On top down under

Dan Quisenberry’s submarine delivery landed him on Hall of Fame ballot

November 04, 2013
2014 Expansion Era candidate Dan Quisenberry. (NBHOF Library)

Dan Quisenberry’s 85 mile-per-hour fastball had batters sprinting to the plate to face him. And just as quickly, those batters were usually returning to the bench after a two-hopper to the shortstop.

With a submarine delivery that produced one of the game’s best sinkerballs, Quisenberrry became one of baseball’s best relievers of the 1980s. Now, he is a candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Quisenberry debuts on the Expansion Era Committee ballot this year after receiving 3.8 percent of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame vote in his only year on the ballot in 1996. But the new age of information analysis has caused many to take another look at the career of one of baseball’s best closers of the 1980s.

Quisenberry is one of 12 finalists on this year’s Expansion Era Committee ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Expansion Era Committee will vote on Dec. 8 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 9.

The 12 candidates on the Expansion Era Committee ballot are: Dave Concepcion, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre and Quisenberry. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014.

The Committee consists of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson; executives Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, David Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf; and media members Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell and Jim Reeves.

Bon Feb. 7, 1953 in Santa Monica, Calif., Quisenberry was a conventional right-handed pitcher at LaVerne (Calif.) College in the mid-1970s, throwing 194 innings as a senior starting pitcher – winning NAIA All-American honors – before toying with a sidearm delivery to rest his arm. He went undrafted after finishing college in 1975, but was signed as an amateur free agent that year by the Kansas City Royals.

“My arm was just all tired out after my senior season, so I thought I’d try it,” Quisenberry said of the submarine delivery. “I haven’t had a sore arm like I did sometimes throwing overhand.”

After starting his first minor league game for Class A Waterloo in 1975 (and pitching a complete game), Quisenberry was moved to the bullpen. He never started another game in professional baseball.

Success did not come easy in the minors – Quisenberry enrolled at Fresno State University is 1978 with plans to get a teaching certificate – but the Royals called him up to the majors in 1979, where he went 3-2 with five saves in 32 games that summer.

That winter, Quisenberry sought counsel from Pirates reliever Kent Tekulve, another submariner. With Tekulve’s help, Quisenberry mastered the sinker.

“At first, I felt off-balance,” said Quisenberry of the mechanical changes Tekulve suggested. “But the coaches said there was better movement on my ball, and gradually I adjusted. Tekulve was the tool that changed me.”

The next year, Quisenberry became an overnight sensation – going 12-7 with 33 saves for a Kansas City team that won the 1980 American League pennant. Quisenberry finished fifth in the AL Cy Young Award voting that year, one of five times he would crack the top five in his career.

Quisenberry recorded a 1.74 earned-run average and 18 saves in the strike-shortened 1981 season, then embarked on a four-year run of brilliance. From 1982-85, Quisenberry averaged seven wins and 40 saves a season, averaging and incredible 133 innings pitched as the Royals’ closer. He led the AL in saves in each of those four seasons, and in 1985 he helped Kansas City win its first World Series title, picking up the win in Game 6.

Quisenberry expanded his pitching repertoire as the years passed, adding sliders and changeups and even a knuckleball to his bread-and-butter sinker. But he never altered his submarine delivery.

“The ball sinks, and I’ve got good control,” Quisenberry said. “I keep it down, and I know how to pitch in and out. If you put those three together, they produce outs.”

They also produce success. Quisenberry reached 100 saves faster than any pitcher before him, and eventually signed a “lifetime” contract with the Royals in the mid-1980s.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m never in pain,” Quisenberry said. “I can throw three or four days in a row without it. Usually, after I’ve thrown four-plus days, I know it’s better to have an off day. But I’ve never told anybody that I couldn’t pitch. Never.”

Quisenberry told folks other things, however, becoming one of baseball’s most famous quipsters. His most famous quote: “I have seen the future, and it is a lot like the present, only longer.”

Quisenberry’s baseball future, however, began to erode when his sinker stopped sinking in the late 1980s. He had just 20 total saves from 1986-87, then spent his final three seasons as a set-up man for the Royals, Cardinals and Giants before retiring following the 1990 campaign.

“That’s real life,” Quisenberry said. “It’s not always going to be: ‘Throw out the glove (and record outs)’ like it was in 1983. That wasn’t real life. You’ve got to struggle.”

His final totals: a 56-46 record with a 2.76 ERA and 244 saves. In 12 seasons, he walked just 162 batters – 70 of which were intentional. He allowed just 59 home runs – about one for every 18 innings he worked.

Quisenberry was dedicated to many causes, including fighting hunger, and also wrote poetry. But his post-playing career was shattered when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1998. Ten months later, he passed away at the age of 45 on Sept. 30, 1998.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum