1965-1970, 1975

Tony Conigliaro was born in Revere, Mass and was a 1962 graduate of St. Mary's High School. Playing both shortstop and pitching, he had already come to the attention of big-league scouts and by the time he graduated, as many as 14 scouts were tracking him. In his final couple of years in high school, he batted over .600 as well as led his team to win the Catholic Conference Championship. He played American Legion ball in the summertime, with the same .600 batting average.

The Red Sox asked him to come to a 1962 workout at Fenway Park, and when the Legion season ended, Tony's father Sal, courted bids. Tony eventually signed with the Red Sox and was sent to Bradenton for the Florida Instructional League.

In the spring of 1963, Tony was invited to the Red Sox minor league camp at Ocala and was assigned to Wellsville in the New York-Penn League. He did well at Wellsville, batting .363, hitting 24 homers, and winning the league's "Rookie of the Year" and MVP awards. He played that fall in Sarasota and was added to the Red Sox 40-man roster.

In 1964 the story at spring training, was the local sports hero, Tony Conigliaro. Ted Williams admired Tony's style and told him, "Don't change that solid stance of yours, no matter what you're told."

One day Ted was hitting fungos to the outfielders and challenged him. He was really going to tag one and challenged Tony to catch it, saying he would give him a Cadillac if he could. Tony yelled back, no thanks, because he already had a Cadillac.

Tony was 19, only in his second year in organized ball, but he made the big league club. He was young and outspoken, charming and having fun. He would be a right-handed slugger in the coziest of ball parks.

In a game against the Indians, Tony hit a homer out of the stadium in Scottsdale, over the 430 ft mark in center field. It landed on the road and a couple of construction workers marked the spot where it landed, some 570 ft from home plate. Manager Johnny Pesky may have been taking a chance on a relatively untested player, but the 1964 Sox, frankly, didn't have a great deal of talent.

Tony's first major league game was in Yankee Stadium and in his first major league at-bat, against Whitey Ford, he grounded into a double play. The next day was Opening Day at Fenway Park. Everybody who was anybody was there. The Mayor, the Governor the Senator, the U.S. Attorney General, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey, Stan Musial and 20,213 fans were all there to see Tony Conigliaro.

The game was tied at 1-1 in the second inning when Tony stepped to the plate for the first time. The White Sox' Joel Horlen delivered the first pitch, and it hung over the plate. Tony swung, there was a boom, and the ball sailed over the monster onto Lansdowne Street.

But there would be a problem, because Tony crowded the plate and pitchers, quite naturally, tried to back him off plate. He was often hit by pitches, and suffered his first injury in May when he was hit in the left wrist, causing a hairline fracture.

When he came back to the lineup, he started pounding out homers, He hit his 20th in the first game of a July doubleheader against Cleveland and was on a pace to break the rookie record for home runs set by Wally Berger of the Braves in 1930. But his next time up, he had his arm broken by an inside fastball. It was the fourth time he had been hit by a pitch that season He missed a month and finished with 24 homers the most home runs ever hit by a teenager. The injuries however, cost him a shot at several rookie awards.

The fabulous sixties really kicked in with the popularity of the Beatles in 1964. Baby boomers had come of age with plenty of time and money on their hands. Fast women and fast cars fit right into Tony's lifestyle. Under Tom Yawkey, who himself had grown up as a rich young man, the Red Sox had become a country club. The city of Boston and this team were a perfect fit for the brashness of Tony Conigliaro, who dated actresses and Playboy bunnies.

Not only could he hit, he could really sing. One night in a Framingham night club during the off-season, he was introduced by the band and took the mic to join them. He was good and put up the money to make a record himself. In a few weeks, he had his first record, "Playing the Field" released in January of 1965. He later signed a deal with RCA and appeared on TV shows like "The Merv Griffin Show". He. was the kid, at age 20, who had everything: fame, fortune, girls, a red Corvette and a hit record.

Tony clearly was a favorite and was in demand at the local clubs in Kenmore Square and on the North Shore. With the Sox losing so much and the press being so critical, the fines for infractions continued. Tony missed curfews more than once. But the tipping point came after a night of drinking in New York, when he came back late to the hotel so drunk, that he was throwing-up. When he was fined $1000, he threw a tantrum and said he was sick and couldn't play. But hungover or not, manager Billy Herman made him play against the Yankees.

Back at his home, Tony's dad Sal, was fed up reading about his son's continuous bad behavior in the newspapers. After a meeting with Herman, Mike Higgins, and Sal Conigliaro, Tony apologized to his teammates and came back to the lineup.

Once Tony put on his uniform, he was all business and loved playing baseball. After the incident, he got booed loudly during the first game of a doubleheader against the Twins at Fenway. He responded by getting three hits and two more in the second game, including his 17th home run.

Tony finally decided to grow up during the end of the season, concentrate on his career and he shined. In 1965, he led the league in homers with 32 and became the youngest player ever to take the home run crown. But then he was struck yet again by another ball at the end of July and broke his left wrist. It was the third broken bone he had suffered in just over 14 months, because he simply refused to back off the plate.

Nothing was more prominent on the minds of the young Red Sox players, as the draft in 1966. President Lyndon Johnson had doubled the draft rolls, and many professional athletes chose the Army Reserve to fulfill their military obligation. Tony was one of those who enlisted for a six-year hitch in the reserves. He went to basic training in Fort Dix, NJ in October and was released in time to get to spring training.

Suffering no serious injuries in 1966, Tony got in a very full season banged out 28 homers and the Boston writers voted him Red Sox MVP.

In 1967, Dick Williams' came in and Tony, who was not married and had girlfriends everywhere, balked at the Williams regimental style and curfews, but after a while, he came around. He got off to a slow start, batting well enough but without much power and he still crowded the plate.

The Red Sox were surprising everyone and Tony eventually contributed as well. Another generation of Red Sox fans was starting to fall in love with the team. The young women were coming because they were swooning over Tony and a large number of teenagers and college students were beginning to identify with the youthful Red Sox underdogs.

On July 23rd when Tony hit home run #100, during the first game of a doubleheader in Cleveland, he was only 22, the youngest A.L. player to reach the 100-homer plateau. He hit #101 in the day's second game. The Red Sox were just one-half game out of first place.

When the Red Sox returned, 15,000 fans were waiting for them at Logan Airport. Not even the Beatles, who had visited Boston the year before, had caused such a commotion. The players were stunned by their reception and joked that they would have to sacrifice Tony to appease the crowd.

It was a tight race and as late as mid-August, the Red Sox were in fifth place, but only three games out. During the off-day, on August 17th, Tony’s partner in the music business, Ed Penney, was visiting his sons at the "Ted Williams Baseball Camp" in Lakeville, Mass.

Ted told Penney to tell Tony that he’s been crowding the plate and to back off, because it’s getting too serious now with the Red Sox. As Ted was going up to the stands to make some kind of talk to the campers, he turned around and yelled "Don’t forget what I told you. Tell him to back off, because they’ll be throwing at him."

The next day, on August 18th, Ed Penney reminded Tony before the game what Ted Williams had said. But Tony was in a slump at the time and thought that he couldn’t back off the plate or pitchers wouldn’t take him seriously.

The Sox were facing the Angels and in the fourth inning, Jack Hamilton's fastball came in and struck Tony in the face, just missing his temple but hitting him in the left eye and cheekbone.

As Tony lay motionless on the ground, Rico Petrocelli was on deck and was the first to reach him. He was awake but disoriented. Blood was coming out of his ear, his mouth, and his nose. Rico tried to tell him that everything would be alright. Seconds later, Buddy LeRoux and the Angels trainer Freddy Frederico circled around him as they waited for a stretcher and an ambulance. For a full 10 minutes Fenway Park was stone silent as Tony lay kicking his legs.

As he was carried off the field by Jim Lonborg, Joe Foy and Mike Ryan, the crowd applauded him and then turned their anger toward Jack Hamilton, who stood motionless on the mound. Hamilton was visibly shaken and insisted that he had not thrown at Tony intentionally, and that because he was standing over the plate, he was just trying to move him away.

And so, the Red Sox, devastated over the tragedy, were left with a choice to collapse or play on. The "Impossible Dream" of the 1967 Red Sox went full throttle and ended in Game #7 of the World Series. It had reignited the passion for the Sox in the city of Boston.

Tony recovered but was lost, depressed and down on himself. He had tried to get involved, cheerleading from the bench when he came back. He felt like an outsider, said he'd let the team down and downplayed his contribution in the drive to the pennant.

Then there was concern he might lose the sight in his left eye. He tried to come back in spring training during 1968, but there was just no way. His vision was inadequate, but he wouldn't quit and against all odds, his vision slowly began to improve.

He spent a good amount of time in the late summer trying to learn to become a pitcher and started several games in the Winter Instructional League for the Sarasota Red Sox in November, but rolled up a poor record and developed a sore arm as well. He played in the outfield on the days he wasn't pitching and began to connect for a few solid hits, giving up the idea of pitching, and trying to come back as a hitter during spring training the following year.

Not only did he make the team in 1969, but he broke back in with a bang, hitting a two-run homer in the top of the 10th during Opening Day in Baltimore. He then hit the game-winning hit in the fourth inning of the home opener at Fenway Park when he sent a slow dribbler toward Brooks Robinson at third and beat it out while the winning run scored. He was back, would hit 20 home runs, and win the "Comeback Player of the Year".

The following year, 1970, was Tony's best year at the plate, with 36 homers and 116 RBIs. His brother Billy had made the Red Sox and also became a regular player with him.

Even though Tony had a banner year, the front office sensed that his vision problems may come back to affect his performance in the future. They decided, with his trade value as high as it probably would ever be, they'd move him. In October, the Sox traded him to the California Angels. The news stunned Red Sox Nation.

Tony later admitted that he couldn't see the spin on the ball and had been having migraines as a result. His headaches were coming back, and he wasn't feeling good.

Finally, fed up enough, he packed his bags, left the Angels and announced his retirement. An eye exam showed that the blind spot in his vision had grown considerably, and his vision was deteriorating once more.

But his eyesight miraculously later came back to normal and late in 1974, he wrote to the Red Sox asking for another shot at a comeback. GM Dick O'Connell agreed, said he could come to spring training and was welcome to give it a try. The Angels granted him his outright release and the Red Sox offered him a contract with the PawSox, which he signed in March 1975. He took up the challenge, had an exceptional spring, and got word that he had made the big-league team.

Fenway Park was almost at a World Series atmosphere on Opening Day, as Tony made his triumphant homecoming and Hank Aaron made his American league debut with the Milwaukee Brewers. Tony received four standing ovations and a female admirer tossed a bouquet of roses onto the field.

Tony's first home run in four years, came three days later in Baltimore, but he was batting just .123 in mid-June and it just wasn't working out. The Sox needed to make room on the 25-man roster for newly acquired infielder Denny Doyle and they sent Tony back to Pawtucket. There, he got only sporadic playing time and in August, he finally called it a day, retiring once again, this time for good. PawSox manager, Joe Morgan, lamented that the great skills that Tony once possessed as a youngster, were now gone.

Before too long, Tony found work as a broadcaster in Providence. Later, when Jim Rice broke his wrist at the end of the 1975 season and lost his chance to play in the World Series, Tony interviewed him and tried to make him feel better but couldn't. He knew just how Jim felt, having been in the same situation eight years before.

In 1982, while working at a San Francisco station, Tony learned that Ken Harrelson was leaving his job as color commentator with Channel 38, the Red Sox home station. He applied for an audition, it went very well, and he was told he'd got the job.

In January, his brother Billy was driving him to Logan Airport to get his things squared away on the West Coast, when Tony suffered a heart attack in the car and suffered irreversible brain damage.

Tony Conigliaro lived another eight years with Billy constantly at his side, before succumbing at age 45, on February 24, 1990.