Iowa State, Big 12 Remembers Paul Splittorff
Column by Mike Green, Iowa State Associate Director of Athletics Communications
AMES, Iowa- Sports fans were saddened when news spread that Paul Splittorff passed away today after losing his battle with oral cancer. "Splitt" was a fabulous pitcher in the 1970s for the Kansas City Royals during the franchise's most prosperous period.
The lanky lefty was a model of consistency for the Royals, spending his entire 15-year career (1970-84) with the organization. He still owns Royal career marks in victories (166), starts (392) and innings pitched (2,554 2/3). He became the club's first 20-game winner in 1973 and was inducted into the Royals' Hall of Fame.
As a child growing up in the 1970s, Splitt was larger than life to me. I was an avid baseball card collector and his bespectacled pose on a trading card became an iconic symbol of my youth. I never was a Royals fan, but I followed Splitt's career, mainly because the Royals always were relevant come October.
After his retirement from baseball in 1984, Splitt joined the Royals broadcast team and began his second career, one which most Iowa State Cyclone fans remember him by. He became a familiar figure on the Big Eight/12 Conference men's basketball television broadcasts. His soothing voice and keen insight became a fixture on the telecasts for over two decades. He was a Hall-of-Famer in his second career, too.
I first met Splitt in 2000 during my inaugural season as the men's basketball sports information contact for the Cyclones. I was in awe and extremely nervous when he was assigned to his first Cyclone game that year. I quickly found out that he was just like me -- a humble, down-to-earth Midwestern guy trying to do his job.
Most people don't know that Splitt played basketball at Morningside College in Sioux City. He knew the game, and it showed on his broadcasts. Most people also are unaware of how much he loved covering Big Eight/12 basketball and games in Hilton Coliseum. He adored the loyal fanbase and the atmosphere which produced "Hilton Magic."
In one of my early seasons on the men's hoops beat, we were on a road trip to face Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. It was the night before the game and the Cyclones were having a meal in a Manhattan restaurant. As we were heading back to the hotel, I saw Splitt by himself eating dinner. We made eye contact and he motioned me over. We ended up talking hoops and life for over two hours. All he wanted to do was talk about Cyclone basketball. Never once did he mention his extraordinary baseball career.
That was Splitt in a nutshell.
Building relationships with coaches, administrators and media is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Developing a friendship with Splitt was very special to me.
I loved it when Splitt was assigned to one of our games. Professionally, it was a plus because I knew he had done his homework. And personally, I cherished the chance to catch up.
When Bobby Knight joined the Big 12 as the head coach at Texas Tech in 2001, his reputation preceded him. He rarely would meet with or give interviews to the Big 12 announcers on-site. But if Splitt was doing a Red Raider game, "The General" always made time to talk. Splitt humbly shrugged it off that the only reason he got the interview was because Knight was a big baseball fan, but it was more than that. Splitt made everyone feel comfortable, even Bobby Knight.
For one season (2005-06), Splitt did the color commentary on all the Cyclone Television Network (CTN) broadcasts. He replaced Cyclone legend, All-American and Hall-of-Famer Gary Thompson that year, driving up from Kansas City with his broadcast partner Dave Armstrong to cover all the games.
We would meet before games and I would try to pick his brain on pitching in three-straight ALCS' (1976, 1977, 1978) against the New York Yankees. He recounted a couple of baseball tales, but always diverted the conversation to Iowa State basketball. He was fascinated with Johnny Orr, Tim Floyd and Larry Eustachy.
Splitt continued to broadcast Big 12 games until he started having voice problems. We were lucky to have him broadcast one last Cyclone game in the 2010 Big 12 regular-season finale. Iowa State scored one of its biggest upsets in school history that day, knocking off No. 5 Kansas State, 85-82 in Manhattan. It was the last time I saw Splitt in person.
Splitt was one of the first people to call me after Fred Hoiberg was hired as head coach. He was excited and optimistic about Iowa State's future and was looking forward to working with "The Mayor". He was scheduled to broadcast a couple of Cyclone games last season, but his health started to fade.
Before the Iowa State-Kansas game last year, Splitt called to ask about getting tickets for his son, Jamie. Jamie was an outstanding pitcher for Kansas in the early 1990s, helping the Jayhawks to the 1993 College World Series.
He said Jamie wanted to see a game in Hilton Coliseum after hearing so many of his stories throughout the years. I normally don't give my season tickets to fans of our opponents, but for Splitt, it was the least I could do to repay him for everything he had done for Iowa State. Of course, the next day I received a phone call from Splitt thanking me for the tickets.
Iowa State and Big 12 basketball just lost one of its biggest fans and the world just lost one of its greatest guys.