FEBRUARY 7, 1945 | REVERE, MASSACHUSETTS – Tony Conigilaro was born on this date in 1945 outside Boston, Massachusetts. He would grow up to realize the dream of many Boston area kids – to play for the Red Sox.
He debuted with his hometown team at age 19. He was the youngest American League player to reach the 100-home run mark. The dream, along with his cheekbone, was shattered the night of August 18, 1967 when he was hit in the face by a fastball from Jack Hamilton of the California Angels. Teammate and friend Rico Petrocelli was in the on-deck circle when Tony C got drilled and later wrote in his book, Tales from the Impossible Dream Red Sox:
“I always believed there was a spot where Tony couldn’t see the inside pitch. If you threw it to the right spot, he’d hit that ball nine miles. But then there was this blind spot, a little more inside. Sometimes he moved too late to get out of the way, and sometimes he never moved at all.”
Conigliaro was knocked unconscious. He had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. His cheekbone was broken and his left eye severely damaged. For a time it was feared he might not survive. The cheekbone healed but he had a hole in his retina. He missed the entire 1968 season.
His vision miraculously cleared up and he played again in 1969. He hit 20 home runs and drove in 82, and was named comeback player of the year. He had the best year of his career in 1970 when he hit 36 home runs and drove in 116. He was traded that off-season to, ironically the California Angels.
Tony C’s eyesight deteriorated again in 1971. He hit just .222 with 4 home runs and 15 RBI. He was increasingly difficult to deal with. According to the Associated Press (AP) his manager, Lefty Phillips, told reporters after a loss that Conigliaro “was ready for the insane asylum.
Conigliaro sadly announced his retirement from baseball July 10, 1971, “I have lost my sight and on the edge-of-losing my mind.”
Conigliaro died of kidney failure on February 24, 1990. He was 45.
Associated Press (AP), July 11, 1971, Oakland, California
Seeing it Through, by Tony Conigliaro
Tales from the Impossible Dream Red Sox, by Rico Petrocelli