fastball, but he is an important part of Royal’s history. As a consistent workhorse and an original Royal, he is a perfect example of what it means to be Forever Royal.