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Paul Splittorff

May 26, 2011

I’ve always been prone to repetition, comforting unsurprising unchanging repetition. Time cannot move forward, can it, if everything stays exactly the same? I first felt the relentless progress of time and change when I was a kid and tried to ignore it and fight it with these cards, with the ritual of getting them and sorting them and studying them. The names and faces repeated year to year, and this helped build the illusion that I and everything around me would remain the same forever. Even as I changed, growing taller, getting glasses, getting braces, smiling less, getting boners, many elements of the cardboard world stayed the same. I was the same as always, at least deep inside, as long as Paul Splittorff was Paul Splittorff was Paul Splittorff.

This morning, after spotting some news on the Internet about Paul Splittorff, I looked for him in my collection and found the three cards at the top of this page. At first brief glance I wondered if Topps had reused a photo of him for more than one card, as they’d done once in a great while with other players. But on a closer look it became clear by the variations in backgrounds behind Paul Splittorff and by the variations in clothing worn under the uniform of Paul Splittorff that the while the world around him changed, Paul Splittorff remained as unchanging as humanly possible, a still point, or maybe more accurately—judging from the arresting similarity from year to year in the shadow he cast—some kind of human sundial, a way to know time.

The transactions section of Paul Splittorff’s page on baseball-reference.com is notably brief, especially considering the left-handed pitcher played for fifteen seasons during an era in which player movement from team to team exploded, splintering many players’ identity through the years, as reflected in my baseball cards, into a garish Technicolor fashion show, everyone changing uniforms every year, everything in flux, everyone on the move, even faces changing with the arrival of mustaches and sideburns and wildman fu manchus. Paul Splittorff, by contrast, stayed put, the only transactions of his career almost apologetic in their brevity, one noting his drafting by the Royals in 1968, a second several years later, in November 1982, noting that he had been granted free agency, and the third and final entry a quick December 1982 reply to the previous transaction, Paul Splittorff quietly re-signing with the Royals. Paul Splittorff retired after the 1984 season as the all-time franchise leader in victories (a mark he still holds), and soon after that began working as a Royals’ broadcaster, a job he held for 24 years, from 1987 through May of this year even as he battled the cancer that took his life yesterday at the age of 64.

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For more on a man who knew time, be sure to check out Joe Posnanski’s tribute to Paul Splittorff.

5 comments

  1. Great piece.

    Those of us who grew up in the 70s are entering a tough period. Our childhood heroes are passing by the week. I’m gonna be a mess when key players from the Big Red Machine start to go.


  2. 64 is pretty young – I doubt us bb fans of the 1970s will have to worry about too much of that, at least for a little while. Yaz at 72 or so looks to be in decent shape for his age.


  3. This year, I got the MLB Extra innnings package which is fucking great. I just sit after work and watch a lot of baseball that I never have before. Last night’s Royals broadcast informed me a lot about Paul Splittorff. He even had to be talked into Paul Splittorff night as a tribute to his career. Just a dude who liked to pitch for the Royals. I am an 80’s kid and when the Macho King died last week, I was surprised by how much it upset me.


  4. Splittorff’s glasses were so of the era, and he and Amos Otis so represented the identity of the pre-World Series Royals. (Larry Gura was another surefire Royals baseball card when I was a kid.) It must have been cool to have lasted through the Royals’ mediocre years and then make the World Series.


  5. Man, “The Human Sundial….”

    I wish he had been known by that nickname back while he was still playing,
    but no matter – from now on Splitorff’s identity shall forever be forged as such into perpetuity.

    I pretty much would consistently ignore the Royals (and the rest of the distant AL West) for the duration of baseball season, before passionately cheering them on Each fall against the Yankees (usually futiley).

    As such, I always linked Splitorff in, loosely and somewhat interchangeably, with that ever-promising group of Royal starters whom I knew primarily from just their names and baseball cards: Al Fitzmorris, Dennis Leonard, Rich Gale …..

    Splitorff had the added benefit of wearing glasses exactly like mine – those trademarked ’70’s wire-rimmed aviator style frames known as the “Ogilvie.”

    The sense of pride coursing through me whenever a George Theodore, a Tim Foli, an Eric Soderholm, had a good day in the boxscores, was palpable…



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