Born in Revere, Massachusetts, on January 7, 1945, Anthony Richard Conigliaro, nicknamed "Tony C" and "Conig", was a Major League Baseball outfielder and right-handed batter who played for the Boston Red Sox and the California Angels. Tony batted .267, with 162 home runs and 501 RBI during his 802-game Red Sox career. He holds the MLB record for most home runs (24) hit by a teenage player.
Tony came from a close-knit family – parents Sal and Theresa, brothers Richie and Billy. He grew up in East Boston and Swampscott, and played high school ball for St. Mary's High School in Lynn. He never liked school: once a public school teacher locked him in a closet and forgot about him. His parents took him out of public school and enrolled him in a parochial school, but Tony didn’t like it either. He loved to hang out in the playground and hit baseballs until his hands hurt. A three-sport star in St. Mary's High School, he was offered college scholarships, but never took them very seriously.
He was signed by the Red Sox in 1962, at the age of 17. In 1963, he batted .363 with 24 home runs in the New York-Penn League and was hired by the majors. Tony's first Fenway Park game, on April 18, 1964, was poignant: it was the Red Sox' home opener, and an emotional tribute to President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated five months before. In attendance were Robert, Ted, and other members of the Kennedy family. In his rookie season, Tony hit 24 home runs and 21 doubles in only 111 games. He missed six weeks when a Pedro Ramos’ pitch broke his right forearm, but bounced back to hit .379 in September.
In his sophomore season in 1965, Tony led the league in home runs (32), becoming the youngest home run champion in American League history. In only one year, he had developed a huge following. He also recorded the songs "Playing the Field," and "Little Red Scooter", which he later performed on the Merv Griffin Show. Tony also appeared on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and disc jockey Murray the K's national radio show in New York. Handsome, tall and slim (6 foot 3, 185 lbs), he became a national heartthrob and even had a few dates with a Playboy bunny, Mamie Van Doren.
During the Red Sox Impossible Dream season of 1967, he was selected for the All-Star Game. In that season, at age 22, he not only reached a career total of 100 home runs but he also reached that milestone in the shortest timeframe for an American League player.
Then tragedy struck: on August 18, 1967, the Red Sox were playing the California Angels at Fenway Park. Tony, batting against Jack Hamilton, was hit by his pitch on the left cheekbone, and was carried off the field. He sustained a fracture of the left cheekbone and a dislocated jaw with severe damage to his left retina. The batting helmets did not have the protective ear-flap that has since become standard. Tony stated: “I came to bat in the fourth inning, and somebody threw a smoke bomb. A cloud of black smoke hung over the field, delaying the game about 10 minutes. I'm not terribly superstitious, so I didn't think much about it.” “His [Hamilton] first pitch came in tight. I jumped back and my helmet flew off. There was this tremendous ringing noise. I couldn't stand it. Just a loud shriek all over me. I was trying to find some place in my mouth where I could get air through, but I couldn't breathe. I kept saying to myself, ‘Oh, God, let me breathe.’ I didn't think about my future in baseball. I just wanted to stay alive.”
A year and a half later, Tony made a remarkable return, hitting 20 homers with 82 RBI in 141 games, earning Comeback Player of the Year honors.
In 1970, he reached career-high numbers in HRs (36) and RBI (116). That season he and his brother Billy formed two-thirds of the Red Sox outfield. After a stint with the Angels in 1971, he returned to the Red Sox briefly in 1975 as a DH, but was forced to retire because his eyesight had been permanently damaged.
After his retirement, Tony joined KGO-TV Channel 7 in San Francisco as a sports anchor. On January 3, 1982, Tony suffered a heart attack while being driven to the Boston airport by his brother Billy. After that, he suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. He remained in a semi-vegetative state until his death.
On February 24, 1990, Tony Conigliaro died in Salem, Massachusetts, at the age of 45. Theresa Conigliaro, his mother, said that after her son's heart attack he required constant care from nurses. He stayed either with his brother Billy, also a former major league outfielder, or with her. She said he would watch television with the family but was not fully aware of his surroundings. In commemoration, the Red Sox wore black armbands for the whole season. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Malden, Massachusetts.