I think not.
I do think we would be less than honest to maintain that Tony C being a Boston guy through and through does not help shape the dialogue. That has always been part of the deal. In the stands that night in August 46 years ago were people who knew him. There may even have been one or two guys who had a fastball or two turned around by Tony C and deposited over some faraway fence in a forgotten high school baseball game. Tony C was never just another skilled jock, not as long as he was playing for the Boston Red Sox.
But we do not exaggerate. We do not embellish. Tony Conigliaro was the absolute Real Deal. I think the people who believe Tony C would have become an absolute monster for American League pitchers as he marched through his 20s and 30s pretty much have it right. Tony C was 22 years old when that ball hit him in the face, causing lifetime eyesight problems that led to an extremely shortened career. He was the fastest ever to reach 100 home runs. He was a babe. He was just learning. And he was going to play 81 games a year in Fenway. Gee, a righthanded power hitter with a fly ball swing in Fenway, someone who would get stronger and smarter about the game. Whaddya think?
Tony Conigliaro was enormously talented. Please remember, when he came back in 1969 after missing the final six weeks of the 1967 season and all of the 1968 season, he was fooling us all. He hit 20 homers and drove in 82 to become the logical winner of the Comeback Player of the Year Award, and he followed that up with 36-116 production in 1970. And then the Red Sox traded him! Don’t get me started on that one.
OK, did they know he was doing it with one eye? I don’t think so. If they did, they sure didn’t tell the Angels. My only point is that he was doing it with one eye, and there aren’t enough laudatory adjectives to describe that achievement. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a man who could do that against major league pitching with one eye and who already had more than 100 homers in the books before age 23 was going to have a pretty good career. No, I don’t think we’re exaggerating anything. Tony C was going to Cooperstown the night he was hit, and he wasn’t going to have any need to buy a ticket when he got there, if you know what I mean.
The Tony C story is sad on every level. It’s a “Life Isn’t Fair” story. It’s a “What If?” story. It’s a what-if-he-had-listened-to-people-and-stopped-hanging-over-the-plate story. Today is Aug. 18, and I will spend a lot of it thinking about Tony C. I’ll try to focus on the good stuff, but it’s hard.
My best to the family.
Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.