Red Sox Fellowship of the Miserable: Tony Conigliaro

Apr 19, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; General view of Fenway Park while the Boston Red Sox take batting practice prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 19, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; General view of Fenway Park while the Boston Red Sox take batting practice prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox returned to the World Series in 1967, but they were missing one key ingredient that may have made the difference. Slugger Tony Conigliaro suffered a tragic season-ending beaning.

Just what is The Fellowship of the Miserable? The original term was coined by former (thankfully) Celtic coach Rick Pitino to describe the perpetually angry Boston fans who mount continual assaults via talk radio. The Boston Red Sox have a long and illustrious history of contributions to the Fellowship with displays over the years that brought forward a crescendo of negativity.

Why is Tony Conigliaro connected to the Fellowship? Tony C. was a local hero and a bonified slugger of the game-changing impact variety. A player whose potential Hall of Fame career was cut short by a tragic and possibly avoidable beaning. I could easily have used Jack Hamilton who beaned Conigliaro.

Did Hamilton deliberately dust Conigliaro? There is a difference between dusting and headhunting. Dusting is the battle for the inside part of the plate and the pitcher has little or no intention of mayhem. Headhunting is just what it means and in another age was a much-used practice.

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A look at Hamilton’s career record has one statistic that jumps off the page – a career 5.1BB/9. In 1967 – the year of the incident – Hamilton had a 4.8 BB/9 for the Angels. Hamilton once led the National League in wild pitches (22) and base on balls (107). Throughout his career, the right-hander had control problems, but never hit many batters. Conigliaro was the only batter Hamilton hit while with the Angels in ’67.

Conigliaro crowded the plate and that can be a recipe for disaster if you are not quick. Hamilton also had a tendency to toss three-quarters and in a night game that could cause an issue with a ball potentially coming out of the lights.

The next addition to the conspiracy is Jim Lonborg. Gentleman Jim was no gentleman in 1967. The Red Sox hired a new pitching coach in Sal Maglie. Sal was known as “The Barber” for his ability to give close shaves to hitters. Along with new manager Dick Williams, we are now looking at “old School” hard-nosed baseball.

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Maglie got Lonborg to pitch inside and the result was a league leading 19 hit batters. The previous season Lonborg had just seven and he reportedly notched his glove with each hit batter. The tall, hard-throwing Lonborg registered high on the intimidation factor. In a game on the west coast in mid-August Lonborg had several close calls with the Angels. Was Conig a payback? To me a firm no, but some persist.

With Conigliaro gone the Red Sox needed a right-handed bat and help came in the form of mercurial owner Charles O. Finley of the Athletics. Charlie had a dust-up with his own right-handed slugger one Ken Harrelson. Finley essentially fired “The Hawk” and the Red Sox and Tom Yawkey’s checkbook entered into a bidding for Harrelson’s services.

Hawk signed with Boston and played 23 games hitting just .200. The power was minimal with three home runs and 14 RBI. For comparison, Tony C. had played 95 games hitting .287 with 20 home runs and 67 RBI.

In the World Series Conigliaro was certainly missed in the seven-game loss to the Cardinals. Harrelson hit just .077 in four games with a lone RBI. Would Conigliaro have made a difference? Based on what Harrelson did, it could not have been any worse.

The following season Harrelson provided that much-needed bat with 35 home runs and a league-leading 109 RBI before wearing out his welcome and being shipped to Cleveland early in the 1969 season. Conigliaro returned to Boston in ’69 with 20 home runs and 82 RBI. In 1970 both figures jumped to 36/116, but that was it. Eye issues surfaced and a trade to California and that was it.

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Conigliaro became another example of how the Baseball Gods seemed to abandon the Red Sox at crucial junctures in their post Babe Ruth history. Poor managerial decisions, bonehead plays on the field and injuries that took the heart out of a lineup.