#CardCorner: 1983 Topps Dan Quisenberry
With a submarine delivery that produced one of the game’s best sinkerballs, Quisenberry became one of baseball’s top relievers of the 1980s. His 1983 Topps card catches him just before releasing the ball, with his right arm seemingly bent backwards at the elbow.
But Quisenberry’s delivery was deceptively easy on his arm, allowing him to work five different seasons with at least 128 innings pitched out of the bullpen. No other pitcher in history has more than three similar seasons.
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Born 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.
“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. His walks per nine innings rate of 1.40 is the best of any live ball era (post 1919) pitcher with at least 1,000 innings pitched.
He allowed just 59 home runs – about one for every 18 innings he worked.
“I have no regrets,” said Quisenberry, a three-time All-Star, told the Associated Press when he retired on April 29, 1990. “I got to play all my dreams.”
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.
In an era where velocity is king, today’s game might not have had room for Dan Quisenberry. But the numbers he compiled still shine bright through the game’s long history.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum