Dan Quisenberry should never have worn a uniform other than the Kansas City Royals’ uni. He was a quintessential figure in Royals history and one of the most beloved players ever to don those threads.
The Southern California native was hardly a top prospect. Undrafted in 1975, he signed with the Royals organization and didn’t make his big league debut until 1979 when he was 26 years old. While he was toiling in the minor leagues, the Royals lost the ALCS to the Yankees in 1976, 1977 and 1978 with their bullpen letting them down in each series.
Quiz made his debut in 1979 and pitched well, but not in a way that anyone would think was about to change the history of the franchise.
In Spring Training of 1980, Royals manager Jim Frey suggested that Quisenberry threw side armed like Pirates closer Kent Tekulve. The submarine delivery made his change up and sinker ball harder to hit.
While most closers tried to bring heat from the pen in late innings, Quisenberry brought his swooping soft stuff to the 9th. The result was a league leading 33 saves for the AL West champion Royals.
Once again, the Royals faced the Yankees in the ALCS. This time, they had a closer. He allowed 1 earned run in 4 2/3 innings, earning a win in one appearance and throwing 3 2/3 innings for the win in the clinching Game 3 victory. The Royals had finally vanquished the Yankees and won the pennant and had done so with Quisenberry on the mound.
He did not fare as well in the World Series, losing a pair of games in relief, but he finished 5th in the Cy Young vote and was putting together an All Star career.
Throughout the 1980’s, before the bullpen closer became a one inning specialists job, Quisenberry was the elite reliever in the American League. 4 straight years he finished in the top 3 for the Cy Young vote, and in 3 of those years was in the top 10 for the MVP. And he did so pitching nearly 2 innings an appearance.
With the 1985 pennant on the line in Game 6 of the 1985 ALCS in Toronto, Quisenberry wiggled out of trouble for the save. He also came out of the bullpen to close out Game 7, making him at the time the only pitcher to ever clinch a post season series for Kansas City. He was 2 for 2.
In the 1985 World Series, he was credited with the win in the infamous Don Denkinger Game 6. He did not appear in the Game 7 clincher as Bret Saberhagen went the distance with a complete game shutout.
After the 1985 triumph, Quisenberry’s career took a sharp downward turn. He lost the closer job in 1986 and by 1988 was released. The Cardinals signed him to be a set up man and he actually had a fine season in 1989, throwing to a 2.64 ERA over 78 1/3 innings.
He made a cameo in San Francisco for the 1990 season and eventually hung up his spikes.
His post baseball life included writing poetry. A collection of his poems were published in the late 1990s. Sadly he passed away in 1998 from brain cancer.
The clever and witty Quisenberry, always one with a funny quote and beloved by his teammates, did not make it into the Hall of Fame. He barely stayed on the ballot after one go at it, despite similar stats to Bruce Sutter. For a period of time, he was the AL career leader in saves. The Veterans Committee examined his stats twice and still have not let him in.
But he does not need Cooperstown to confirm that he was a great success story, an undrafted superstar who won without the best stuff and someone who finally got the Royals over the hump.
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