Chicago Daily Herald - October 17, 1980

Splittorff Deserves Shot at Glory


By Bob Frisk, Sports Editor


A good newsman prides himself on the fact that he can remain detached from the event he is covering.


The goal is an objective and unbiased account.


There is an unwritten rule in this business called no cheering in the press box, and Jerry Holtzman wrote a book using it as a title.


In other words, we're supposed to be neutral observers — aloof from what we are covering. Cool it in the press box. No cheerleading. Don't pound tables or wave pennants.


It's not that easy. Maybe it's good I'm'not going to be in Kansas City this weekend for" the World Series. There is absolutely no way I could become a neutral observer if Paul Splittorff finally walks to the pitcher's mound for Kansas City in the biggest game of his professional career.


I HAVE nothing against Philadelphia, and take pride in the fact that the Phillies' Greg Luzinski (Prospect Heights) and George Vukovich (Arlington Heights) grew up in this area, but I go back almost 20 years with Splittorff, and there is something very special about this 6-foot-3 left-hander from Arlington High School.


And he deserves a chance to pitch in the World Series.


"I think he's wrong," Splittorff said of Manager Jim Frey's apparent decision to assign him to the bullpen. Splittorff said that Frey told him he might pitch the sixth game or work in an unfamiliar relief role.


"It's not the time of year to be making waves," said Splittorff. "This is much too important to the team, the organization and Kansas City. But it's unfair to me and my teammates."


SPLITTORFF feels he should not be called upon in a crucial situation as anything but a starting pitcher.


"If I'm called on in relief, I expect to do the job. But he (Frey) is taking a big chance.


"That would be like asking Frank White (Kansas City's second baseman) to play shortstop. Based on the job I've done in the past (173-117 career record) and this year (14-11), I really feel I should get the chance to pitch. I think I will, one way or another, so I'll keep a positive attitude and be ready to do the best I can."


When Splittorff speaks up about anything, you know he's got a good case. Through the 20 years I have known him, there has been very little change in the man. He was a class act as a young athlete, and he's a class act as a professional.


I covered the first basketball and baseball games Splittorff ever played at Arlington High School. I was a part of his remarkable sum mer of 1965 when he helped pitch Arlington Heights to the American Legion World Series. I was in Comiskey Park on Sept. 23, 1970 when he pitched his first major league baseball game for Kansas City. I talked with him after he won 20 games for the Royals in 1973 and after some nagging injuries threatened to handicap his career.


HE ALWAYS has handled the lows with as much, poise as the highs.


If you're looking for a hero among the professional athletes today, there would be nothing wrong with picking Splittorff.


Yes, it is possible there actually is someone out there for the youth of today to admire. Maybe all the heroes haven't disappeared.


The athletes today claim there are no heroes because the negative press is always tearing people down. So they apparently feel it's proper to berate sportswritcrs, refuse autographs for youngsters, take punches at teammates or managers or fans.


Then there is Paul Splittorff.


He always has had a positive influence on people, including the men who helped mold his career.


"HE'S A class guy," says Lloyd Meyer, who coached Splittorff through three summers of American Legion baseball, including the 1965 march to the World Series in Aberdeen, S. D "With some people you might hesitate to approach them as they reach a certain level in professional sports. You never mind calling Paul, never hesitate to ask a question, a favor. He's just a nice person, a great kid to coach and a real gentleman at all times.


"When he sees you at the ballpark, he doesn't look the other way. He comes over, shakes hands, spends some time with you. Yes, there is something very special about Paul "


Meyer, who left Thursday for Kansas City, has two former players in the Series — Splittorff and Vukovich. Ironically, Splittorff and Vukovich attended the same church, high school and later played for the same American Legion Post 208. Meyer wants to be a part of this rare meeting of his former players.


Vukovich is young at 24 and has many years ahead, but it would be a tragedy if the 34-year-old Spittorff, the winningest pitcher in Kansas City Royals' history, failed to make even a single appearance in his first World Series.


HERE'S A guy who was one of the first 56 players ever signed by the Kansas City Royals He was the first of those 56 players sent to the majors.


They can talk all they want about the Phillies being tougher on lefthanders (that's what the book says), but it was southpaw Larry Gura — and not right-handers Dennis Leonard or Dan Quisenberry — who did the best job in two losing games.


Splittorff, the time-tested veteran, could be just what Kansas City needs at home to turn this Series around.


Splittorff remembers his disappointments through the years. Just reaching the league playoffs before and missing out on the Series was crushing. It was a big blow when he failed to make the All-Star team in 1973. "I had been told from word filtering down that I would make it," Splittorff recalled. “I had a 12-5 record at the break


"The week or so before the game, I hurt my back. But I was still scheduled to pitch the weekend before the game. And yet I wasn't named to the team. That was a major disappointment."


EVEN THAT disappointment would pale in comparison to not getting a chance to pitch in his first World Series — a chance he feels he has earned.


Professional athletes today are not always the admirable role models for youth. Many are nothing more than overgrown adolescents themselves.


Fortunately, there are exceptions, and that's why this likable pitcher on the Kansas City Royals is one of my personal favorites through 22 years in the sportswriting business.


So pardon me if I find it very tough to be objective if Splittorff gets the chance he deserves and pitches for Kansas City. There may not be any cheering in the World Series press box, but there's going to be some real cheerleading in front of my television set.