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The Kid

This is a writer. I'm just a poser but here goes.

By August 18, 1967 my neophyte baseball heart was taking a beating. Almost a year earlier the Dodgers had been swept in the 1966 World Series and then on November 18th, Sandy Koufax announced his retirement.  The 1967 Dodgers were a pathetic group and so I had started paying more attention to my 2nd favorite team, the Red Sox.

I had more reason to be a Red Sox fan then a Dodger fan since we had just moved from Boston to Germany with a side stop in Kansas.  However when we lived in Boston I was so young I didn't even know what a Red Sox was.  I became a RedSox fan because of Tony Conigliaro and I'd never seen him play. We had no TV in Germany so all the news came via the sporting news.  Everything I learned about Tony Conigliaro I gleamed from an old 1965 Baseball Register that I read over and over much like kids today watch the same video over and over, or from my older brother who would regale me with baseball stories, and remains a Red Sox fan to this day.

It fascinated me that in 1965 Tony Conigliaro hit 32 home runs and led the AL, yet Willie Mays hit 52 for the NL, a 20 home run disparity between the leaders. As I read more about Tony C, I realized that his was a special talent because at just 20 years old in 1965, he was the youngest AL in history to lead the league in Home Runs. I don't know if that record still stands but I expect it does.  Ever since then I'd win numerous bets with that bit of trivia that was burned into my brain.

Anyway when Tony Conigliaro took that fastball from Jack Hamilton in the eye I was devastated.  The Red Sox pennant hopes seemed to be dashed and his career ruined. Luckily the Red Sox persevered on the backs of Lonborg and Yaz and won the pennant in a squeaker. Ultimately they would fall to the Cardinals and Bob Gibson.   This excerpt from Rico Petrocolli's book is a great synopsis of Tony C and what happened the night he was beaned.

Several years later my family had come back home to Los Angeles and in 1971 so did Tony C playing for the California Angels.  By then I had lost my zest for the Red Sox and was a committed Dodger fan but with Tony C showing up down the road, I started to take some interest in the Angels. Tony had comeback from his beaning and had actually hit more home runs in 1970 then he'd ever hit before, but at age 26 he was done. The complications of the beaning had left him almost blind in the left eye, and as talented as he was, even he couldn't overcome his front eye being blind, and he retired. I never got to see my favorite baseball player play, as I never made it to Anaheim until I could drive myself, and that came several years to late. I'm now older then Tony C was when he died.

40 years later it still seems so wrong and I'm still saddened that the Kid didn't get the chance to do what he did best.

Watching Maybin hit his 1st major league home run at the age of 20, and Justin Upton almost going for the cycle at the age of 19 I hope they are able to play for the next 20 years. As great as this new talent is, none of them have a chance to lead their league in home runs at the age of 20. What Tony C did in 1965 still stands as one of the most remarkable 20 year old seasons in history and even an 8 year old who knew nothing about nothing, knew that.