Tales from the Red Sox Dugout|
by Jim Prime with Bill Nowlin
Sports Publishing, Inc, 2000 | Buy the book
"He was baseball's JFK." -- Dick Johnson
It was the kind of debut that every kid dreams about. Just two years out of
St. Mary's High School in Lynn, Massachusetts, 19-year-old rookie right
fielder Tony Conigliaro stepped into the batter's box and homered off
Chicago's Joel Horlen on the first pitch thrown to him at Fenway Park. One
writer suggested that it was the fastest start by anyone in town "since Paul
Revere beat the British out of the gate." It was 1964, and the home opener was
a special game to benefit the planned John F. Kennedy Memorial Library.
Conigliaro was performing before a celebrity-filled crowd that included Bobby
and Teddy Kennedy, the governor of Massachusetts, Boston's mayor, boxers Jack
Dempsey and Gene Tunney, Cardinal Cushing, the Harvard University band and an
impressive array of film stars, including Carol Channing. Despite missing more
than 50 games due to injury, Conigliaro, with a swing ideally suited to
Fenway, poked 24 home runs over the Green Monster while hitting at a .290
clip. In his sophomore year, he became baseball's youngest home run king,
leading the American League with 32 at the age of 20. He added 28 more in
1966, but both the production and the injury were harbingers of things to
There have been two great tragedies in Red Sox history, both involving local
Boston boys with matinee-idol good looks and seemingly limitless futures. The
first involved the Golden Greek, Harry Agganis, who died tragically in 1953 at
the age of 23. The second of the Greco-Roman tragedies came more than a decade
later on August 18, 1967, a steamy night in the midst of one of the hottest
and most memorable pennant races in American League history. Hometown hero
Tony Conigliaro was hit in the head by a fastball thrown by California Angels
pitcher Jack Hamilton. The blow almost killed him and he was never the same
again. He had 20 home runs at the time of his beaning.
Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson once spied Conigliaro coming out of a
nightclub after curfew. Tony C insisted that he had only ducked into the
establishment to get directions to Midnight Mass.
Before "vanity plates" were commonplace, the governor of Massachusetts issued
a set of personalized plates to Conigliaro in recognition of the great rookie
season the hometown boy had put together. The plates bore only the letters
"T.C." Unfortunately, some overzealous fans decided that the plates would make
a nice souvenir and stole them, bumpers and all.
New England fans loved Tony C. Following his beaning, his eyesight took a long
time to come back and never did return completely. After striking out four
times in one game, he complained about fans wearing white shirts in the
bleacher triangle. He said the glare off the shirts made it difficult to see
the ball and created a dangerous situation for hitters, and proposed that
fans sitting in that area be given green or blue vests to wear during the
game. The Red Sox responded, posting a sign which read: "Dear Patron, please
do not sit in green seat section unless you are wearing dark-colored clothing.
Conig thanks you. Management thanks you." Fans entering the seats in this area
were given cards stating: "You are now an official member of Conig's Corner.
The Red Sox and Tony C appreciate your cooperation in helping to provide a
good hitting background."
From Tales from the Red Sox Dugout by Jim Prime with Bill Nowlin.
Copyright © 2000 by Jim Prime. Reprinted with permission.