Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Splitt

I grew up in a time (late 70's) when it was normal behavior for kids to sit in a room every night listening to Denny Matthews and Fred White describe baseball games every night all summer long. The games meant something then, probably more than they should have or as Posnanski always says, maybe that's just what it is to be a kid. I knew every Royal player, I knew their number and I knew their stats (well, I didn't know their OBP as I don't think that even existed then). I hated the players they played against, especially the Tigers like Steve Kemp, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker and the Mariners because we never seemed to beat them even though the Royals were the best team in baseball.

One in 5 of those nights Paul Splittorff took the mound and we listened. Weak grounder to U.L., weak grounder to White, weak grounder to Brett. Splitt was a junker and no ones favorite player. That was Willie Wilson, U.L. Washington, Quiz, Clint Hurdle. Splittorff was the non flashy guy. Even that huge leg kick of his would make you think about his 80 mph fastball (that Royals scout delightfully describes as "wouldn't even blacken an eye") and how easy it would be to steal second. The guy had nothing and yet still got people out, went out every fifth day and won games. I don't think a guy like Splitt would even get a chance nowadays. As I grew up playing baseball nearly every day, I began to respect Splitt, I could throw a ball harder, but I was never successful at getting anyone out.

Then he was gone, the new bucks came up, Saberhagen, Gubicza, Black, Jackson. Splitt, who'd been with the team since inception wasn't there for the World Series Championship, but he was starting his second career as a broadcaster. Again, he wasn't my favorite. Let's face it, he was an ugly guy, his voice barely wavered above a monotone. But, damn, he did tell it like it was. He probably witnessed more bad baseball by a team he loved than anybody in history. But, he showed up every day, learned his job and did it better than the Royals deserved.

Then there was opening day a couple of years ago and Splitt sounded drunk with a load of marbles in his mouth. We had concern. And he was gone a couple of days later. We weren't supposed to worry, we weren't supposed to be concerned, it was a minor thing. I think it pained Splitt more that people might talk about him that he didn't want to be a distraction to the team, an awful team. Grandfatherly Frank White took over, a beloved Royals superstar. It was nice to hear White, but, at least for me, I kind of wished for Splitt to be back. It surprised me, but I missed Splitt. He'd been a part of my life for my entire life.

I watched a game a couple of weeks ago and Splitt was there doing the pregame and postgame. He still didn't sound that great, but it was good to see him. He sounded more like a drunk Jerry Remy than a drunk with a mouth full of marbles. I thought if it works for Remy, Splitt can make a go of it. Then the news came, cancer. It was like a kick in the balls. This wasn't just cancer, this was cancer progressed, this was death is imminent. I just saw the damn Swede. He didn't want to be the story.

Splitt died this morning. A piece of my life died this morning. It shouldn't be so goddamned sad, he was a guy on my radio, a guy on my TV, a guy on the baseball field but he mattered. And now he's gone and I'm going to miss him. He was old school, I'm going to pop open a Boulevard Pilsner, the most old school KC beer I can think of, turn on the TV at 5:30 to see the pregame show and most likely see grown men cry. They probably won't be alone.

Good job Splitt, we'll miss you.

4 comments:

  1. Very nicely written. I didn't grow up in KC, but quickly grew to love listening to Splitt on the air. Had a wonderful way of adding insight to the game. Make that two pils, please.

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  2. I never saw him pitch, but still grew up with him, and was saddened by the news this morning.

    Damn well done

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  3. RIP Splitt. I didn't realize how much I'd miss him.

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  4. Damn, I love that photo. Represents everything the Royals were in the 70s and 80s. Lots of grit and passion. Basically, they just seemed like a bunch of blue collar guys who would put in a hard day's work on the diamond and follow it up with rounds of beers after the game.

    RIP Split. You were one of the best.

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