As I have written so many times, back in 1977, I started playing Strat-O-Matic. As a youngster, I played Cadaco, and then conjured games my brother and I concocted. The, in the mid-70’s, I played some APBA, but then in ’77 I got Strat-O-Matic as a gift, and never looked back.
Well, that was for eleven years, and then I got hooked on Rotisserie Baseball, and well, you know most of the rest. If you have been reading me for as long as I have been writing, you probably already did.
Well, when my handful of friends and I arranged our first league, we had six players, so rather than an open draft of all stars, we decided to each pick a team. Then from the remaining players/teams, we each got to pick first one player. After a couple of years, we modified to one hitter and pitcher each.
And, then we played our season out.
Well, for many years, my team was the Kansas City Royals. These were the days of a young George Brett and Hal McRae and Al Cowens and Al Hrabosky. Also were Frank White and Dennis Leonard, and eventually Dan Quisenberry and Willie Wilson.
It made me a huge Royals fan. In fact, I so vividly remember the summer of 1980. My then partner Ava and I were on a car camping trip around the Southwest, going to Bryce and Zion and the Grand Canyon.
And, I will never forget being at a Laundromat at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the car between rinse and spin cycles, listening to (I think) KOMA on the car radio, the Royals flagship station. I think they were playing the Brewers, who were still in the American League at the time, and Brett had a shot to hit over the .400 mark.
Well, each year, right there in my stack of cards was Mr. Dependability, Paul Splittorff, the steady, if unexciting left-hander for the Royals.
When I say steady, between 1972 and 1980, Split did not throw less than 204 innings, save in 1975-76 when it was 159 and 158 2/3, respectively. Over his 15 seasons—all spent in Kansas City—Split averaged 14-12, 3.81 numbers, over an averaged 211 innings.
Split was not a big strikeout guy, with just 1,057 over 2,544 2/3 major league innings, and though his control was good (780 walks), he could be hit (2,664 hits).
I guess today Split would comparable to Mark Buerhle: not the first guy you might want on your fantasy roster, but a more than acceptable No. 5 starter in an AL format, and a decent No. 6 in a mixed league.
But, in Strat-O-Matic, where the rotation and everyday players was everything, steady Paul Splittorff was a great thing, as were those average innings and starts. In fact, in those days, one of the things that maybe the Royals a good core team was that they had solid starting pitching, with Split, and Leonard, and Larry Gura as a core troika.
Add in a free agent pitcher, and occasional fifth starts by Marty Pattin, and bang, the arms were set.
While Split was a sort of solid, if unspectacular, performer over those years, every once in a while he would put up a terrific season, like in 1978, when he went 19-14, 3.40, over 262 innings, with a deadly 1.16 WHIP.
That year I managed to cop Ron Guidry as my pitcher pick, and with Split, Leonard, and Gura, won my first Strat home league title (I finished with the best record, but did get beaten in the World Series, within the playoff structure we devised).
It took me a while before I stopped taking Split for granted, and eventually the league did indeed migrate elsewhere. But, as I have said so many times, playing that game in those days taught me all about OBP and WHIP and set the tone for everything I look at now.
Not to mention the experience turned me into a Royals fan for a number of years, such that I still have a soft spot, and am happy about the team’s resurgence.
Splittorff went on to become a radio presence in baseball, and had a reputation for being just one of the nicest guys you could meet (with the passing of Harmon Killebrew recently, times are tough on good-guy baseball players).
In a time of huge contracts and superstar players and behavior, it is nice to remember there are guys like Split and the Killer who also play, going about their jobs in a businesslike fashion, and, as they say, play the game the way it is supposed to be played.
Splittorff passed away last week, just before the holiday weekend, almost as under the radar as he went about his career. As it seems with so many players these days, thank you Paul for showing us how a professional does his job.
And, thank you for helping learn to understand the game that much more.