Paul Splittorff spent his 15-year MLB career with the Kansas City Royals befuddling major league batters as a talented southpaw on the mound. The past two seasons he has done the same to Royals fans who have tuned in to Royals TV broadcasts on FoxSports. Splittorff was there for opening day in 2010 but his voice was gone. The longtime Royals’ analyst’s speech was slurred. He had people asking if he had suffered a stroke.
Splittorff quickly brushed off all questions about his health by saying he had simply caught a virus and that he expected his voice to recover soon. Fox removed him after the 2010 season opener but he returned to the broadcasts later last season. After returning, his voice seemed no better despite the layoff.
Splitt has been there for almost every Royals’ home game I’ve watched this season and sounded worse than ever. His speech issues again have sparked a number of rumors and questions as to what is affecting his speech. I have confirmed with people close to Splitt that he has been suffering from both throat cancer and melanoma now for some time and he appears to be close to death. He recently was administered Last Rites from his priest in his KU Medical Center hospital room. He is not expected to make it through the week.
Individuals at the Med Center have marveled at how head-on Splittorff has handled his cancer. He would take his chemo treatments and then rush out the door to cover the Royals. His charts at KU Med are covered with warnings to not bother him with autograph requests or to ask him for the typical requests all professional athletes receive. This didn’t stop at least one doctor from asking Splittorff if he could bring his sons by to meet him. And anyone who knows Splitt knows that he told the doctor. “Sure, that would be fine.”
I first saw Splitt pitch when he was breaking in with the Royals in Omaha in 1969. I was just starting high school and the Royals had just replaced the A’s as Kansas City’s expansion team. It seemed every time I went to Rosenblatt Stadium, Splittorff was the starting pitcher for the Omaha Royals. I was always disappointed. How could this skinny lefty from Morningside College be expected to make it in The Show? Obviously, I had an eye for talent even then.
I got to know Splitt a bit when I wrote for The Star and spent some time in the Royals’ press box. I don’t think you could find a more down-to-earth guy. He never acted like a former player by big-timing anyone. He was beyond humble, especially about his broadcasting. We sat and talked about my column – as he nervously picked away at flecks of dry skin on his hands and arms.
He took his broadcasting career very seriously. When he started broadcasting games for ESPN, he was in a word – awful. I wrote in a column how bad he was and we talked about that column a few times. Splitt told me he agreed 100% with how bad I thought he was during his early years. It made him work all the harder at his new craft.
Splitt eventually became very good as an analyst and a broadcaster. He was excellent at making a point. During the height of the Royals 100-loss seasons, Splitt was one of the few broadcasters associated with the Royals to criticize the club for their lack of direction and the deterioration of a once-proud franchise. He quickly became one of my favorite analysts because of his passion for the Royals and his fearlessness in speaking his mind.
While he has battled cancer, much of that fire and insight has dimmed from his work on Royals’ broadcasts. Only Splitt knows why he was determined to go on television when he might have been spending his last year doing something we all would find more life fulfilling. But as I stated, Splitt takes his job seriously. Going to work is what he finds life fulfilling. We need more guys like Splitt wearing Royals blue. We need more guys like Splitt period.
GregHall24@yahoo.com and Twitter / greghall24