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Billy Consolo, 73, 'bonus baby' for Red Sox

BILLY CONSOLO BILLY CONSOLO (file 1957)
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Globe Wire Services / April 1, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Billy Consolo, who as one of baseball's first "bonus baby" players made the leap from his high school diamond to Fenway Park for the Red Sox in one year, died Thursday at his Los Angeles home. He was 73.

Mr. Consolo died of an apparent heart attack, said Dan Ewald, a a former Detroit Tigers executive.

After graduating from Dorsey High in Los Angeles in 1953, Mr. Consolo was signed by the Sox. Because his signing bonus was more than $4,000, the Red Sox were required to keep him on their roster for two seasons. His bonus was reported to be about $65,000.

The "bonus baby" rule was enacted in Major League Baseball only in the 1950s. Other bonus babies included Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, Detroit Tigers outfielder Al Kaline, and Minnesota Twins first baseman Harmon Killebrew.

Because he couldn't hone his skills in the minor leagues, Mr. Consolo mostly rode the bench while occasionally playing second base, third base, and shortstop in Boston. His best season for the Sox was 1957, when as a 22-year-old, he batted .270, with four home runs in 68 games.

After the following season, he was traded with pitcher Murray Wall to the Washington Senators for infielder Herb Plews and pitcher Dick Hyde.

Mr. Consolo bounced around the majors, to the Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, the California Angels, and the Kansas City A's before retiring in 1962.

A childhood friend of Sparky Anderson, Mr. Consolo was a coach with the legendary Detroit Tigers manager from 1979 to 1992.

Mr. Consolo and Anderson were teammates at Dorsey High and with the Crenshaw Post 715 American Legion team, which won the national title in 1951.

Ewald told The Detroit Free Press that coach Consolo was beloved in the Tigers clubhouse for his raspy voice and the irrepressible way he could tell a tale.

"Billy was a beautiful storyteller," Ewald said. "He could spin a story you might think was 100 percent true. It might have been."

Many of those tales were from his checkered playing career.

"Billy told how he drove the ball into the alley and got an inside-the-park homer," Ewald said. "The umpire called him out for missing second base. Billy said he charged the umpire from the dugout and told him, 'You're wrong. I touched second base. I missed third.' "

Material from the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times was used in this obituary.

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