Tony Conigliaro was primed to become the next Boston superstar, a local product from East Boston and Swampscott who by the age of 22 had already hit 104 big-league home runs for the Red Sox.
On the night of Aug. 18, 1967, a fastball got away from Angels’ starter Jack Hamilton and struck the face of the Red Sox rookie and local product. The pitch damaged the retina in his left eye, cracked Conigliaro’s left cheekbone, and dislocated his jaw.
The horrific incident caused Tony C. to miss the entire 1968 season. He returned to the Red Sox in 1969 and belted 20 home runs. Conigliaro seemed to be firmly on the comeback trail the next season when he hit 36 homers and drove in 116 runs before getting traded away by the Red Sox… to the Angels.
Conigliaro’s vision would quickly go downhill but after missing four years, he returned to baseball briefly to DH for the Red Sox in 1975. That experiment lasted just 21 games.
Conigliaro was out of baseball for good by the age of 30, unable to see out of his left eye. After suffering a heart attack in 1980, he fell into a coma and died eight years later at 45.
Former Globe scribe Clif Keane wrote about the beaning when it happened:
“When Conigliaro dropped in the batter’s box after being hit in the fourth inning, he never stirred. The rush from the Red Sox dugout started with Mgr. Dick Williams in front.
“Once it was seen that Tony wasn’t going to be able to get up, Jim Lonborg, Mike Ryan, Joe Foy and trainer Buddy Leroux grabbed the stretcher and carried the outfielder into the dressing room.
“Conigliaro had a badly bruised eye after the incident as he sat in Sancta Maria Hospital..
“‘When I got to him,’ said the team physician, Dr. Thomas Tierney, he said: ‘It hurts like hell. I heard a hissing sound and that was all.’
“According to Dr. Tierney, Tony’s left eye was closed from the blow, and he was rushed to the hospital and examined there by Dr. Joseph Dorsey, a neuro-surgeon.”
Former Globe columnist Bob Ryan, who was in attendance that night, wrote about the incident a year ago:
“I have not yet been able to let an Aug. 18 go by without thinking of Tony Conigliaro and the night when his life changed irrevocably. They say it only takes a baseball something like two-fifths of a second to reach the vicinity of home plate after it leaves the pitcher’s hand. But two-fifths, three-fifths, a full second, what does it matter? What matters is that Tony Conigliaro was unable to get out of the way. A Jack Hamilton fastball did not go where he wanted it to go, and Tony Conigliaro was hit. Baseball players are hit by stray, or even intended-to-hit, pitches all the time, and most of them get up and go to first base. No harm, no foul, you know? This one was very, very different.
“I remember the hush. The sound of silence from 31,027 people is an eerie sensation. There was no hubbub, no low buzzing, as Tony lay at the plate. He wasn’t popping up and running to first base. That was obvious. It was also obvious something very bad had just taken place.”
Coincidentally, on the 47th anniversary of that tragic night, the Angels are in town tonight to begin a four-game series at Fenway.