BOSTON – Boston Red Sox slugger and right fielder Tony Conigliaro died on this day in 1990 at the age of 45.
Conigliaro was a hometown boy, born and raised in Revere. He was signed by the Red Sox at age 17, soon after graduating from St. Mary’s High School in Lynn. After one season in the minor leagues, he was called up to the majors for the 1964 season and hit a home run in his first time at bat. He went on to be the home run leader in the league in 1965 (with 32) and was the youngest player to achieve this distinction in American League history. He still holds the record for the most MLB home runs hit by a teenager. By the 1967 season, he already had a career total of 100 home runs, at the youngest age ever at that time for a player in the league.
But tragedy struck the promising young player, nicknamed “Tony C” by fans, late in the 1967 season. On August 18, in a game at Fenway Park against the California Angels, Conigliaro was struck in the left cheekbone by a pitch, which broke his cheekbone, dislocated his jaw, and seriously injured the retina in his left eye. Photos of the slugger with his eye blackened with bruising and swollen shut would become burned into the memory of a generation of Red Sox fans.
After a lengthy recovery, Conigliaro returned to the Red Sox roster in 1969 and hit an amazing 20 home runs during the season and was named MLB Comeback Player of the Year. The following season he hit his career-best in home runs (36) despite the permanent damage to his eyesight.
Conigliaro played for the California Angels for a single season in 1971. After taking four years off he returned to the Red Sox in 1975 as a designated hitter, but continuing eyesight problems led to his retirement that year. His baseball career over at age 30, Conigliaro opened a restaurant with his brother Billy, who also played for the Red Sox, and worked as a sports broadcaster.
In 1982, he suffered both a heart attack and a stroke that left him permanently disabled. After his death eight years later, the Red Sox wore black armbands for the entire season in his honor.
The Tony Conigliaro Award has been given every year since he died to the MLB player who best “overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage that were trademarks of Conigliaro.”