This year is the 47th anniversary of a baseball season I will never forget and I know I share that with every New Englander above the age of 55. It was the year of the Impossible Dream, the year the Boston Red Sox shocked the baseball world by winning the American League Pennant after so many years of frustration and embarrassing play. What a season it was.
There were many fantastic moments in that season: Billy Rohr almost pitching a no-hitter in his first major league start, going 8 and 2/3 innings before giving up a base hit with the first out of the 9th coming on a tremendous catch by Carl Yastrzemski; the Sox coming back from an 8-0 deficit to beat the Angels 9-8; Jose Tartabull throwing Ken Berry of the White Sox out at home plate to end a 2-1 victory and two wins against the Twins in the last two games to secure the pennant.
But, there was one night at Fenway Park that was excruciatingly sad- and I was there, 47 years ago last night.
The Red Sox were playing the Angels and in the lead when Tony Conigliaro came up to bat in the 5th inning. Tony C was one of the most popular Sox players, especially among the younger fans. Handsome, muscular, young and quite the “man about town”, he was the epitome of the young sports idol. He even had recorded a 45 rpm rock and roll record as a singer (one side was called “Playing the Field”). He was a power hitter who had reached 100 home runs at an earlier age than any other player in American League history. He had it all.
We were sitting in the bleachers that night and I distinctly remember looking down at my scorecard as Jack Hamilton of the Angels threw the ball to the plate. I remember hearing an odd noise and looking up saw Tony Conigliaro lying on the ground motionless. The ballpark was silent. All of the excitement of the pennant race and all of the fun of the game was gone in that one horrible moment. I remember people who saw Tony get hit in the face saying that they thought he had been killed. Apparently, many of his teammates feared so as well.
He was lifted carefully onto a stretcher and carried off. He survived with damage to his vision and the Sox went on to win the pennant but the memory of that night stayed with the team and its fans.
Tony Conigliaro actually made a comeback two years later and played rather well for the Sox but his eyesight worsened again. He even came back once again briefly in 1975, ironically the next Red Sox pennant year but he only played a few games.
He died in 1990 after suffering a heart attack and a stroke 8 years before.
Some say he would have been one of the greatest hitters of all time. But, we’ll never know.
So, what is the point of this posting? Just another Red Sox memory?
But, maybe there is something more. Maybe it’s just another reminder to cherish each day, to make the most of our skills and talents while we can and to realize that no one is invincible.
I will never forget that night. I remember sitting in the back seat on the way home trying to make sense of it all.
I couldn’t figure it out that night and still haven’t and never will.
May he rest in peace and may we all cherish every day.