As a player, the former infielder shares a major league record by collecting two hits in a single inning—both off Dodgers Hall of Famer Don Drysdale—during the 1965 World Series. He became a coach in 1970, when Bill Rigney managed the Twins, though former skipper Billy Martin was Quilici’s key influence when he became the team’s skipper in the early 1970s. At a time the club’s veterans were aging and a rebuild was underway, the affable Quilici was the face of the franchise.
Quilici became one of my favorite former Twins when I began the Tony Oliva project. Very early in the process of talking to Twins from the 1960s, I sat down with Quilici at the Metrodome. Not only was he an entertaining storyteller, he also showed interest in what I was doing and offered to sit down with me again while I was in town for interviews.
We met for breakfast and our chat carried into lunch time. He gave me hours that day, providing a wealth of information on Oliva and life with the Twins of his era. It was the perfect jumpstart for the project, and I’ll forever be indebted to this Chicago native, who grew up on the city’s South Side and entertained me as much with his stories of postwar Chicago as he did with 1960s Twins history.
His baseball stories are probably more interesting here, so here’s a few he shared while I wrote the Oliva book.
**Quilici and Oliva began their professional careers together in 1961, playing in Wytheville, Virginia. Quilici, who had been an All-American shortstop at Western Michigan University, knew instantly that Oliva was special. Hitting came easy to the Cuban native and he had a terrific arm, but Oliva had had so little formal coaching that catching flyballs were an adventure.
“He would be coming in on a ball and I would be going out for it,” Quilici recalled as a wide grin crossed his face. “He would be yelling in Spanish, and I still don’t know what he was saying. All of a sudden, he’d go ‘Whoa, whoa!’ and the ball would drop 10 feet behind him. He overran it every time. So, when I heard him yelling, I would circle him sometimes. If the ball was up in the air far enough, I could actually catch it. He’d say, ‘Gracias, gracias!’”
**When Quilici came to camp with the Twins for the first time, he imagined a career playing shortstop for the club. At some point in camp, he got his first look at Zoilo Versalles, a defensive whiz at short who was just 21 years old and on the verge of having a promising rookie campaign for the Twins. It was an aha moment.
“The Twins told me that they didn’t think I could play shortstop in the big leagues, so they wanted me to move over to second base,” said Quilici. “Of course, I was a little cocky until I went to spring training and saw a guy working out at shortstop. I said, ‘Who’s that?’ And a teammate said, ‘Zoilo Versalles.’ I said, ‘Where’s second base?’”
**Quilici, outgoing, funny and always comfortable in front of a crowd, worked a few comedic routines with Oliva, playing up the English-Spanish language barrier to entertain crowds on the annual Twins Caravan that crossed the Midwest during the winter months. Quilici would tell Caravan crowds that he and his teammates had been teaching Oliva some basic English. When Quilici asked Oliva to explain what he had learned, Tony responded with: “Please… thank you… ham and eggs… girls… cars… money… girls… money… girls.
In another routine, Quilici asked Oliva a lengthy question in English, to which Oliva responded with a lengthy answer in Spanish. After explaining that the crowd didn’t understand Spanish, Quilici asked Oliva to respond in English. Quilici again asked the long-winded question, to which Oliva, after a lengthy pause, simply answered, “Yes” or “No.”
The answer is yes, we’ll miss you, Frank.