The Boston Red Sox have a storied history filled with so many memorable names that some fall between the cracks. One of these players, Tony Conigliaro, was once the pride of the Red Sox in his early seasons. Then a gruesome injury cut his career short. Now, Conigliaro represents a tragic tale of lost potential, but the Red Sox still make sure to honor his legacy.
The rise of Tony Conigliaro
When Conigliaro first stepped to the plate as a member of the Red Sox, he did not waste any time making his presence felt. His first at-bat at Fenway Park was a home run, and a legend was immediately born. Just 19 years old, Conigliaro hit like a seasoned veteran, and the team was better before it. He was just getting warmed up, however.
In his second year with the team, he hit 32 home while playing right field for the team. At such an early age, this powerful bat made him look to be the star the franchise desperately needed after nearly 50 years without a World Series. He was getting to the bases, hitting the ball well, and doing what he needed to do at right field to lead the team to victory.
This dominance continued into 1967, Conigliaro was playing some of the best baseball of his career. Through 95 games he had 20 home runs, 67 RBIs, and was batting nearly .290 in the process. All of this crashed down with an errant pitch, however.
Conigliaro’s terrible injury
In August of 1967, Conigliaro and the Red Sox were getting ready for the home-stretch of the season. Conigliaro took the batter’s box and prepared his swing. Unfortunately, Angels starter Jack Hamilton lost control of a pitch, which landed on Conigliaro’s left eye, damaging the retina, cracking his left cheekbone, and dislocating his jaw in the process.
He missed the rest of that season and the entire 1968 season recovering. Once touted as one of the next big stars in professional baseball, now people were wondering if he could ever play again. At first, it appeared that Conigliaro was doing just fine. He hit 20 home runs in 1969 and followed that up with 36 home runs the following year. Then, he was traded to the same Angels team who gave him the injury.
After these promising seasons, Conigliaro’s vision started to go downhill. The damage done by that pitch three years earlier was deteriorating his vision at a rapid pace. He hit just four home runs in 74 games for the Angels before retiring. Four years later, in 1975, he briefly returned to the Red Sox for 21 games, but he batted only .123 and his career was over.
Conigliaro’s vision kept getting worse. By 1990, he had a heart condition, as well. He collapsed dead of a heart attack in 1990, and the baseball world once again mourned the star who could have been.
Honoring Tony Conigliaro’s legacy
The Red Sox have done their part to honor Conigliaro’s memory in the years since his retirement and untimely death. A special section of Fenway Park was called Conig’s Corner, as it was his favorite place to hit a home run. Eventually, that section was renamed Cumberland Farms, however. The Red Sox, along with the entire MLB, still honors Conigliaro’s legacy differently every year.
Every year, the league votes on a player who has overcome insurmountable odds and adversity on their path to greatness. That award, which is called the Tony Conigliaro Award, has been awarded to players who survived cancer, overcame the death of a loved one, or came back from an injury that could have put them down for good.
Conigliaro might no longer be with us, but the memories of his game and the legacy that it left help make him an unspoken legend throughout the game. No one will ever know what could have been if he had never taken that pitch to the eye, but he still made an impact that is felt today.