What a sad day it is for Kansas City, that we have lost Royals’ great Paul Splittorff to cancer.
The 64-year-old former pitcher and, until recently, TV announcer, died at his home in Blue Springs.
I never met him, but, like tens of thousands of Royals’ fans, I always admired his grit and his class. At the end, it was his courage that stood out. One of the reasons news of his death strikes with such force is that memories and mental images of him being alive are so fresh.
He continued announcing until a few weeks ago, against all odds, simply refusing to yield to his collapsing internal systems.
It was difficult, and puzzling, to watch as his health declined, but he never sought pity or sorrow: He wanted the focus to be on the games, on his beloved Royals. When his voice started going out a few years ago, he attributed it to a viral infection, and never gave any indication the problem was significant.
Of course, as he continued to deteriorate, it was clear that the problems went much deeper than infection. Last week, Greg Hall, a former Kansas City Star writer, broke the story on KC Confidential that Splitt was dying of cancer and had entered the University of Kansas Hospital.
In comments to the piece, Hall came under a rash of criticism for allegedly violating Splitt’s and his family’s right to privacy. I think Hall’s piece was completely valid and warranted, however, especially because Splitt had decided that he wanted to keep the focus off himself by underplaying the seriousness of his problem. Clearly, it was a big story, mainly because of his stature and his public role.
Within hours of Hall’s story being posted, Splitt’s family acknowledged that he had cancer. At that point, they asked for privacy. To the best of my knowledge, the press complied.
I don’t want to overstate this, but the way Splitt decided to go out — playing his hand as best he could in front of the cameras — reminded me of the late Pope John Paul II’s protracted, very public deterioration.
For several years, when I would watch Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, I would look at John Paul, shake my head and think, “Well, this is going to be his last Christmas Eve Mass. No way he’ll be back next year.” But he kept coming back.
God bless him, Splitt chose the same route. What an example of fortitude.
If the same fate befell me, I’m pretty sure I would just curl up, close the doors and tell everyone to leave me alone.
May you rest in peace, Paul, and reap the reward of eternal life.