Tony C (Conigliaro) is very much missed in Boston. It is sad that we are unable to share with him the still incredible joy we experienced with the final break through World Series victory of 2004. Tony witnessed the heartbreak of the ’86 World Series much like the Red Sox previous two World Series appearances in ’75 and ’67. Tony played a big part in getting the Red Sox rolling in the “Impossible Dream” year , only to have what would have been his best chance to play in the post season (and almost his life) taken from him.
Tony signed with the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 1962, his father acting as his agent, signing the initial contract on the kitchen table in their East Boston kitchen. The St. Mary's of Lynn Spartan made his big league debut in 1964 and established himself as a slugger, hitting 24 homers his rookie year, 32 homers in ‘65, 28 in ‘66 and had 20 by the time of his accident in ’67.
He missed the 1968 season entirely, but battled back to almost top form in 1969 (20 HRs, Comeback Player of the Year) and 1970 (36 HRs). Battling back is a theme in Tony C's life and the Red Sox destiny. Tony was traded to the California Angels for the ’71 season and after a drop in his numbers (4 HRs in only 74 games) he was let go in the off season.
For me, the story of the 1975 Red Sox began with the signing and reclamation of Tony C on March 5 of that year. I was excited that the legend of Tony C was returning. I was ten years old and my hero who I had never actually seen play was making a comeback, he could finally answer all the “what if “ scenarios and the Impossible Dream season was back ON in the spring of 1975 when everything was new and fastened with Velcro.
Well, Tony gave it a shot, battled his way up from AAA Pawtucket and made the roster on a team jam packed with talent. He played 21 games and hit two more round trippers. He had a total of 166 Home Runs in what could have and should have been a Hall of Fame career. Tony C was the first to promote the center field seating policy that led to today's Major League ban on center field seating within the sightline of the batter behind the pitcher. His accident also promoted the standard use of batting helmets.
Perhaps subconsciously his 1975 teammates learned how short their opportunities could be, maybe they learned on some level how to play like champions, maybe some players were reminded of their earlier run at greatness, maybe a part of the Impossible Dream rubbed off on them all.
You know, maybe Tony C shared with us the wonderful championship season after all.
Frank D'Urso is a member of SABR and travels to Cooperstown every summer.