Tony Conigliaro Missed the Chance to Be Ranked with Williams, Yaz or Mantle

Harold FriendChief Writer IApril 6, 2012

BOSTON - OCTOBER 23:  Boston Red Sox hall of famer Carl Yastrzemski waves to the crowd after throwing out the first pitch before game one of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Red Sox on October 23, 2004 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

When he was 19 years old, Mickey Mantle batted .267/.349/.443 with 13 home runs and a stint in the minors.

When he was 19 years old, Tony Conigliaro batted .290/.354/.530 with 24 home runs.

This is not an attempt to compare Conigliaro with Mantle, which would be ridiculous. It is an attempt to remind fans or to inform a small minority of fans that Conigliaro had tremendous baseball talent, that he was a rising star and that a beaning prevented him from ranking with Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski among the great Boston Red Sox players.

Conigliaro's 24 home runs in 1964 set a record for the most home runs by a teenager. It sounds strange because not many teenagers hold major league records.

In 1965, Conigliaro led the league with 32 home runs. He became the youngest home run champion in history.

When Ted Williams saw Conigliaro during spring training in 1964, he was impressed  Williams gave him some advice. "Don't change that solid stance of yours, no matter what you're told." 

Some baseball writers asked Williams if he thought Conigliaro might make the team. The Red Sox had finished a dismal seventh in 1963, winning only 76 games in the 10-team American League.

Williams didn't think Conigliaro was ready at the age of 19.  "He's just a kid; he's two years away," Williams told the writers.

Manager Johnny Pesky disagreed.

The Red Sox opened the 1964 season at Yankee Stadium. When Whitey Ford retired Yastrzemski on a called third strike to end the top of the first inning, Mickey Mantle jogged in from center field asTony Conigliaro took over where Mantle had stood.

The Red Sox won in 11 innings when they scored a run off Ford. Conigliaro managed a single in five at-bats.

The next day was the Red Sox home opener against the Chicago White. Batting in the seventh slot and facing right-hander Joel Horlen, Conigliaro hit the first pitch he ever saw at Fenway over the netting in left field for his first major league home run.

A few seasons later, the unthinkable happened.

Conigliaro was having a great season in 1967, batting .287 with 20 home runs when, on Aug. 18, California Angels right-hander Jack Hamilton's pitch ended Conigliaro's ability to pursue greatness.

Hamilton had a reputation as a headhunter. Years later, Hamilton insisted that the pitch had gotten away from him.

Conigliaro related he jerked his head back so violently that his helmet fell off just before he was struck in his left eye and cheekbone.

In 1955, Mickey Mantle missed most the World Series. The Brooklyn Dodgers won their first and only world championship in seven games. The Yankees were a different team without Mantle.

In 1967, the Red Sox won the greatest pennant race in baseball history. The St. Louis Cardinals beat them in a grueling seven game Series.  The Red Sox were a different team without Conigliaro. 

George Scott said it all.

"I've said it a million times, if Tony had been in the lineup, we would have won. He was one of those guys. Reggie Jackson was a big-game player. Tony was that kind of player."