At 8:41 PM on a Friday, August 18, 1967, Boston was aglow with the performance of a Red Sox team, that despite being in fourth place, where only 3 1/2 games behind the Twins and had already defied the critics who’d tabbed them as a pre-season 100-1 shot to win the American League pennant.
By 8:42 PM Boston and most of New England fell silent as right fielder Tony Conigliaro lay sprawled in Fenway’s batters box, having been hit in the left eye by an errant Jack Hamilton fastball.
He was the prince of our city.
He was also the rarest of Boston stars, namely a hometown hero. His story reads like fiction. Socked a home run in his first Fenway at-bat on Opening Day 1964 in which the Red Sox donated all gate receipts to the JFK Memorial Library Fund, barely a year since he graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Lynn. Youngest American League single-season home run leader and still the youngest American Leaguer to reach the 100 home run plateau. His Opening Day comeback in Baltimore in 1969 (on the same day as brother Billy’s major league debut for Boston) was epic as was his 1975 Opening Day comeback in a spotlight shared with the Brewers Henry Aaron, who’d signed his first contract with the Boston Braves.
In 1978 my brother and I attended a Giants doubleheader at Candlestick Park at which an impromptu home run hitting contest was held between games. At the time Tony was working as a sportscaster in the Bay Area. When we heard the PA announcer request Tony’s presence on the field we just looked at each other.
Sure enough, he handed his Ron Burgandy-like pastel shade polyester sport coat to a bat boy, selected a suitable piece of lumber, and, in street clothes, hit six of ten pitches out of the park and then donned his sport coat as if this was an everyday occurrence. The two New Englanders in the cheap seats cheered like mad men. What could have been was only surpassed by what was. I shared the anecdote with his brother Richie a few years ago and we both cried.
Tony was the prince of our city.