The new Red Sox manager, Bobby Valentine, has been called many things throughout his colorful career. He’s likely been called a lot more from players for his cutting criticism when he was a part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
But a couple of adjectives you can surely use when describing Bobby V is respectful and honorable. It’s both those words that Valentine is portraying when he chose to wear number 25 for his upcoming duties in Boston.
Mike Lowell was the last Red Sox player to wear 25, but Valentine isn’t wearing in honor of the 2007 World Series MVP. Rather, he’s wearing to honor his friend and Red Sox favorite, Tony Conigliaro.
Conigliaro, a Massachusetts native, played for the Red Sox from 1964-67, again in 1969-70 and one final season in 1975. During his rookie season he belted 24 home runs and added to his total in ’65 by hitting 32 more (winning the home run title). He was the youngest home run champion at just 20-years of age. He would also become the youngest player to reach 100 home runs, doing so at the young age of 22. Both records still stand to this day.
While I was not around when Conigliaro played, it’s his legacy with the Red Sox that is difficult to ignore. Being a local boy, he was naturally loved by all New England sports fans. It helped that he was hitting so many home runs at such a young age.
It’s not only the home runs that he’s known for. In fact, it’s his courageous return from a career threatening injury that so many recall when they hear the name Conigliaro.
During a game against the California Angels in 1967, Conigliaro was hit by a pitch on his left cheekbone. He suffered a fractured cheekbone, dislocated jaw and major damage to his left retina.
A year and a half later, Conigliaro made his return to professional baseball, belting 20 homers en route to winning the 1969 Comeback Player of the Year Award.
He would retire after in 1975 after a final stint with the Red Sox, due to the permanent damage to his eye, causing his eyesight to diminish so poorly. He would pass on in 1990. He was only 45.
Valentine recalls his playing time with Tony, when they played together in 1976 with the Sand Diego Padres.
“I might have been his last roommate. I think I was. He was trying to make a little comeback when I was with the (San Diego) Padres (in 1976). I had such admiration for him.” – courtesy of Ron Borges of the Boston Herald.
For Bobby to choose #25 makes sense when you hear he knew the man and established a bond. Conigliaro was and still is an icon, not only in Boston but in baseball, and to have his legacy live on by his number being on the back of Valentine, then so be it.
Valentine stated that he called Mike Lowell about wearing the number 25 and admits he would’ve tried calling Tony’s brother. But because he couldn’t find his number soon enough, he wasn’t given that opportunity.
Many longtime Red Sox fans and media feel that Conigliaro should have his number retired alongside the other eight that are hanging above the right-field bleachers. Valentine admits that he would have no problem surrendering his number if the Red Sox organization came calling for it. Again, a true class act shown by Bobby V.
It’s worth noting that 25 was not Bobby’s first choice. He wore #2 with the New York Mets, but it’s currently being occupied by somebody named Jacoby Ellsbury. His next choice was #22, but bench coach, DeMarlo Hale wears it, for now.
Regardless, Bobby V is wearing his number out of respect and honor to his former friend and Red Sox player. You can’t be too hard on him for choosing that number and for a guy who can be obnoxious and blunt, it’s great to see his emotional and sincere side.