Tony Conigliaro burst on the Boston and MLB scene in 1964. A year out of high school he was what the term “Phenom” was written for. At age 19 Tony banged out 24 home runs and caught the imagination of baseball futurist. Already the extrapolation of that wondrous season was being examined. Was 500 or 600 or even 700 possible? How many HR titles would Tony C. accumulate? But in 1964 there was another Tony on the Red Sox. Tony Horton, also age 19, made a brief 36 game appearance.
Tony Horton had slugger written all over him. At age 19 he was built like a football tight end. If you have ever seen Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals then you have an idea what Horton looked like since physically they were quite comparable. The Sox were so impressed they handed Horton a $125,000 bonus to sign right out of high school. His early minor league performance placed him on the same fast track that Tony C. was also on.
Horton was projected to potentially be the next Jimmie Foxx. Yes, probably hyperbole, but the kid had star written all over him – especially being a right hand bat at Fenway. Even Ted Williams called him “A natural.“ Then it fell apart.
Horton managed to post a few respectable seasons in Cleveland and then at age 25 was gone from baseball.
On August 28th of 1970 Horton attempted to take his own life. He was found in the parking lot of motel, sitting in his car, both wrists had been slit and he was bleeding profusely. The Indians never reported the attempt and had him institutionalized during the remainder of the season. Occasionally they would release reports on his progress and that was it.
What happened to Horton was the pressure. The Cleveland fans were unmerciful on their constant booing of Horton. Horton would brood endlessly over the most minor of details. What the vast majority of players could simply blow off Horton could not. Included was an ongoing issue with his Cleveland manager Al Dark and a contract fight the previous off season with GM Gabe Paul. With Horton it all became very personal.
Horton’s plan of treatment was to simply break all ties with baseball. That is what the treatment team recommended and exactly what Horton did. August 28th of 1970 was the last professional game Horton ever appeared in.
A few years ago I read an article on Horton and how successful he has been in the next stage of his life. Tony remains a very insular person who simply will not speak to the press and that firmly follows his treatment plan from back in 1970.
I have no idea if the Red Sox were familiar with his behavior patterns while under their watch, but I suspect the lingering memories of Jim Piersall raise some internal warning flags and just may have prompted a trade. There have been a few other connections in Boston baseball history that have also had dire results.
Donnie Moore gave up that fateful 1986 home run to Dave Henderson and that just may have been a contributing factor to his own suicide. Another sad Boston connection is the death of Chick Stahl, who was manager of the 1907 Boston Braves, and cited the pressure of managing as his reason for taking his own life.
I saw Tony Horton play and have always wondered if present day treatment and pharmacological approaches could have prevented the pain that baseball apparently caused him.