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Dan Quisenberry for the Hall of Fame

Nov 5, 2013, 11:40 AM EDT

Dan Quisenberry

OK, so you have probably heard — there are 12 finalists on what the Baseball Hall of Fame is calling the Expansion Era Ballot. These are players, managers and executives who contributed during what the Hall (naturally) calls the Expansion Era — from 1973 to the present. Only problem is, that’s not really the Expansion Era. There was no expansion in 1973. There was expansion in 1969, of course, and expansion in 1961 and 1962. There was even expansion in 1977.

What happened in 1973? Oh yeah: They should instead call it the “Designated Hitter Era.”

Anyway, there will be a 16-member panel that will vote on the players — 75% (12 out of 16) are needed for Hall of Fame induction. It’s a good panel with Hall of Famers (Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, Frank Robinson), a few executives (Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, former Orioles president Andy MacPhail, Phillies president and CEO David Montgomery, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf) and writers who have closely observed the game (Elias’ Steve Hirdt, San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins, BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell and longtime Fort Worth Star Telegram writer Jim Reeves).

Quickly, the 12 people on the ballot are:

Players (6): Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons.

Managers (4): Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Joe Torre.

Executives (2): George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller.

And so, because I’m crazy, I’m going to go through the 12 candidates one at a time (well, I’m going to do the managers all at once and maybe the executives too).

And I’ll start with the man whose appearance on this ballot makes me want to cry with happiness, an old friend, Dan Quisenberry.

Dan Quisenberry

Summary: Outstanding relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals from from 1979 to 1988. Finished his career with short and mostly unfulfilling stints in St. Louis and San Francisco. … Famous for his submarine pitching delivery and his wit. Among his many famous quotes: “I have seen the future and it is much like the present, only longer.”

The quick case: Won Rolaids Fireman of the Year five times, tied with Mariano Rivera for the most ever. … He set the Major League record with 45 saves in 1983. That record was broken, but he set another record that year that still stands and will almost certainly NEVER be broken — 35 of those saves lasted more than one inning … Led the league in saves five times in six years and finished top three in the Cy Young voting four years in a row. … One of the great control pitchers in baseball history, he had just 92 unintentional walks in more than 1,000 innings.

The history: Quisenberry got just 18 votes his one year on the BBWAA ballot — 119 fewer than his contemporary Bruce Sutter, even though they were equals as pitchers. I think Quiz was hurt by his relatively low career save total (244), and the quirky way he went about doing his job.

Comparable Hall of Famer: Bruce Sutter

Right up front: I do not claim to be unbiased or even-handed when it comes to Quiz. I was beginning to know him when he died — I met him at a poetry reading. We were friends. I am still friends with his wife Janey and their now grown-up children, Alysia and David. I believe Dan Quisenberry was a wonderful man and a fantastic pitcher and it would be one of the great days of my life if he was elected into the Hall of Fame. He has his case. I have written many times: Quiz was every bit the pitcher that Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter was, even if they did it in very different ways.

Let me talk about something else. Start with a fun little thought experiment: Think for a moment about the sport that you love the most and have played the best. It really doesn’t matter what sport it is. For the example, I’ll choose tennis. I was never a good tennis player. But I probably was better at tennis than anything else when I was in high school.

OK, now, here’s the fun part: You get to infuse yourself with as much athletic ability and talent as you want. You keep your own personality, but you get to be the ideal version of yourself in that sport. Who are you? In my case, I’m Roger Federer. Hey, why not? I try to play Federer’s game 75 bajillion levels below Federer himself. Of course I am not comparing myself. I’m saying that my tennis game at the nth power is not Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic or Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi or John McEnroe. It’s Roger Federer. That’s the unattainable height above my game.

It’ a fun game to play. If you see yourself as a wide receiver, you might see your ideal self as a tall, fast, unstoppable blur like Andre Johnson or you might see yourself as the relentless Jerry Rice or you might see yourself as the ultra quick, in-and-out Wes Welker. If basketball is your sport than at its highest level you might be Lebron James or Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or Tim Duncan.

And if your sport is baseball and you think of yourself as a pitcher, your ideal self might be a big left-handed fireballer like Koufax or Unit or Kershaw, maybe a right-handed flame thrower like Verlander or Seaver or Pedro, maybe a pitching savant like Maddux or Lee. If you see yourself as a closer, you are probably Mariano Rivera. You might be Trevor Rosenthal too. Who wouldn’t want to throw a 100-mph haze past a hitter, just to know what it’s like?

But the truth is that, every now and again, an athletes comes along who is great, truly great, and in a way that no one had ever envisioned before. The player does not so much reach that height as he/she pulls down the bar to their own abilities. If every great quarterback was 6-foot-4,with a bazooka arm, what fun would it be? So there’s Drew Brees. If every dominant basketball player was a 250-pound giant, with the power of a linebacker and the speed of Usain Bolt, what fun would it be? So there’s Chris Paul. There’s Steph Curry. There’s Muggsy Bogues.

Nobody grows up hoping to be Dan Quisenberry — even Dan Quisenberry didn’t grow up hoping for that. He was a semi-conventional pitcher when he played for the University of La Verne. He was not drafted, of course. He was not viewed as a prospect of any kind even though he pitched well in the minor leagues. How could they view him as a prospect when he offered no tools whatsoever? Think of the conversation.

GM: Tell me about Quisenberry. How’s his fastball?
Scout: Nonexistent. Probably throws 80 mph.
GM: That’s top speed?
Scout: I haven’t seen a faster one. It has some sinking action to it.
GM: OK, how about the curve?
Scout: Yeah, not really.
GM: What do you mean, ‘Not really?’ He doesn’t have a curve?
Scout: He throws one. But, you know, it doesn’t really curve. The less he throws it the better.
GM: Slider?
Scout: Nope.
GM: Change-up?
Scout: Not really, no. They’re all change-ups.
GM: Knuckler? Screwball? Spitter?
Scout: No. No. No.
GM: So what does he throw?
Scout: Well, like I said, that fastball has some sinking action to it.
GM: You’re telling me the guy throw an 80-mph sinker? That’s all he throws?
Scout: Well, sometimes he’ll throw it 75.

So, as a 22-year-old, he pitched in Class A and AA with that repertoire of nothing, and he posted a 2.42 ERA in 52 innings, walking 10 the whole year. The Royals didn’t buy it and sent him back to Class A and AA, and the next year he posted a 1.00 ERA in 54 innings with a .907 WHIP. They didn’t buy it again and sent him back to Class AA, where he has a 1.34 ERA in 74 innings and, again, WHIP less than 1.

Obviously at this point, they didn’t buy it again and sent him back to Class AA for another full season (2.39 ERA, 12 walks and one homer allowed in 64 innings) at which point they must have gotten sick of him in Jacksonville because the Royals FINALLY promoted him to Class AAA. Before the end of that year — Quiz was 26 — the Royals called him to the big leagues. He did not allow a run or walk a batter in his first six appearances. The Royals stuck with him, though Jim Frey famously went to see him pitch in the bullpen, asked him to throw a curve, and then walked away in disgust.

And that was when Quiz got a pitching lesson from Pittsburgh’s submariner Kent Tekulve. Quiz was more of a sidearmer before that — he took on Tekulve’s full submarine style. Tekulve was a sensational pitcher in his own right but he was a bit different from Quiz. He too relied on the sink that came from his submarine style — he forced a lot of double plays and was extremely difficult to hit home runs against. But Tekulve was not as soft-tosser like Quiz. He had a little pop in his pitches. He would get his share of strikeouts, especially in the early years. He would challenge hitters. He would walk quite a few too.

Quiz was different. He learned Tekulve’s motion but brought his own supernatural control and unique ability to avoid mistakes. I do not want to compare the careers of Quiz and Sutter, but it is instructive to see how two men who were so unlike each other could be almost exactly as effective as each other. Remember, they pitched almost exactly the same number of innings:

Sutter stuck out almost 500 more batters than Quisenberry. Hitters batted 37 points worse against Sutter (.267 for Quiz; .230 for Sutter). Sutter threw much harder, he had a nastier out pitch, it’s easy to understand his advantages.

And Quiz? Well, you just have to total up a bunch of little things. They both had good control, but Quiz’s control was historic — he walked 147 fewer batters. Sutter, because of that nasty split-fingered fastball, threw 37 wild pitches. Quiz threw four. Yeah, four. Quiz induced 45 more double-play grounders. He allowed 18 fewer homers. Small things: He hit about half as many batters and committed half as many balks.

When you total it all up — Quiz had the slightly better ERA and slightly higher Baseball Reference WAR. He was just relentlessly useful. He was persistently productive. He never gave anything away.

Everyone has his or her own opinion about what the Baseball Hall of Fame means. I suspect a lot of people here don’t think Dan Quisenberry OR Bruce Sutter belongs in it. That’s not unreasonable. But I’m not actually focused on that point here. I’m thrilled Dan Quisenberry is on this ballot because he never did have his Hall of Fame case properly heard. Quiz was great in a way that nobody imagined a pitcher could be great. He probably did more with his own abilities than any pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. Maybe there should be a place for that in the Hall of Fame.

Anyway this was the point of the thought of experiment. The first time I met Quiz, we talked a little bit about both being dreamers. And I think that’s true. We both dreamed a bit about what we might have been with unlimited talent. The big difference is this: Quiz also became one of baseball’s great pitchers with his own talent.

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