Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Dan Quisenberry

Claim to fame: Quisenberry entered the majors in 1979 at 26 and played just 12 seasons, though early on, he may have been baseball’s best closer. Between 1980 and 1985, Quisenberry led the American League in saves five out of six seasons and finished among the top three in Cy Young voting four straight years. Nearly all of his 244 career saves came in this span.

After 1985, Quisenberry’s production declined dramatically, and he was out of baseball within five years, an afterthought for Hall of Fame voters, and an early death to brain cancer in 1998. Since then, his Cooperstown bid has gained support.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Quisenberry received 3.8 percent of the Cooperstown vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America his only year on the ballot in 1996 and can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I go back and forth on whether I believe Quisenberry deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, though many in the baseball research community praise him. One of his supporters is Joe Posnanski.

I interviewed the Sports Illustrated writer and baseball blogger last Thursday, and our 55-minute discussion produced more good material than could fit in my post. My piece here mostly contained Posnanski’s advice for young writers and his non-baseball interests, which I felt was original and humanizing. But for the first 15 minutes, Posnanski and I talked baseball. I considered doing a follow-up post, but I’m electing to space the remaining anecdotes out over the next few weeks, like Thanksgiving leftovers.

At one point early in our conversation, I read the names of a few players to Posnanski, asking if they belonged in the Hall of Fame. We discussed Rocky Colavito, who did his best work in Cleveland where Posnanski grew up. Posnanski said that while he didn’t think Colavito merited a plaque, he was essentially the same player in his prime as Jim Rice, who was enshrined in 2009.

I also asked about Quisenberry, who Posnanski knew. Posnanski told me:

“To me, Quiz’s career, while very different from Bruce Sutter’s was precisely the same in value. He was every bit as good a pitcher as Bruce Sutter, if not better. He pitched exactly the same number of innings. Sutter picked up some cheap saves at the end of his career. He’s got that saves advantage (with 300), but his ERA is higher. His ERA+ is higher. Quiz did it his way where he didn’t walk anybody…. He just got the most out of his ability. Sutter was obviously dominant with the splitter and everything. But I think at the end of the day, they’re the same.”

“It’s the same situation with Rice. I didn’t vote for Bruce Sutter for the Hall of Fame, so I don’t know that him going in changes the mind. But I really do think that Bruce Sutter being in the Hall of Fame, and Dan Quisenberry never really having had the discussion– him falling off the ballot that first year– I think that’s kind of an injustice.”

From there, we discussed how early relievers in general have been overlooked as save numbers have skyrocketed, partly as a result of the save becoming more of an emphasized stat, Posnanski noted. I would add that the same thing happened with stolen bases and home runs. What was once impressive now seems pedestrian.

It will ultimately be up to the Veterans Committee to make sense of everything, to determine which early relievers are Hall-worthy. I recently named Sparky Lyle my closer for a lineup of non-inducted greats, and I might make a case for Mike Marshall. Without a doubt, I think Quisenberry at least deserves the committee’s consideration.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here that debuted June 1.