The Poet is narrated by Jack McEvoy, a reporter in Denver who investigates the apparent suicide of his twin brother. Jack and his brother are both called “Mac” by their coworkers of course, so there was an obvious temptation to use a Willie McCovey card. Willie Mac is one of the most beloved players in San Francisco Giants history. The team has an award named after him given annually to the most inspirational player that year, voted on by the players, coaches, and training staff. I also have a coworker who grew up on my current block who said he and the kids in the neighborhood used to pester McCovey while he was waiting for the 18 bus. He said McCovey was always very nice to them. Can you imagine a player today taking MUNI?
Instead I decided the title The Poet was too good to ignore. In college I wrote a paper* on Robert Francis’ poem Pitcher:
His art is eccentricity, his aim How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at, His passion how to avoid the obvious, His technique how to vary the avoidance. The others throw to be comprehended. He throws to be a moment misunderstood. Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild, But every seeming aberration willed. Not to, yet still, still to communicate Making the batter understand too late.
*Originally I considered writing my paper on Richard Armour’s poem, Shake and shake/the catsup bottle/none will come/and then a lot’ll. I really thought I could get three to five pages out of that, but my dad wasn’t so sure and nudged me away from trying.
That’s Dan Quisenberry! “Not errant, arrant, wild.” Quiz walked just 1.4 batters per nine innings. But wait: “every seeming aberration willed.” Quiz unintentionally walked just .79 batters per nine innings. He threw just four wild pitches in his entire career… and ZERO passed balls. As Bill James said, “There has never been a pitcher who made fewer mistakes than Dan Quisenberry.”
“His passion to avoid the obvious.” In an era where Nolan Ryan epitomized pitching with his strike-outs, no-hitters, even his “Pitcher’s Bible“; when Goose Gossage, Steve Bedrosian, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter were the hard-throwing Rolaid’s Relief Men; as Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, and Norm Charlton all threw aggressively hard and established The Nasty Boys as the next wave of bullpen use, Dan Quisenberry kept throwing low to mid-80’s and from the submarine angle. “His art is eccentricity.”
“Making the batter understand too late.” That’s Quiz as batters would shake their heads walking back to the dugout wondering how the poet beat him, but also the baseball world in general. It’s true that Quisenberry was respected during his career, winning five Rolaids Relief Awards. But, at the same time, it’s possible no relief pitcher was ever as underrated. Quisenberry’s career numbers are strikingly similar to Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter but has never gotten any serious Hall of Fame consideration. His adjusted ERA+ of 146 is 8th in modern history. Nobody ever truly believed his success. As general manager John Schuerholz said of the decision to call Quiz up to the big leagues after tremendous minor league success, “The truth of the matter is that we didn’t have anybody else. Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, she was the mother of Dan Quisenberry.” When Quiz finally did make his major league debut, he was called upon with one out and a runner on first in the 7th inning. He promptly rolled a 4-6-3 double play.
Speaking of debuts – Quisenberry’s professional debut was a complete game shutout the same day he was baptized. It was the only start of his professional career.
But Quiz isn’t just the pitcher in Francis’ poem. He actually is THE POET. After his death at just age 45 from brain cancer, a book of his poetry was published entitled On Days Like This. He wrote about his pitching: I come into a one out, one on jam/score three to one/good guys ahead/fans hootin, hollerin and buzzin like hornets/in the newer town of York/Skipper says/”get us a grounder and let’s get the hell outta here”. He wrote about his career: It lasted so long/it went so fast/it seems like yesterday/it seems like never.
And if I had the card, I would have gone with his 1980 Topps card of which he wrote:
I am the older one the one on the right game-face sincere long red hair unkempt a symbol of the '70's somehow a sign of manhood you don't see how my knees shook on my debut or my desperation to make it
The guy wrote about his baseball card, how cool is that?
It’s possible I wouldn’t have such an affinity for Quiz if he wasn’t a submariner. But then again:
- He would say he never gave up anything but groundballs – some of them just didn’t bounce until after they had gone 360 feet.
- Willie Wilson said, “Here’s a memory. He came in with the bases loaded and nobody out against the White Sox once. He picks off the man on first, and the batter hits a line drive right at him that he turns into a double play. I can still hear him say, ‘I knew I’d get out of that inning.'”
- He told Roger Angell, “I’ve always felt when I throw it something wonderful is going to happen.”
- When the Royals won the World Series, President Ronald Reagan called to congratulate the team, specifically noting “Jim Quisenberry.” When Reagan apologized during the team’s visit to The White House, Quiz said, “That’s okay, Don.”
- When asked what he had to offer the team after signing with the Giants, he responded, “I can pitch any time in the game. I don’t get riled. I throw strikes. I can get hitters out. I know how to get along in the clubhouse. I know how to help out the young kids. I throw 100 miles per hour. I hit home runs. I steal bases. You choose the ones that apply.”
- Quiz told Joe Posnanski that when he missed playing the game he would go to the ballpark, close his eyes, listen to the cheers and pretend they were for him.
- Towards the end, in pain, his vision blurry and death approaching, he maintained his positive outlook. “Every day I find things to be thankful for,” he said. “My kids take me for rides, so I feel like a dog. I get to stick my head out the window and let the wind flap my ears. I love it.”
- What did Quiz love most about playing baseball? “There’s no homework.”
The Poet is a dark book full of evil people, dark actions and subject matter. The light of The Poet Dan Quisenberry is the antidote to that darkness.