On September 30, 1998, after a year-long struggle, former major-league baseball pitcher Dan Quisenberry died of a brain tumor at his home in Kansas City. He was 45 years old. In his early years, "The Quiz" was known as the most unlikely of all professional ballplayers -- scrawny, unimposing, with a totally unorthodox pitching delivery. After graduating from Laverne College, hungry to play professionally, he drove to the house of a Kansas Royals scout and begged for a tryout -- and was mostly just smiled at.
Yet, during his major-league career, Quisenberry dazzled. In his eight years as a pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, he was three times an All-Star, providing the glue that led to two Royal pennants and a 1985 World Series victory. What amazed and delighted so many fans was his herky-jerky wind-up and delivery -- the first looked like a bad disco move, the second resembled the work of a pro bowler. I remember watching Quisenberry pitch in a double-header against the Baltimore Orioles and smiling in absolute disbelief at his whirling submarine delivery. But I also remember that night realizing how impossible it must've been for ballplayers to follow his wind-up, wait on the pitch, and then knock his slow sinkerball out of the infield. For five years, The Quiz was nearly unhittable.
He had an unusual task in his professional life. Pretty much all late-inning relievers are an oddity, carrying with them the pressure of an entire game they haven't yet played in, while trying to smuggle away victory from a few batters. It's a job that takes ice-cold nerves and wild-eyed abandon. But even among relief-pitching's cast of characters, The Quiz was unique. He loved the game of baseball, but it was pretty clear that he loved the game of life a lot more. Here are a few of his memorable quips:
Upon seeing the indoor Metrodome stadium in
Minneapolis, Quisenberry told a reporter, "I never
thought there was a good use for nuclear
weapons, but this might be one."
Asked about his trademark slow sinkerball,
The Quiz explained, "Honestly, I call it The
Peggy Lee. She's the one who wrote the song
Is That All There Is?"
Asked about a mammoth home run he gave
up, he reasoned, "It was just like any other
groundball. It just took a few hundred feet to
And, after giving up a ninth-inning game-ending
homerun, he was asked if he could imagine a
worse way to lose a ballgame, and offered,
"Yeah, I could have balked in a run from first
base. Or Amos Otis could have been settling
under a fly ball, when an earthquake hit."
Describing his style of play, he offered,
"Grass is a wonderful thing for little bugs and
When Quisenberry retired from baseball in 1990, he confessed that he wanted to play baseball forever but that he'd always believed his life would hold much more. It did. Over the last eight years of his life, he continued raising a family; he wrote poetry, giving public readings around Kansas City; and he founded an organization that delivered food to the homeless in Kansas City.
The reports of his brief life and the way he died have reminded and taught me a lot about how I'd like to conduct my life. It's obvious that The Quiz loved the game that he played at work. He loved to compete. And he loved to win. He was a fierce opponent -- among the best in baseball. But he always seemed to know there was something more, and said as much himself. When asked, six years after his retirement, what he cherished the most about his baseball career, he replied, "The players I spent time with. That's what I'm proud of. The faces are stronger than the numbers as time goes on." I've re-read that line a few times over.
During his illness, Quisenberry shared the memory of his former manager, Dick Howser, who died of a brain tumor in 1987, saying, "I remember Dick telling me, 'Don't worry about this stuff on the field. Do your best, but this winning or losing takes care of itself.' And that was so strange to hear him say that. I didn't really know how to process those words and, now, here I am. And I understand what he was saying. It's getting new eyes, and so, in a way, it's a gift."
His message even to the millions of us fans who never met him is simple, profound, and colorful -- an idea to return to over and over again: Have fun out there, and show some heart. After all, it may just be that eventually we're all bankrupt of what seemed to matter so much, but rich beyond belief in what does.
Tom Gardner, Fool