Friday, June 8, 2012

1968 TOPPS TONY CONIGLIARO

1968 WASN'T A YEAR TO REMEMBER FOR TONY C.
SO YOUNG, SO TALENTED.

THE FRONT PAGE

  • Tony Conigliaro might be the most intriguing "what if" player ever. As in, what if he didn't get beaned during the Red Sox's Impossible Dream season in 1967? 
  • He was never the same, this after becoming the youngest AL home run champion at 20 years old in '65 and the youngest  in the league to hit 100 homers at 22 years, 197 days. He hit 104 homers and had splits of .339/.510/.849 in his first four seasons. He also had an OPS+ of 132 during that span, meaning he was considered 32 percent better than the average player. I'd say he was on a path to superstardom.

THE BACK PAGE

  • That write-up about says it all; kind of a creepy cartoon though.

PHOTO PLAY

  • Looks almost like the photo was taken in an industrial park or maybe an oil refinery. Kidding aside, I'm reasonable sure it was taken in Winter Haven during spring training. I've been there a few times but for the life of me can't figure out what's in the background.

EXTRA, EXTRA

  • Conigliaro took the game by storm as a rookie and in his first years the way Ken Griffey Jr. would do more than 20 years later and the way Bryce Harper and Mike Trout might do soon. 
  • The Sports Illustrated cover story from June 22, 1970, is a terrific read and highly recommended. Conigliaro goes into detail about the beaning by the Angels' Jack Hamilton on Aug. 18 at Fenway Park and the subsequent recovery. 
  • Hamilton, a known ball-doctorer, likely threw a spitball that hit Tony C, known for crowding the plate, just below the left temple. The pitch fractured his cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and caused severe damage to his retina. He was carried off on a stretcher. After being hit, he said he thought he might die right there. In addition to horrific pain, he said his mouth filled with fluid (not blood) and thought he wouldn't be able to breathe.
  • The day before the beaning, Ted Williams told Tony C through a mutual friend that he was standing too close to the plate, and because the pennant race was heating up, pitchers would be looking to reclaim it. When the message was relayed, Conigliaro said pitchers won't take him seriously if he backed away and if anything needed to move closer.
  • In '69, he won Comeback Player of the Year, belting 20 HRs and driving in 82. 
  • The next season he had a career-high 36 HRs and 116 RBI, but the Red Sox, sensing his vision always would be a concern and figuring his trade value never would be higher, sent him to the Angels. A native New Englander, he was devastated and never grew comfortable out west. He had a terrible season in '71, with headaches, stemming from straining to see the ball, returning in earnest. He hit only four home runs and retired after a game on July 9; he admitted his eyesight never returned to normal.
  •  Brother Billy, who also played on the Red Sox, ripped the club for the trade and said Carl Yastrzemski was behind it. "Tony was traded because of one guy -- over there,'' Billy said, alluding to Yaz. "He got rid of (Manager Johnny) Pesky, Ken Harrelson and Tony. I know I'm next. Yaz and Reggie (Smith) are being babied, and the club better do something about it.'' Wow, talk about taking out a flamethrower! Sure enough Billy was dealt in October '71.
  •  Tony C launched a comeback with the Sox in '75, making the team out of spring training. On Opening Day against the Brewers at Fenway,  he came up as the DH and singled. He received a three-minute standing ovation. Struggling into June, Conigliaro retired, thus bringing the end to a memorable, albeit too short, career. 
  • Suffered a heart attack in '82 and then a stroke, lapsing into a coma. Was in a vegetative state when he died in '90.

THE BASEBALL AND THE DAMAGE DONE.

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