Young and good looking, Boston Red Sox home run slugger Tony Conigliaro (January 7, 1945 – February 24, 1990) had a bright future back in 1965. He led the American league with 32 home runs. It was not a big number compared to what Mantle and Maris hit a few years earlier, but it was good enough for the home run king to get a deal for some pop singles.
“Little Red Scooter” was no competition to “Little Deuce Coupe,” especially not with the anemic chorus of “no more Put-Put!”
His better known single was “Why Don’t They Understand,” which sounds a bit like Fabian coming back to the echo chamber after a funeral. It probably would've suited his image to cover "The Wanderer" or some other urban sass from Dion, than a sad sack track that had gotten minor play back in 1958 for George Hamilton.
The flip, “Playing the Field” was a not-so-clever play on words. The bland vocalizing from Tony didn’t hint at the charisma that was getting him attention from not only Boston babes, but even celebrity party girls like Mamie Van Doren.
Tony’s biggest hit was, unfortunately, a baseball to the eye on August 18, 1967.
Batting against California Angels’ Jack Hamilton, Tony couldn’t get out of the way of a hard pitch tailing in on him. He was smacked on his left cheek, with the powerful shot blurring his vision and dislocating his jaw.
It was one of the most severe injuries any hitter sustained at home plate. It rivaled the notorious smack in the face in 1957 when a line drive from New York Yankees’ Gil McDougald connected to Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score’s face.
Herb Score's career ended, mostly because he tore tendon when he made his comeback after so much time off. In trying to make adjustments in his pitching motion to ease the pain and strain, he injured it yet again.
Tony Coniglaro's fate was different To the surprise of some, he returned to even greater success, and belted a career high 36 home runs in 1970. The Red Sox helped his problem eyesight by putting a black tarp over a section of seats in centerfield, so he could more easily pick up the ball as it was leaving the pitcher’s hand. The major leagues, eager to prevent any more injuries like Tony's, encouraged batters to wear a helmet with a protective flap over the ear, leaning partially toward the cheek.
In 1975 Tony C. retired to a broadcasting career. In 1982 he was felled by a heart attack and soon after, a stroke. It left the hard luck baseball hero almost helpless. His family and his brother took care of him until his death, only 45 years old.
TONY CONIGLIARO Playing the Field
TONY CONIGLIARO Why Don’t They Understand?