I vaguely remember Splittorff as a pitcher and what I do remember was 1983-84 when he was in the twilight of a good career.
When he was in his prime, he was a very tough and durable lefty; I’m sure you’ll get a better assessment of Splittorff from Bill James and Rob Neyer.
What sticks out in my mind about Splittorff comes from reading about the Yankees of the late-1970s amid the Reggie Jackson–Billy Martin soap opera that was in its heyday during the entire 1977 season.
Martin and Jackson had a very public feud about a dozen things that season, but in the playoffs, Martin benched Jackson in game 5 of the ALCS because Jackson had gone 2 for 15 against the lefty Splittorff that season.
The Yankees won the game and advanced to and won the World Series over the Dodgers, but the back-and-forth continued into the Fall Classic as is seen here in this NY Times column (PDF Format).
Martin was, of course, picking on Reggie just for the sake of it and using random statistics to back up a ridiculous decision.
You don’t bench Reggie Jackson in the final game of a playoff series. It was a similarly irascible maneuver as the one Joe Torre pulled with Alex Rodriguez in the 2006 ALCS against the Tigers, but at least Torre didn’t go to the extent of benching A-Rod.
In truth, it wasn’t even a statistically sound call on the part of Martin.
Martin was the best game manager I’ve ever seen, but it’s an open secret as to what kept him from being truly great—the chip on his shoulder the size of Reggie’s ego; and his off-field self-destructiveness.
In a slight nod to Martin, Reggie’s replacement in right field, Paul Blair, ripped Splittorff to the tune of a .441 average for his career in 34 at bats with no power; Mickey Rivers and Cliff Johnson hammered Splittorff as well.
But if Martin wanted to adhere so stringently to stats, he should’ve realized that Blair was no longer the player he was with the Orioles; that Blair was little more than a defensive replacement for the Yankees at that point in his career and should not have been in the lineup of a playoff game instead of Reggie Jackson.
Here are Splittorff’s, er, splits against lefties for his career (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com):
|vs LHB as LHP||2212||2020||229||509||63||23||31||138||241||.252||.303||.352||.655||711||.271||84|
And here are Reggie’s numbers against Splittorff before 1977:
Reggie hit Splittorff well enough to be in the lineup despite his poor showing in 1977; but Martin chose to be a bully against a player he reviled with the one thing he had left to use as a hammer—the lineup card.
Martin’s self-destructive nature naturally extended to the field; had he not won the World Series that year, his antics and treatment of Reggie would’ve been cause to fire him earlier than his first Yankees departure at mid-season 1978.
As you know, he returned again…and again…and again and never achieved the same lofty heights he did in 1977 when the Yankees won because of Reggie’s heroic World Series performance.
In addition to having a fine career as a player and broadcaster, Splittorff will forever be remembered as a pawn in the Reggie-Billy war; one of baseball’s epic battles between player and manager.
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