My first few weeks covering the Royals were a blur. I was hired early in March of 2009 and arrived in Kansas City for the first time in my life the day after St. Patrick’s Day. There was a lot of moving, people to meet and ropes of sports-talk radio to learn (which I’d never done before). There was even a blink-and-you-missed-it trip to Arizona for Royals spring training. I was really looking forward to the start of the season when things would settle down, or so I thought.
The Royals opened ’09 on the road, in Chicago, a game many Royals fans remember for two reasons: Jim Thome’s go-ahead two-run homer off Kyle Farnsworth in the 8th inning (why wasn’t Juan Cruz pitching!?) and Paul Splittorff not sounding like himself and leaving the television broadcast.
I didn’t listen to the TV broadcast of that game, choosing to put it on mute to listen to the radio broadcast instead, so I didn’t hear how Splitt sounded that day. However, I was inundated with text messages and, later, phone calls wondering what was up with Splitt (good thing I wasn’t on Twitter yet). As a result, I found myself in an awkward position. Here was a broadcaster I had never heard call a baseball game, a local icon, not sounding like himself. Yet, I was an out-of-towner with no perspective to offer on the matter. The next day, Frank White became the TV analyst and, several days later, the Kansas City Star printed an article revealing Splitt’s vocal problems were the result of a virus that would hopefully clear up down the road.
As the 2009 season wore on, Splitt started spending more time around Kauffman Stadium. I introduced myself to him once and he never forgot my name or what I did, something that amazed me in part because he didn’t need to know who I was and in part because I’m terrible at remembering names. He was easily approachable and loved talking baseball. And, with Splitt, it was truly talking about baseball not him telling you about baseball. He was just as interested in what you thought or had to say about a particular aspect of the game as he was in giving you his opinion. He listened as well as he talked, not an easy feat for any human being, let alone a successful athlete. And, he always wanted to know more. Twice, I asked him a question he couldn’t answer at that moment. Both times, he approached me a couple of weeks later with an answer to questions I’d forgotten I’d asked in the first place.
When Splitt started calling a handful of games again in the 2010 season, I felt bad for him because I knew what high standards he had for himself as a broadcaster. He wasn’t an ex-player who figured leaning on his fame and success was enough to satisfy the fans and the powers that be – even if it would’ve been, especially after his vocal problems. It was very important to Splitt to be the best broadcaster he could possibly be, just as I’m sure it had been important to him to be the best pitcher he could possibly be. And, if you could get past how Splitt sounded, there was some great information. He worked hard not only to know the Royals and their opponent that given day, but the entire league. I’ve been fortunate enough to listen and to meet to a lot of broadcasters over the years and I can say, without hesitation, that none were more informed or better prepared than Splitt. There are some who are as informed and as prepared, but none better. So, even though I never heard Splitt call a Royals game prior to his speech problems, I have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for how he did his job.
Rest in peace, Splitt. I will miss you.