Triumphant Demise: The Tony Conigliaro Story

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Triumphant Demise: The Tony Conigliaro Story
One of the best athletes of his era, Tony Conigliaro was someone who had a great future ahead of him. People looked at him as a potential all-time great, yet he was set back by a series of misfortunes and a tragic death.
To this day, the story of Conigliaro is still remembered in Boston, as the team named a section in the outfield of Fenway Park in 2007 "Congliaro's Corner" in memory of Tony C.
Born in Revere, Mass. on Jan. 7, 1945, Anthony Richard Conigliaro, had lived in the Massachusetts area for all of his life and attended St. Mary's High School in Lynn, Mass.
After graduating high school in 1962, he had tremendous talent for baseball and was also a class act. His talent for baseball got him a contract with the Boston Red Sox organization. After a short, two year stint in the minor leagues, Conigliaro was called up to the majors.
In his rookie season, Conigliaro got his promising young career off to a great start by hitting 24 home runs, knocking in 52 runs, and hitting .290 in the greater part of his rookie campaign.
His rookie year was cut short with injuries to his arms and his toes which took him out for a good portion of the season. He did not win Rookie of the Year that season, though many felt he still could have.
Conigliaro had his head up high the following season, in hopes he would finish the year on a better note. That he did and he led the major leagues in home runs by hitting 32 and was selected to his first ever All Star game at the tender age of only twenty-two. He also became the youngest player to reach 100 home runs at that young age.
Still succeeding throughout his baseball career, one tragedy struck Conigliaro that put his life in jeopardy.
On Aug. 17, 1967, the Red Sox were facing the California Angels. It was just your average night game. The sun had set, the lights were shining bright in Fenway Park, and the fans were as crazy as ever. The night had been different than no other; that is, until Conigliaro's first at-bat.
He was set to face Jack Hamilton, a mediocre pitcher with control issues who had just set down the first two batters of the inning. Congliaro was now up to bat. He had leaned in the batter's box and was looking for a big base hit. Fans were cheering loudly for him as there were two outs in the inning. Hamilton came inside with a pitch that struck Tony C. in the left cheekbone, and Conigliaro fell straight to the ground and in excruciating pain.
Not only was the cheekbone shattered, but he also suffered a serious injury to his left retina.
He was carried off the field in a stretcher with all the players and fans in a hush as the medics rushed to his body. Conigliaro's career—and even his very life—was in jeopardy. They carried him off the field as their was distress amongst the baseball world.
Conigliaro was found to be blinded 48 hours after the injury, and when his vision finally began to come back, it was nothing like it used to be. He was looked at as a lost cause, someone who had nothing left to live for. All those around him were deeply affected as Tony C. spiraled into depression.
Former Red Sox Trainer Buddy LeRoux said, "How can you blame a 23-year-old kid who finds out he can't see?"
Though the odds were against him again, Conigliaro and his family did not give up this case. His father offered eye transplants and his mother prayed novenas to St. Jude who was the saint of hopeless cases. Though the transplant was not able to happen, Tony's eyes slightly improved and had set his sights towards returning to baseball the following season.
Now seeking a comeback the following spring, Conigliaro was looking to revert back to his old ways, yet could not hit due to his poor eyesight. He would consistently strike out and swing at all pitches that were thrown to him, even ones that were way outside and he was losing hope of becoming the player he once was. Tony C. kept coming because he just wanted to play ball with an injury or not. Baseball was his life, his love, his passion and he wanted to just be a normal person again.
He was hit in the ribs during the spring and was very angry with the man who beaned him (Dick Williams) and he had lashed out. He was known to speak his mind a little too often, and was frequently booed out of Fenway Park, according to former Sox star Bill Lee before the injury to Conigliaro. 
“Tony is outspoken and can be headstrong,” Lee commented. “But he is intensely determined and ambitious, and his ego is half the reason he hits like he does.”
In November of the following season, Conigilaro gave pitching a try, though it did not turn out well. "I got bombed in my second start," said Conigliaro after his first game pitching for the Sox. His eyesight was again a factor in this circumstance, and he knew that he needed to be hitting baseballs and not throwing them
Miraculously, though, his vision had vastly improved and he claimed that he could hit the ball again. After getting medical clearance, Conigliaro rejoined an already stellar Boston lineup in order to resume a young career that was still full of potential and life as he was still not even 30 years of age.
The next season, Conigliaro made a comeback so big that he won Comeback Player of the Year Award. Tony hit 20 home runs and knocked in 80 runs. Boston fans were ecstatic about the new heart of the lineup and everyone was touched by his miraculous comeback.
He was also now joined in the outfield with his brother, Billy after Carl Yastrzemski was moved to first base. For the next few seasons, Conigliaro had some pretty good years until he moved to California for one year, but quickly moved back to Boston after having little success. He went back to Boston to finish his injury plagued career.
In 1975, Conigliaro was forced into retirement as his eyesight had now deteriorated again, now beyond repair. This ended a hellacious career for Conigliaro as many were distressed and many wonder what if Conigliaro never got beaned. He looked to live the rest of his life in Boston in peace and serenity.
Then in 1982, tragedy again struck Tony again. As he was being driven to a Red Sox broadcasting interview for Channel 38, he suffered a heart attack in the car driven by his brother. He suffered a stroke later on that day and it shocked thousands.
Once in the hospital, he fell into a coma and lived in a vegetative state for almost eight years until finally dying in 1990 in his parents' home in Salem, Mass. This was the end of the tragic story of the life of a man who'l life was too short.
He died at the young age of 45 and is honored each year with the Tony Coniglaro Award, which goes to the player who best overcomes the odds. Also after his tragic accident, all players are now required to have an ear flap on their helmets in case they are beaned.
Baseball America did projected Conigliaro's career if he were not to be set back by injuries, taking into account the years when he was 19 to 22. This answered thousands of people's "What If?" questions. These were the years where he was not set back by his eye injury. Here were his career projections:
3131 hits, 1988 RBIs, and 636 Home Runs.
The seemingly indestructible man had been remembered as someone who was not intimidated and a man who had a lot of faith and heart. When you really look at the life of Conigliaro, we all are really not very different.
Sure he had a knack for baseball, but everyone has a talent, and if you have setbacks on the road towards achieving something, then you can always overcome the odds with faith, heart, and prayer.
We remember Conigliaro as the man who died too young.
R.I.P. Anthony Richard Conigliaro.
January 7, 1945 - February 24, 1990

On the next page are all the recipients of the Tony Conigliaro Award since it was created.

Tony Conigliaro Award Winners
1990   Jim Eisenreich, Kansas City Royals
1991   Dickie Thon, Philadelphia Phillies
1992   Jim Abbott, California Angels
1993   Bo Jackson, Kansas City Royals
1994   Mark Leiter, California Angels
1995   Scott Radinsky, Chicago White Sox
1996   Curtis Pride, Detroit Tigers
1997   Eric Davis, Baltimore Orioles
1998   Bret Saberhagen, Boston Red Sox
1999   Mike Lowell, Florida Marlins
2000   Kent Mercker, Anaheim Angels
Tony Saunders, Florida Marlins
2001   Jason Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Graeme Lloyd, Montreal Expos
2002   Jose Rijo, Cincinnati Reds
2003   Jim Mecir, Oakland Athletics
2004   Dewon Brazelton, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2005   Aaron Cook, Colorado Rockies
2006   Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates
2007   Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay Rays

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