BOSTON (CBS) – For New Englanders who were hanging on every moment of the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Red Sox team’s run for the pennant – and if you were breathing that summer, chances are this means you – tomorrow, August 18th, will mark a grim anniversary.
Listen to Jon’s commentary:
It’s been 45 years since Tony Conigliaro got beaned, and introduced a lot of us to the fact that life can be very arbitrary and unfair.
If you live around here and don’t know who Tony C. was, you should.
A Revere native, Conigliaro was signed by the Red Sox right out of St. Mary’s High School in Lynn, and hit a home run in his first major league at-bat in 1964.
He was handsome, personable, and a terrific baseball player.
In 1965, Tony C. led the league in homers, the youngest man ever to do it. He hit 28 more in 1966, made the All-Star team in ‘67, and was the youngest American Leaguer ever to reach 100 homers.
But Tony also tended to crowd the plate, and on August 18,1967 he came to the plate in a game at Fenway against the Angels at the height of the pennant race.
Back then, batting helmets didn’t have the protective earflap, and when Tony tried to get out of the way of a high, inside pitch, the pitch caught him square in the face, fracturing his cheekbone, dislocating his jaw and severely damaging his left eye.
Listening to the game over the radio, you could hear the impact of ball on bone.
Conigliaro was out of the rest of that year and the next, returning in 1969 for a comeback that ended when his damaged eye faltered.
A successful career in broadcasting ended in 1982 when Tony had a heart attack that left him in a debilitated state for the rest of his life.
He died in 1990 at age 45.
For those of us who loved watching Tony C. play, it’s just as appalling now as it was then to think of how much promise he had and how cruelly it was taken from him.
I’ve often thought of Conigliaro over the years, as a way to stop feeling sorry for myself for whatever reason, and it works.
Life is short and fragile, and understanding that helps us enjoy it and put things in perspective.
That may be Tony Conigliaro’s most enduring gift to his fans.
You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.