Dan Quisenberry

January 12, 2007

“He didn’t look like a professional athlete, and didn’t carry himself like one. He was kind of wide-eyed every day about everything. He was always surprised, maybe even amused, by his success. He didn’t think he was that good.” — Paul Splitorff, teammate of Dan Quisenberry (from an article by Heather Henderson)

“I have seen the future, and it is like the present, only longer.”
— Dan Quisenberry

In the last full year of my baseball card collecting, 1980, Topps featured a series of cards touting “Future Stars.” There was one card for each team, three players per card, seventy-eight can’t-miss talents in all. I don’t have all the cards in that one-year-only series, but I’m pretty sure that seventy-seven of the seventy-eight can’t-misses missed. Here is the sole “Future Stars” card that I know of that didn’t turn out to be wildly inaccurate. Whoever it was at Topps who was taking perverse pleasure listing guys such as Ted Wilborn, Dave Geisel, and Joel Finch as Future Stars probably believed that a 27-year-old soft-tossing sidearmer with a name seemingly immune to sporting renown could not possibly endanger the thudding irony of the series. But to paraphrase the great Dan Quisenberry, Dan Quisenberry found a delivery in their flaw. I’m sure that if at the time I got this card I had had to guess the one real star to emerge from among all the Future Stars, I wouldn’t have guessed Dan Quisenberry. Even after Quisenberry began grabbing headlines, winning pennants, and breaking records, I had trouble believing in his existence. I was moving away from my pure, single-minded love of baseball, moving away from childhood itself, becoming less wide-eyed about everything, becoming less like Dan Quisenberry, so I guess it’s no wonder I had trouble believing he existed. And now, even though it’s been almost a decade since his death, I still can’t believe he’s gone. Anyway, here’s the Quiz himself, who published a book of poems just before passing away from cancer in 1998. . . .

By Dan Quisenberry

that first baseball card I saw myself
in a triage of rookies
atop the bodies
that made the hill
we played king of
I am the older one
the one on the right
game-face sincere
long red hair unkempt
a symbol of the ’70s
somehow a sign of manhood
you don’t see
how my knees shook on my debut
or my desperation to make it

the second one I look boyish with a gap-toothed smile
the smile of a guy who has it his way
expects it
I rode the wave’s crest
of pennant and trophies
I sat relaxed with one thought
“I can do this”
you don’t see
me stay up till two reining in nerves
or post-game hands that shook involuntarily

glory years catch action shots
arm whips and body contortions
a human catapult
the backs of those cards
cite numbers
that tell stories of saves, wins, flags, records
handshakes, butt slaps, celebration mobs
you can’t see
the cost of winning
lines on my forehead under the hat
trench line between my eyes
you don’t see my wife, daughter and son left behind

the last few cards
I do not smile
I grim-face the camera
tight lipped
no more forced poses to win fans
eyes squint
scanning distance
crow’s-feet turn into eagle’s claws
you don’t see
the quiver in my heart
knowledge that it is over
just playing out the end

I look back
at who I thought I was
or used to be
now, trying to be funny
I tell folks
I used to be famous
I used to be good
they say
we thought you were bigger
I say
I was


  1. 1.  6 comments from old CG site:

    Michael said…

    Have you read Roger Angell’s piece on Quisenberry?

    8:54 AM

    Josh Wilker said…
    Hey Michael,

    Thanks a lot for the encouraging comments. I appreciate it. I’ve read a lot of Roger Angell’s stuff but I don’t think I’ve read his Quisenberry article. Looks like it’s in the book Season Ticket, which I’ll hunt down in the ol’ public library when I return my current baseball read, Hank Aaron And The Home Run That Changed America, by Tom Stanton.


    10:36 AM

    Ellen said…
    I have the book of Phil Rizzuto poetry, but not Quiz’s. i would get it at the library if I ever went there, I suppose.

    10:07 PM

    Ian said…
    That Rizzuto book was a work of genius; It’s still in throneroom-reading rotation for me.

    Somewhere in the last few unpacked boxes in our house lurks a fat, yellowing stack of the Dolan boys’ baseball haikus. What a worthy companion to Cardboard Gods that would be.

    11:27 AM

    Max said…
    Just beautiful. A nice tribute.

    1:34 PM

    peterk said…
    nicely done.

    8:09 PM

  2. 2.  The Quiz was not only a great baseball player he was also a great soul.

    “I was moving away from my pure, single-minded love of baseball, moving away from childhood itself,”

    That line reminded me of that fact that I never imitated the Quiz’s pitching motion like I had so many others when throwing a tennis ball at a wall. While I still kept up with the game at that point in my youth I had outgrown the need to emulate the cardboard gods of the day. Man, I wish I had just once tried a submarine pitch like the Quiz.

  3. Just for the record, the “Future Stars” gimmick wasn’t a one year only thing for Topps… they did it at least in ’81 and ’82 as well. I still recall having the rookie cards of Cal Ripken and Kent Hrbek in ’82 versions of “Future Stars” and Fernando Valenzuela in the ’81 version. Although I’m sure in the overall scheme of things, Topps was still way, way below the Mendoza line for predicting stars of the future…. I can’t recall a single hometown Tiger featured on any of those cards ever amounting to anything.

  4. I pulled a Quisenberry in a Cardinals uni out of a pack of 1989 Topps cards today. Long story about how I came to have an old pack to begin with, and I really opened it up just to chew on the gum. Hopefully I won’t die from that experience. 31 year old gum, what was I thinking? Anyway, I looked at his last card (unless there’s a 1990 card, which I doubt) and read the poem and I could see what he’s describing. Hope all is well with you and yours.

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