The story of Tony C is synonymous with the heartbreak that comes from being a member of Red Sox Nation. It’s one of the darkest parts of Boston baseball history, filed away with Harry Frazee selling Babe Ruth, Johnny Pesky’s 1946 World Series debacle, Bill Buckner, and Aaron Boone.
But Tony C’s story is the saddest of them all.
Anthony Conigliaro was poised to be the next superstar of the Red Sox in the early 60s. The Boston-born golden boy homered in his first-ever Fenway at-bat. In his rookie season with the Sox in 1964, the 19-year-old batted .290 with 24 home runs and 52 RBIs in 111 games before breaking his arm and toes in August. He led the league with 32 home runs the following season.
In 1967, Boston’s ‘Impossible Dream’ season, Tony C was an All-Star. At 22 years old, he set an MLB record as the youngest player to hit 100 home runs. Then, on August 18 of that year, he was hit in the face by a pitch during a Sox-Angels game. He had a fractured cheekbone, a dislocated jaw, and severe damage to his left eye. The Sports Illustrated photo of his face went as viral as something could go in the pre-internet era.
Today, that same photo was used on an out-of-service elevator at Fenway. A team spokesperson made it clear that was “an unsanctioned sign wrongly put up and the issue is being addressed.” But when it was tweeted about by Steve Buckley of The Boston Herald, hundreds of fans, myself included, were very upset. It’s a tasteless joke, unbefitting of Fenway and its fans. Simply put: it’s cruel.
Occasionally, when I see a young Sox player doing incredibly well, I have a flash of Tony C-inspired fear. What happened to him was a nightmare for him, his family, the team, and all the fans who adored him. And though he came back in 1969, his eyesight was permanently damaged. Tony C was still brilliant, but he was never the same.
To me, this story is just a sad reminder that people need to be kinder to one another. We live in a really hard world, but that’s no reason to let it make us cold or cruel. And it definitely doesn’t excuse anyone insulting the memory of a sweet kid who was dealt an extremely harsh fate.
Photo: Sports Illustrated