The Cooperstown Case for Dan Quisenberry

When it comes to the Baseball Hall of Fame, relief pitchers usually get overlooked. In fact, out of the 333 players in the Hall of Fame, only eight were primarily relievers: Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera.

But ever since 1996, when the pitcher we’re about to name first was added to the ballot, he’s gotten attention on whether or not he should be inducted. And that man is Dan Quisenberry.

At the time, only Gossage and Wilhelm were inducted into Cooperstown, and many in the baseball world were on the fence regarding the inclusion of relievers at all. Regardless, there was a stretch where Quisenberry was one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball, and played a crucial role in helping the Royals defeat the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.

But before we go there, let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Quisenberry made his MLB debut with the Kansas City Royals on July 8th, 1979. He pitched 2⅔ scoreless innings while allowing just two hits. Overall, in his first season, “Quiz” finished with a 3-2 record and an ERA of 3.15. He also recorded five saves.

Fans fondly remember Quisenberry for a variety of reasons, one of which being his style of pitching. His style was known as “submarine-style”, side-arming a pitch as opposed to over-handed. The idea was pitched to him by Royals manager Jim Frey, who suggested he learn it from Pirates reliever Kent Tekulve. The reason was because, unlike most relievers (and more specifically, closers) of his time, Quisenberry didn’t possess a hard-throwing fastball, but instead he had a sinking fastball. Control and confusion were his biggest traits used to throw off batters.

But it wasn’t just the fans that loved “Quiz”, as shown in 1983, when the Kansas City Royals offered him a lifetime contract, similar to that of Hall of Famer George Brett. And he delivered. In 1983, he briefly held the record for saves in a season with 45. Also, he became the first pitcher in Major League history to have multiple 40+ save seasons.

In 1985, in the “I-70 Series” between the Cardinals and Royals, Quisenberry closed out the Royals’ first World Series in team history as they defeated the Cardinals in seven games filled with intensity and controversy.

However, the lifetime contract Quisenberry had signed would soon prove false as after a struggling first-half of 1988, he was released by the Royals. After the All-Star break, he was signed by Whitey Herzog and the St. Louis Cardinals. Following a short stint with the Cardinals and later Giants, he retired in 1990 after 12 seasons at the age of 37.

Sadly, “Quiz” died at the age of 45 in September 1998 due to brain cancer.

Now, to determine his candidacy for Cooperstown, let’s compare two relief pitchers (stats via Baseball Reference):

Pitcher A: 68-71, 300 saves, 2.83 ERA in 1,042 innings pitched. MLB leader in saves five times, six-time All-Star, won a Cy Young, was the closer on a World Series champion, compiled 24.5 career WAR (by Baseball Reference).

Pitcher B: 56-46, 244 saves, 2.76 ERA in 1,043 innings. MLB leader in saves five times, three-time All-Star, was second twice in Cy Young voting, was the closer on a World Series champion, compiled 24.9 career WAR (by Baseball Reference).

Ready for the reveal? Pitcher A is Bruce Sutter. Pitcher B is Quisenberry. So with stats so similar, and their impact with their respective teams similar as well, why isn’t Quisenberry in the Hall of Fame?

One reason could be that Sutter was the closer of the iconic “Whiteyball” teams of the 1980’s. However, on the opposite side of the state, “Quiz” was a fixture of the successful Royals teams of the early-to-mid 80’s as well. Both were intimidating in their own styles: Sutter was a physical, imposing force, while Quisenberry’s style played with the mind.

At the very least, “Quiz” deserves another look at possible induction for Cooperstown. Perhaps it will create an even bigger opportunity for relievers of the future.

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