The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Thinking about "what could have been" with Tony C.

When California Angels outfielder Taylor Ward was hit in the face while batting in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays last July, it revived memories of Boston Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigilaro’s incident in 1967.

Ward is expected to return to the Angels’ lineup in 2024. He didn’t suffer eye damage, instead requiring reconstruction of his left orbital bone. Not downplaying the seriousness of Ward’s injury, it wasn’t as critical as Conigliaro’s would be. He was hit in the eye and cheekbone, after his helmet flew off before impact. After attempts to return, the Red Sox phenom ultimately had to quit playing at age 26.

As a 19-year-old in 1964, “Tony C”, as he would affectionally be referred to by Red Sox sportswriters and fans, made an impact from Day 1 in the Red Sox lineup. Amazingly he had only played in 83 games in the minors at the Single-A level in 1963 before earning a regular spot in the Red Sox outfield the next spring.

The Red Sox were a second-division team in 1963, finishing seventh out of 10 teams in the American League, 28 games behind the AL champion New York Yankees. The Red Sox were led offensively by big first baseman Dick Stuart. Future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, only 23 years old at the time, had yet to mature as a hitter.

Conigliaro represented new hope that he could help turn around the team’s results in 1964. In his rookie season, he hit 24 home runs, the most by any teenager in history at the time. He also collected 62 RBIs in 111 games, while slashing an impressive.290/.354/.530. But largely due to weak pitching, the Red Sox slipped to eighth place.

Over the next two seasons he amassed 60 more home runs and 175 RBIs, including leading the American League with 32 in only his second major-league season. He started to receive votes for AL MVP. But the Red Sox, who continued to suffer from weak pitching, were still mired in the second division.

In 1967, Conigliaro started the season with a bang. He made his first All-Star team. Paired with Carl Yastrzemski, who was having an MVP season, the Red Sox were in contention for first place. By mid-August, Conigliaro had collected 20 home runs and 67 RBIs. Only Met Ott and Eddie Matthews had hit more home runs than Conigliaro by age 22.

On August 18, Conigliaro was hit in the face on a fastball from Angels hurler Jack Hamilton. He suffered from blurred vision in his left eye and headaches, and he wasn’t able to return for the rest of the season. There was concern that he might lose his vision. The Red Sox ended up winning its first pennant since 1946.

Still suffering from the effects of the injury, he attempted a comeback in the spring of 1968. But doctors warned him it wasn’t safe for him to play, and he missed the entire 1968 season.

Determined to get back in the game, Conigliaro spent the missed season, learning to use more of his peripheral vision while batting. He even tried pitching in the instructional league.

Still only 24 years old and his vision not fully recovered, he returned to the Red Sox in 1969 and remarkably earned Comeback Player of the Year honors based on his 20 home runs and 82 RBIs. He followed with the best season of his career in 1970, with 36 home runs and 116 RBIs. Outwardly, It appeared he had overcome the effects of the injury, but he would say later he never fully regained his vision in the left eye.

Desoite his productive 1970 season, the Red Sox traded him over the winter to the California Angels, in an unpopular move for the Red Sox fans. Perhaps the Red Sox had anticipated his vision would deteriorate over time.

In fact, his vision problem did get worse in 1971. Frustrated by not performing up to his standard with the Red Sox, he retired from the Angels in early July, at age 26.

Conigliaro attempted a comeback with the Red Sox four years later, but ultimately quit after 21 games, when he managed only seven hits in 69 plate appearances as a DH and pinch-hitter.

We can only wonder about the total career numbers Tony C would have achieved had he not suffered the heartbreaking injury. He was on a similar career trajectory as his teammate Carl Yastrzemski, who ended up in the Hall of Fame. However, he will always retain a place in the hearts of the Red Sox Nation. He was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995.

(Postscript: The tragedy in Conigliaro’s life didn’t end with baseball. He suffered a heart attack in 1982 that left him with irreversible brain damage. He lived another eight years before dying at age 45.)

Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)