Billy Gardner was the second baseman when the Twins played their first-ever game on April 11, 1961 in Yankee Stadium. Pistol Pete Ramos pitched a 3-hit shutout, the Twins knocked around Whitey Ford for a 6-0 victory over the Yankees, and we big-league neophytes on the prairie figured this was a sign of excellence that would last through the summer.
It didn’t work out that way.
The Yankees opened baseball’s expansion era with a 109-53 record and a five-game victory over Cincinnati in the World Series. The Twins finished 70-90, 38 games back, and seventh in the new, 10-team American League.
Owner Calvin Griffith first gave manager Cookie Lavagetto a “leave of absence,’’ then fired him and promoted third-base coach Sam Mele to manager (a position he would hold until the middle of the 1967 season).
A less-dramatic source of chaos was second base. Gardner lost his job when the Twins traded Billy Consolo to the Milwaukee Braves for Billy Martin on June 1. Two weeks later, Gardner was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Danny McDevitt, and wound up getting an at-bat for New York in the World Series.
Martin started 105 games, then was released near the end of spring training in 1962. The Twins hired him as a scout, and Billy also went to work in “public relations’’ for Grain Belt Brewery – the equivalent of putting a pyromaniac to work at an oil refinery.
Rookie Bernie Allen, only 18 months removed from quarterbacking Purdue to an upset victory over the No. 1-rated Gophers in November 1960, was outstanding as the second baseman in 1962 – and then he couldn’t hit in 1963.
It became such a problem that Vic Power, the exceptional first baseman, started 18 games at second base that summer. In 1964, the Twins were giving Allen another shot, and then Don Zimmer ruined Allen’s left knee in a slide into second as Bernie tried to turn a double play.
Jerry Kindall became the second baseman, and it was his job again in the 1965 season. A great hitter for the Gophers as a collegian, Kindall carved out a big-league career as a terrific-fielding, weak-hitting infielder.
Kindall was dealing with a leg injury and was batting .190 when Frank Quilici, a 26-year-old batting .277 for the Twins’ Class AAA farm club in Denver, was called up and inserted at second base on July 18.
He started 29 games over the final 2 ½ months of the schedule, and when the Twins went to the World Series, it was Quilici at second base for all seven games vs. the Dodgers.
And on Oct, 6, 1965 at Met Stadium, with Don Drydale starting Game 1 as Sandy Koufax honored Yom Kippur, Quilici had a historic half-inning:
It was 1-1 when Quilici led off the bottom of the third with a double off Drysdale, and it was 7-1 after Quilici singled to drive in Don Mincher and finish Drysdale’s afternoon after 2 2/3 innings.
Frank Quilici, the kid from the South Side of Chicago, had two hits in an inning in his first at-bats in the World Series. Eight days later, he had a double as one of three hits off Koufax, as the magnificent lefty shut out the Twins 2-0 in Game 7.
Frank had been the runner at second, with the walking Rich Rollins at first, and one out in the fifth. Zoilo Versalles ripped a ball that seemed destined to be a double, and then Junior Gilliam snared it and forced Quilici at third. The Twins’ lone threat vs. Koufax soon died.
Quilici was back in Denver for the entire 1966 season, as the Twins went with Allen and Cesar Tovar at second base. In 1967, the carousel at second base ended with a rookie named Rod Carew.
Frank had three full seasons from 1968 to 1970, backing up Carew and also playing shortstop and third. In 1970, Carew’s knee was blown out as he turned a double play, and Danny Thompson, Quilici and Tovar all played second as the Twins won a second straight AL West title.
Quilici was added to Bill Rigney’s coaching staff for 1971. Seventy games into the 1972 season, attendance was continuing to tumble, and Griffith fired Rigney and replaced him with Quilici, who had turned 33 in May.
Griffith’s logic was perfectly-Calvin: He figured that the Twins’ followers still upset over the firing of Martin after the successful 1969 season could be mollified with the hiring of another loquacious Italian.
I can’t recall the exact quote, but the Italian angle was in there. Dang, that Calvin was a beauty, as Quilici was going to discover more than ever.
The Twins were 81-81 in 1973, and attendance was 907,000. So, Calvin did more budget-cutting for 1974, reducing Quilici to a three-man coaching staff: Bob Rodgers, Vern Morgan and Ralph Rowe.
The latter two could not throw batting practice for physical reasons. The Twins didn’t take a batting practice pitcher on the road. Thus, if Quilici and Rodgers had been paid by the BP pitches thrown that summer, they would have been millionaires before that was common in baseball.
That was my first year covering the Twins, for the St. Paul newspapers. In a time when many more regulars were used in spring training, the Twins were 5-21. We left Florida thinking poor Frank might have a 100-loss team in 1974.
Somehow, the Twins went 82-80. And his reward for 1975 was a situation so frugal that Griffith kept Steve Brye on the active roster for a time, when the outfielder had a cast on a broken wrist. The suggestion to Quilici was to use him as a pinch-runner.
The Twins went 76-83 and Quilici was fired. He was 280-287 in 3 ½ seasons as a manager, not bad for a guy who never really had much chance as Calvin struggled with falling revenues.
Frank wound up in the broadcast booth with Herb Carneal for several years, where that wonderful, outgoing, it’s-great-to-be-here personality came through.
Heck, I give Frank’s delighted delivery credit for much of my time on the radio at KSTP-AM, based on this:
Greg Harrington’s call-ins with his impersonation of Quilici gave a rollicking start to the cult hit “Monday Night Sports Talk’’ in 1983. Lots of people started tuning in to hear Harrington’s Q Man talk about the benefits of “machismo.’’
I spent time on Twitter last night paying tribute to the sausage sandwiches that Frank’s “Pa,’’ Guido Quilici, would bring to Comiskey Park for the start of every Twins’ series.
Guido brought the sandwiches in what Frank called “Polish luggage’’ – paper bags. The sandwiches were prepared by Frank’s “Ma,’’ Laura, with Roma sausage and Fontana’s bread from the South Side.
Note: Frank could get away with both Italian and Polish jokes, since his mother’s maiden name was Domanowska.
Quilici died on Monday at age 79, after a long battle with kidney disease. He was given a kidney in 2012 by Elizabeth, the wife of a long-time friend named Bobby. It kept him alive as a third kidney, which Frank would refer to with a large and grateful laugh as “Little Liz.’’
He was a baseball overachiever – as a player, a manager and an announcer – and, more than that, a great dude.
The first generation of Twins fans loved Frankie for over a half-century; for sure, we loved him since the bottom of the third on Oct. 6, 1965, with his double to start the six-run burst off Drysdale, and an RBI single to finish him.
Two hits in one inning vs. Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. That right there took some machismo.