The closer is one of the most vital positions in baseball. KC Royals legend Dan Quisenberry was never a closer in the modern sense, but the submarining reliever was one of the leading figures in the sport's transition from so-called firemen to closers. However, as "Quiz" neared the end of his career, Kansas City turned its attention to finding his successor. The process took a few years to come to fruition, but in the end, the Royals found a new team legend who eventually broke many of Quisenberry's franchise records.
Dan Quisenberry was one of the most accomplished pitchers in Royals history
Quisenberry was a long shot to ever make it to The Show. Had it not been for a rash of injuries to the Royals' pitching staff, he may never have earned a shot at the big leagues. And he didn't exactly wow anyone when he first arrived in 1979 — it wasn't until manager Jim Frey encouraged him to work with Pittsburgh reliever Kent Tekulve, and transition from a sidearm to submarine delivery, that his career took off. And boy, did it really take off.
The distinctive reliever made his mark for the 1980 American League champion Royals with a major league-leading 33 saves. Unfortunately, he struggled in the World Series, probably because Frey used him in every game of that season's six-contest Fall Classic. This bump in the road came at the worst possible time, but it was one of few Quisenberry faced for the next half-decade.
Quisenberry won five Rolaids Relief Man of the Year awards from 1980-85, with the strike-shortened 1981 season standing out as the lone exception. That's tied for the most all-time with the great Mariano Rivera. Quisenberry led the majors in saves again in 1983, setting the Royals' franchise record with 45, and also led the American League in saves in 1982 (35). 1984 (44), and 1985 (37).
Quisenberry also led the AL in appearances in three of those seasons, all while pitching multiple innings in most outings. In fact, Quiz regularly pitched around 130 innings per season, so he wasn't just coming in to sew up the ninth inning. He also finished near the top in AL Cy Young and MVP voting several times.
In 1985, Quisenberry and the Royals reached the top of the mountain by winning the World Series. He recorded the win in the Royals' controversial Game 6 comeback. His numbers began to drop dramatically the next season, however: he still pitched an average of 50 innings over the next two seasons and recorded a sub-3.00 ERA, but his save totals dropped to 12 in 1986 and eight in 1987.