Dan Quisenberry and His 1998 Death From a Brain Tumor

I hadn’t known much at all about this story, so I went looking, and found this in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of Sunday, January 11, 1998:

On the saddest day of Kansas City’s baseball history, Dan Quisenberry watched Dick Howser say goodbye to the Royals through red, flooded eyes.

This was Feb. 23, 1987, three days after Howser had triumphantly returned to the Royals’ spring training headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla.

Seven months earlier, Howser had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the left frontal lobe of his brain. Howser had vowed to return in time for spring training and had done that. But his illness and the Florida sun each had taken a toll, and now he had reached an inevitable conclusion. He had to go. So Howser gathered his team one last time before him.

“I was hoping once I could get in the uniform, things would be OK,” Howser whispered. “It didn’t happen. But don’t quit. Don’t quit. Everything will be all right. Once again, good luck.”

That was it. Howser turned the team over to Billy Gardner and stepped to the side. But Quisenberry – for so many years the team’s court jester and most reliable relief pitcher – couldn’t help himself. Tears had already begun to stream down his face.

Friday morning, the part of Kansas City that hurts, the part that remembers, the part that feels and reaches out to old heroes and friendly faces is going through the same angst Quisenberry did on that long-ago Florida morning.

The news was sudden, shocking and frighteningly familiar: Quisenberry himself had undergone brain surgery Thursday afternoon, a 3 1/2-hour procedure at Research Hospital that removed 80 to 90 percent of a tumor that had formed in Quisenberry’s brain. Now a doctor was pointing to the model of a brain, trying to explain the inexplicable:

How could Dan Quisenberry, at age 44, be sick? . . .

It is important to remember those days and nights of the 1980s this morning. To remember how happy Quisenberry has been in retirement, writing poetry, reading it to small groups. Remaining an active and unique community asset.

He was joking with his nurses in the moments after he woke from surgery Thursday.

“Quiz being Quiz,” said Steve Fink, Royals director of media relations.

He had been experiencing some dizziness, some blurred vision in the last two weeks. That’s when doctors found the tumor lodged in the right half of his brain between a ventricle – a cavity containing spinal fluid – and the thalamus, the brain’s relay center that sends messages from the upper portion of the brain to the lower regions.

As the early months of 1998 went by, it became more clear that Quisenberry was declining. In late May, the Kansas City Star’s Mike Vaccaro wrote:

Minutes before he would step into the brightest night of this Royals season, before he would delight another audience of baseball fans with humor and grace, Dan Quisenberry chatted with a few old friends as they walked slowly along the bottom floor of Kauffman Stadium. He wanted to sit in the first-base dugout, the home team’s dugout, where he could wait for the ceremony that would induct him into the Royals Hall of Fame.

One of his companions said absently, “This way, Quiz,” nudging Quisenberry toward the tunnel that leads to the dugout.

“Not to worry,” Quisenberry said, blending a small smile with a twinkle in his eyes. “I know the way. ” That was the path this evening was supposed to follow, after all, thousands of Kansas Citians reacquainting themselves with the old days, with the good days, when baseball controlled the rhythms and moods of the city. It didn’t take long to discover that muscle memory, not for the 30,341 who made the pilgrimage to Kauffman Stadium on Saturday, who showered Quisenberry in cheers.

“I’m so blessed,” he told the hushed audience at the outset of a five-minute address.

“I’ve got this great family,” he said, before joining his wife, Janie, his son, David, and his daughter, Alysia, in a group embrace.

“I loved playing those years with those guys in this stadium,” he said, the final syllables dissolving into a great roar, another familiar sound, shaken out of the 1980s.

The outpouring was long, it was loud, and it was genuine.

There was a generous sprinkling of Royal blue, outfits worn by fans who remembered Quisenberry the player, the sinkerball specialist who led the American League in saves for five years, who made three All-Star Games, who played in 18 postseason games for the Royals, who collected 244 lifetime saves, all but six for the Royals.

But there was more, too, much more. Quisenberry’s voice cracked early, and it cracked often, and nobody cared much or noticed because so many people were feeling the same way, hearing their own voices crack, feeling their own tears burning in their eyes.

The Royals were playing the A’s that day, and Rickey Henderson said: “I never feared, and I never bowed to any pitcher. But he was awfully tough.” Rickey stood up to help adjust to Quisenberry’s difficult submarine delivery, and he remembered “that helped. Not all the time. Nothing worked all the time against that man.”

Then on September 30, 1998, Dan Quisenberry died, at 45, at home, early on a Wednesday morning. The Star’s Jeffrey Flanagan noted that “Quisenberry had been diagnosed in January as having a Grade IV brain tumor – the most aggressive type. He underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments and two surgeries to remove parts of the tumor.

“Quisenberry was hospitalized Sept. 22 and returned home last weekend. Surviving family members are his wife, Janie, and children Alysia, 18, and David, 17.”

Former teammate Dennis Leonard said: “I will remember him as a decent man. And I think that’s how he would want to be remembered. He was not only good for the Royals but good for his family and good for the community. He’s got a place in heaven. I know that. Only now, he’ll be getting saves for a different starter.”

George Brett said: “The thing I will never, ever forget about Quiz was his courage. And when things went bad for him on the mound, he never looked for excuses. And when things went well for him, he always gave the credit to others. … I feel blessed to have known him as a teammate and as a friend.”

Former Royals catcher John Wathan: “I’m going to miss just talking to him. He was very special to me and very special to a lot of people, I know.

“One of the things I will remember most is back when he was diagnosed, someone asked him if he ever thought to himself ‘Why me?’ And his response was ‘Why not me? I’ve got just as good a chance to get through this as anyone else because of my faith in God.’ Through this whole thing, Quiz never once felt sorry for himself.”

Royals broadcaster Denny Matthews: “He really loved the language. That was evident to anyone who ever talked to him.

“I’ve come across a lot of ballplayers in the 30 years I’ve been announcing games and generally those players fit into two categories: players and friends. I’m happy to be able to say that Quiz fit into that second category. He was a true friend.”

Early ’80s Royals manager Jim Frey: “He was one of the most intelligent ballplayers I’ve ever come across. And, as everyone knows, he was funny. You don’t see that in that many players anymore. He will be missed greatly.”

Former Royal David Howard: “It sounds mean to say, but when something like this happens to such a good guy like Quiz, you wonder ‘Why doesn’t it ever happen to someone you don’t like?’ I kept thinking about that from the day I heard he was sick.

“He was always so good to me. He invited me to all his golf tournaments. No matter what, he always stopped to talk when he’d see you. He was just a joy to be around. He always made you feel good.”

Published in: on November 25, 2010 at 3:47 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A more than perfect player, very special. RIP Dan. Heaven should be happy they got you there

  2. R.I.P., brother. You are one of baseball’s greats.

  3. […] Fame. After baseball he became known for his poetry and his witty quotes.   And as you can read in this article from Miscbaseball.com, he was a man of strong faith in God which helped as he battled and ultimately lost the battle with […]

  4. I threw side arm and submarine because of this man. When I watched him pitch ,it was one of my favorite things I’ve seen on a diamond. I collected every card I could find of this man and reading this storie touched me. I also loved the Royals growing up watching games at Kaufman field with the fountains in the outfield because of Dan Quisenberry. My love for Dan Quisenberry made me a more dynamic ball player by trying to copy him,thanks Dan. MLB fan forever Brandon Dillon.


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