During the Royals run in the early 1980's there were a number of quality hitters who paced the team. Yet Dan Quisenberry was every bit as key to their success as George Brett, Willie Wilson and Frank White.
Quis led the league in saves five out of six seasons from 1980 to 1985. He received Cy Young consideration five times, finishing fifth once, third twice and second two times as well. In those same seasons, he also found his name on the ballot for AL MVP. His 45 saves in 1983 set a record for most saves in a season. When he retired, he was the AL career saves leader.
We know what happens to pitchers who make their living pitching to contact. The cracks were beginning to show in 1985. In 1986 his hit rate reached double digits and Steve Farr and Bud Black split the saves with Quis. In '87 it was Gene Garber and Jerry Don Gleaton. By 1988, Quis was getting hit with regularity. The Royals released him on July 4, 1988. He caught on with the Cardinals (ugh) and after a year and a half in St. Louis, he signed with San Francisco. He felt shoulder stiffness early in 1990. He said one of his professional goals was to never go on the disabled list. So instead of going to the DL, Quis walked away from the game on April 29, 1990.
Even those who never saw Quisenberry pitch are aware of his place in Royals lore. A true submariner who threw a ball with incredibly heavy sink, he defied logic because he was the ultimate pitch to contact pitcher. And when hitters made contact, the ball stayed on the ground. It certainly helped to have a Gold Glove second baseman up the middle in Frank White and generally solid defensive shortstops on the other side of the bag.
Quis threw a total of 1043 innings. He struck out only 379 batters, and absurdly low number. Yet he allowed just 162 walks. Amazing. Even more amazing, 70 of those walks were intentional. Remove those intentional walks from his total and his career walk rate would be 0.79 BB/9. Unreal. His home run rate of 0.5 HR/9 was equally astonishing. The guy was a strike-throwing machine, yet in his prime hitters couldn't do a damn thing with his sinker except put it on the ground.
There are a total of five pitchers who plied their trade out of the bullpen in the Hall of Fame. Quisenberry's career numbers compare extremely favorably to HoF reliever Bruce Sutter. Especially in the advanced metrics.
Quis didn't have the strikeouts and was a little short in the save department, yet was the equal of a Hall of Fame reliever. Sadly, he garnered just 3.6 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1996 and was removed from future consideration. I'm not arguing that Quisenberry was a Hall of Fame reliever. While he was the dominant AL closer for a span of six seasons in the early 1980s, I'm a small hall kind of guy. However, for Sutter to be enshrined and for us not to be able to at least have a conversation about Quisenberry's merits is absolutely criminal. The really crazy part of all this is that Sutter was only in his third year of consideration in 1996 and didn't even crack 30 percent. Maybe if Quis had managed to get past that first year, he would have at least been in the discussion while Sutter was climbing the vote.
Even more than his pitching, Quis was known for his good humor and literary chops. A poet and a prankster, Quis was the guy who took the hose and sprayed broiling fans on summer afternoons. He remained involved in several Kansas City area charities, such as Harvesters. As good as he was as a closer, he was a better human being.
In January of 1998, Quis was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery but doctors were unable to remove the entire tumor, which was malignant. He was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame on May 30, 1998. Over 30,000 fans came out that night to pay tribute. It was as emotional night as there will ever be at The K.
He was taken way too early from us on September 30, 1998.