He Never Saw It Coming: Looking Back at a Baseball Legend

. July 2, 2018.
Photo courtesy: www.bostonglobe.com

Tony Conigliaro, known throughout baseball as Tony “C”, was an instant fan favorite and a legend in Boston. Tony “C” held a major league baseball record for hitting more home runs than any other teenager in the history of major league baseball, the second youngest and second quickest to reach 100 home runs. Conigliaro was a young star with matinee looks, home run power and athleticism in the outfield. Putting people in the seats in Boston, maybe, just maybe, he would become the next Mickey Mantle.

A bad pitch

Then it happened, August 18, 1967, the California Angels were playing at Boston. It was the fourth inning of a scoreless game, two out, nobody on and Tony”C” was at the plate. Jack Hamilton was on the mound for the Angels, at 6’3” and two hundred pounds, a big man who threw hard. Tony C stood at the plate, waiting on Hamilton’s pitch from Hamilton, a fast ball that got away from the big Angel’s pitcher. It hit Tony “C” directly in the eye. It shattered his jaw and damaged his retina. Tony and most major leaguers at the time wore a protective helmet, but it did not have the ear flap used today for additional protection. Today many major league players wear helmets with an ear flap and a jaw protector.

A comeback not to be

Because of his terrible injuries, Tony was out of baseball for a year and a half. The Boston hero made a triumphant return to baseball, hitting 20 home runs, knocking in 82 runs and becoming the comeback player of the year in 1969. In 1970 Tony “C” continued to improve, hitting 36 home runs and knocking in 116 runs. But Tony Conigliaro’s tremendous comeback was cut short. The eye that had been hit with the Hamilton fastball began to lose vision, robbing him of his incredible home run hitting ability.

Life can be unpredictable. There’s a line in a Rosanne Cash song called The Seven Year Ache, “God, I hope he comes back soon.” But it was not to be for Tony “C”. Maybe he would have been the next great baseball player, but his comeback was never complete. Tony Conigliaro’s story demonstrates that life can be uneven, unsteady and unpredictable.

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