Feb 24th in baseball history-GONE TOO SOON

1990 | BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS A life of such promise ended sadly at 4:30 in the afternoon on this date in 1990. Tony Conigliaro, the youngest player to hit 100 home runs died of pneumonia at the age of 45 [also see FEB 7th story]. “Tony C” as he was known, had been in poor health since suffering a heart attack in 1982.

The turning point in his life, though was 23 years earlier when he was on top of the world. On August 18, 1967, while playing for the Boston Red Sox, Conigliaro wasn’t able to get out of the way of an inside fastball from Jack Hamilton of the California Angels. The ball hit him on the left side of his face nearly blinding him. He was out of baseball for over a year.

Conigliaro made a promising recovery in 1969. His blurred and double vision appeared to have cleared up. He hit 20 home runs and drove in 82. In 1970 he had the best year of his career – 36 home runs and 116 RBI, but by ’71 his vision had deteriorated again. He wasn’t able to play in ’72, ’73 or ’74. After an unsuccessful attempt at a comeback in 1975 he retired for good. He was 30.

A legacy of Tony Conigliaro’s beaning was players starting wearing helmets with flaps on the left side for right-handed hitters and the right side for left-handed hitters. Today such helmets are mandatory.

Contributing sources:
Associated Press (AP)
, Boston, Massachusetts, February 25, 1990
Tony Conigliaro

Tony Conigliaro: Heartbreak Kid

FEBRUARY 7, 1945 | REVERE, MASSACHUSETTSTony 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.

Contributing Sources:
Associated Press (AP)
, July 11, 1971, Oakland, California
Seeing it Through, by Tony Conigliaro
Tales from the Impossible Dream Red Sox, by Rico Petrocelli

Improving With Age

FEBRUARY 6, 1958 | BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS • It doesn’t seem like a whole lot today, but 39-year old Ted Williams signed a one year contract with the Boston Red Sox on this date in 1958 for a reported $125,000. It made him the highest paid player in history. Red Sox General Manager Joe Cronin said the raise was much “deserved.” Williams didn’t seem to slow down a bit in ’57. He hit .388.

According to Joe Kelley of the Associated Press (AP) Williams was in such a good mood he sat down for more than an hour and chatted with reporters he’d clashed with many times before. The left fielder said, “I feel wonderful and feel I can do anything I could do five years ago.”

He was asked about doing what many aging players had done defensively, “I don’t know about first base, it wouldn’t look good in left field,” Williams deadpanned. Seriously, he didn’t think it would be that easy to switch from outfield to first base as he approaches his 40’s.

Williams played three more seasons and probably could have played more. He played 113 games in his final season, 1960, and finished with 29 home runs, 72 runs batted in and a .316 batting average.

And, oh what might have been. Williams, like many players of that era, missed three full seasons during World War II when he was in his 20’s. He missed parts of two more seasons during the Korean War. He finished with 521 home runs. If he had played those seasons it’s quite certain he would have hit well over 600 home runs. Theodore Samuel Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.

Contributing sources:
Joe Kelley, Associated Press (AP), Boston, Massachusetts, February 7, 1958

Never know unless you try

FEBRUARY 1, 1999 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The New York Yankees traded a young prospect named Mike Lowell to the Florida Marlins on this date in 1999. They got three minor league pitchers in return; Mark Johnson, Eddie Yarnall and Todd Noel.

With Mike Lowell, and several other quality players, the Marlins won their second World Series in 2003 – beating the Yankees.

Lowell became a 4-time all-star with tw.o World Series rings, one as Most Valuable Player (2007 for the Boston Red Sox). Eddie Yarnall appeared in just seven games for the Yankees and was out of baseball by 2001. Mark Johnson was picked up by the Detroit Tigers after never making it out of the Yankees farm system. He appeared in handful of games for the Tigers in 2000, but he too was also out of baseball by 2001. Todd Noel never made it to the major leagues and is no where to be found.

With Mike Lowell, and several other quality players, the Marlins won their second World Series in 2003 – beating the Yankees. Lowell was traded to the Boston Red Sox after the 2005 season and helped them win the World Series in ’07. They made the playoffs in ’08 winning the American League Division Series but losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Championship Series.

If the goal of any move a team makes is to get to the post-season, the Yankees succeeded, more often than Lowell’s teams. The Yankees have been to the playoffs nine of the last ten years, appearing in four World Series, winning two of them, but they didn’t accomplish any of that with players from the Lowell trade. The odds are Yankee fans probably do not think the Lowell trade in 1999 was a good one.

Contributing Sources:
Yankees post season
Marlins post season
Red Sox post season

Jan 23, 1981-FREDDIE GONE

NEW YORK, NEW YORK • It was not an auspicious off-season for the Boston Red Sox in 1981. On this date the Red Sox had to trade the only player, up to that time, to win Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season, center-fielder Fred Lynn.

They didn’t want to part with Lynn, but the front office failed to mail a contract to him by the deadline allowing Lynn to become a free agent if he wasn’t traded. He was sent to the California Angels (today’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) for Joe Rudi and Frank Tanana.

Freddie Lynn came on like gang-busters his rookie season of 1975, less than two years after being drafted by the Red Sox out of the University of Southern California. He hit .331 with 21 home runs, 105 runs batted in and 103 runs scored. Oh, he also won a Gold Glove and made the all-star team.

He was almost the perfect ballplayer, as evidenced by being awarded the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards – the first player in history to win both (Ichiro Suzuki won MVP and ROY awards in 2001, but he had already played nine seasons in the Japanese major leagues).

Fred Lynn had a very good career, but only once did he match or surpass his rookie production, that was 1979 when he hit .333 with 39 home runs, 122 runs batted in, 116 runs scored and a .416 on-base percentage.

The Red Sox also messed up with Carlton Fisk that same off-season. That’s a story for another time.

Contributing source:
Joseph Durso, The New York Times, January 24, 1981

Jan 19, 2006 – HE’S BACK

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETS  In the lingering euphoria of their first World Series championship in 108 years, will the Chicago Cubs be unable to remember the past and therefore be condemned to repeat it? The past being, then Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein walking away from the Red Sox a little over a year after he assembled a team that won the World Series after an 88-year drought.

Epstein slipped away from Fenway Park October 31, 2005 – Halloween Night – in a gorilla suit to avoid the media. The Red Sox reportedly offered him a three-year contract worth $4.5 million. Epstein said it wasn’t “the right fit.”

As Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

On this day in baseball history, January 19, 2006, it was announced that Epstein would return to the Red Sox. A joint statement from Epstein, owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and President Larry Lucchino read, “Ironically, Theo’s departure has brought us together in many respects… we now enjoy the bonds of a shared vision.”

The Red Sox won another World Series in 2007, but that shared vision got a little blurry. Theo left the Red Sox again for the Cubs in 2011. The shared vision seems to be pretty clear on the northside of Chicago – at least now.

As Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

Contributing sources:
Los Angeles Times, Epstein returns to the Red Sox, January 20, 2006
ESPN.com
Fivethirtyeight.com

Jan 14, 1963-APARICIO: MAGICIAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS  Luis Aparicio was a Hall of Fame shortstop, a 13-time All-Star, a 9-time Gold Glove winner, a fan favorite everywhere he went, so why was he traded so often? “Little Louie” as he was called, was traded on this day in 1963 along with Al Smith, from the Chicago White Sox to the Baltimore Orioles for Hoyt Wilhelm, Dave Nicholson, Pete Ward, and Ron Hansen.

Aparicio was traded three times, but one of those was back to the White Sox, the team he started his career with. There was never a hint of Aparicio being anything but a team player.

When he retired in 1973 Aparicio was the all-time leader in games played, assists and putouts by a shortstop. He was the American League stolen base leader nine years in a row. He helped the White Sox get to the World Series in 1959 and helped the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series in 1966.IN AN

In an 18-year big league career the Venezuelan born Aparicio never played any position other than shortstop?

Luis Aparicio was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

Contributing source:
Baseball-Reference

Jan 7, 2005 – HIDDEN BALL TRICK

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS  The Boston Red Sox had an easier time winning the 2004 World Series than figuring out who would take possession of the ball from the final out.

When Red Sox closer Keith Foulke fielded a grounder by Edgar Renteria and tossed it to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to end the game it completed a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and gave the Red Sox their first World Series championship since 1918. Well aware of the significance of the ball, Mientkiewicz held on to it.

According to the Associated Press he gave the ball to his wife and eventually put it in a safe deposit box. The Red Sox management also saw the significance of the ball and wanted it in its possession rather than that of a part-time first baseman that had only been with the Red Sox for half a year.

The Associated Press also reported that team owner John Henry and Mientkiewicz talked by phone on this day in baseball history in 2005. Mientkiewicz only said it was a “nice conversation.”

It would be another fifteen months of haggling, which included the filing of a lawsuit, before Mientkiewicz, who had since been traded, and the Red Sox would settle the dispute. In the spring of 2006 both sides agreed to send the ball to the Hall of Fame.

Contributing sources:
Boston Globe, April 23, 2006
Howard Ulman, The Associated Press, January 8, 2005