Let us talk about one of the most overlooked players in baseball history. A man who for a 5 or 6 year stretch was arguably the best at his position. His three main contemporaries are all in the Hall of Fame while he has had no shot at enshrinement. I loved watching this guy even though it seemed like the Yankees couldn’t get a ball out of the infield against him. Let us talk about the man himself, Dan Quisenberry.
Signed as an amateur free agent in 1975, Quiz did not make his major league debut with the Kansas City Royals until July of 1979. Beginning in 1980, he began a six year stretch in which he led the American League in saves five times. He finished in the top five of the Cy Young award voting five times, twice finishing in second place. In 1983, he set a then Major League record with 45 saves while pitching to a ridiculous amount (for a reliever) of 139 innings and a 1.94 ERA. Today, closers may need almost TWO seasons to reach 139 innings. When subtracting the 1981 strike-shortened season (an impressive 18 saves and 1.73 ERA for Quiz that year) I would put his five year average from 1980-1985 of 74 games, 132.2 innings pitched, 2.52 ERA and 39 saves right up there with any five year stretch of the best closers in baseball history. So why is Quiz overlooked?
Perhaps one reason was that he spent his dominant years with the Royals. Goose Gossage spent six years with the Yankees, Bruce Sutter pitched for the Cubs and Cardinals and Rollie Fingers was the closer on three straight World Champion Oakland A’s teams (and was a Cy Young and MVP winner in 1981 with the Milwaukee Brewers). From 1979 through 1985 the Royals made the playoffs four times with two World Series appearances (a World Series title in 1985) so Quiz did get some national exposure. However, the small market of Kansas City does not command the same attention as New York, Chicago, St. Louis and a colorful cast of characters in Oakland.
While market size may have hindered Quiz’s profile after he retired (to be fair, at the time he was respected by players and fans alike) there are two other logical explanations as to why today’s fans may not recognize him. The first is that after 1985, his career took a swift turn downwards. After recording only 12 saves in 1986 and 8 saves in 1987, he was released by the Royals in July 1988 and signed by the Cardinals. After a season and a half in St. Louis, he ended his career after the 1990 season as a member of the San Francisco Giants. After 1986, Quiz only recorded a grand total of 16 saves to finish with a career total of 244. The other reason why he may be overlooked his that while he piled up a boatload of saves in six seasons, he was not a classic strikeout or power closer. When one thinks of a closer, Rivera’s cut fastball, Sutter’s split fingered fastball and Gossage’s pure heat come to mind immediately. Quiz probably did not throw harder than 82 MPH with that funky submarine delivery. But all he did was get people out. And in the end, isn’t that what matters?
I am not saying Dan Quisenberry should be put in the Hall of Fame. He did not have enough dominant years to deserve induction and he played only 12 seasons. However, because of the inflated saves numbers recorded by other relievers after he retired, younger fans may not fully appreciate how lights out Dan Quisenberry was in his prime. Also, from everything I have read about him, he was a wonderful person and a great character. His death in 1998 at the age of 45 from brain cancer was nothing short of tragic. Count me as a Quiz fan for life who never gets enough of visualizing the submarine delivery and 1-2-3 efficiency.