KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Dan Quisenberry, a star relief pitcher for the Royals whose droll wit and funky delivery charmed fans and baffled batters, died Wednesday of brain cancer. He was 45.
The major league saves leader from 1979-85, Quisenberry died around dawn in his home in suburban Leawood, Kan., after a nine-month battle with the illness. He had undergone surgery twice since December when sudden, persistent headaches were diagnosed as the most lethal type of tumor.
“Dan was one of the finest people I’ve ever known,” said Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz, who headed the Royals’ scouting department 20 years ago when an undrafted Quisenberry had to plead for a tryout.
News of his illness last winter jolted Kansas City, where the affable, quick-witted Quisenberry had remained a popular and active member of the community.
During his playing days, he devoted a great deal of time and energy to gathering food for the homeless and needy. While continuing that work since retiring in 1990, he had also begun giving poetry readings in public libraries.
“I don’t remember him as the guy who got all the ground balls and double plays,” said Jamie Quirk, a Royals coach and longtime teammate. “He was more important than that. He was much more.”
Quisenberry came up late in 1979 when injuries devastated the Royals’ pitching staff. Pale and skinny, he had an awkward-looking, submarine delivery and a sinkerball that big-league hitters figured to murder.
Instead, they almost always pounded balls into the ground, where a talented infield headed by nine-time All-Star second baseman Frank White scooped them up.
“You’d go, ‘God, why can’t I hit this guy?'” Quirk said.
In a 12-year career, he compiled 244 saves — 13th all-time. He was named to the All-Star team three times and led the American League in saves five times while helping the Royals win pennants in 1980 and ’85.
His 45 saves in 1983 was then the major league record. Between 1979 and 1985, when Kansas City beat St. Louis for its only World Series title, Quisenberry’s 217 saves were tops in the major leagues.
He is survived by his wife Janie and teen-age children Alysia and David.