Red Sox: Would Tony Conigliaro have hit 500 home runs?
By Rick McNair
The greatest home run hitter in Boston Red Sox history could have been Tony Conigliaro. The baseball gods of fate had different ideas.
On August 18, 1967, an inside fastball by Jack Hamilton of the Angels hit Tony Conigliaro in the cheekbone, which eventually became the catalyst for the end of a promising career. The damage caused vision issues and Tony C. never fully recovered, ending what in all probability would have been a possible Hall of Fame career.
Conigliaro went from Class-A ball to the major leagues, arriving in Boston in 1964 at age 19. In the one season venture in the minors, Conigliaro obliterated pitching with a .363 average and 24 home runs in just 83 games.
With Boston, it was another 24 home runs in an injury shortened 111 games. The Red Sox had found what they have always desired – a right-handed slugger who would eat up The Monster for breakfast.
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Conigliaro in 1965 became the youngest player to win a home run title and eventually the youngest player in the American League to reach 100 home runs. And not to leave it out – the most home runs in a season hit by a teenage player – the 24 of his rookie year.
What if that fastball hit his shoulder or elbow? What type of possible home run figures would be attached to his baseball page? Ted Williams missed almost five seasons to the military and would have approached or exceeded 700 home runs. Maybe even another .400 season? But Conigliaro was not Williams with the bat. Tony C’s highest average was .290. Even hitting .300 may have been a challenge.
Speculative history can be an enjoyable excursion in baseball projections and Conigliaro has been discussed in the past. In this article, the consensus was Conigliaro would have had 12-14 seasons, but the concern is that he may have missed 20-30 games a season based on his aggressive style of play. I could see that, but I can also see the move to designated hitter on a semi-regular or regular basis.
Two post-injury seasons do provide a bit of insight into what may have happened. In 1969, Conigliaro hit 20 home runs and had 82 RBI in 141 games. The following season, Conigliaro played 146 games and had 36 home runs and 116 RBI. The batting averages certainly were not batting crown material at .255 and .266.
So let’s assume that the ball broke a wrist or elbow and not a cheekbone and damaged vision. The season is shot and the career home run total rest at 104. Conig returns to action the following season and adds a few more pounds of muscle to his 6’3” 185-pound frame. The Red Sox also have a young team and he is in a batting order that soon has an adjustment factor to the pitching mound being altered (1969) after the Year of the Pitcher -1968. Then came expansion and further watering of pitching.
What would have been accomplished in that missing 1968 season and what followed? Let’s go by the reasoning of the article in Hard Ball Times and project Conigliaro for 12-14 more seasons or just take the middle ground at 13 seasons. What would his yearly totals have been? Now we just wander into conjecture, but the 1969-70 seasons years give an indicator.
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I would feel comfortable stating that Conigliaro would have averaged 30 home runs a season for those 13 seasons. My own personal feeling is that is probably a bit on the conservative side. There would in my world have been a few – maybe more than a few – 40+ seasons, but I will hang my cap on 30 or 390 total. Baseball-Reference placed Conigliaro’s 162 game average of 31 home runs and 94 RBI.
Using my sun powered calculator, Conigliaro would have finished his career with 500 home runs. That is assuming he is done at 35-years-old and 1980 is his last season. If he goes further the numbers certainly continue to accumulate and 600 would be an inviting target. If Conigliaro refined his hitting and made more contract his home run figures would certainly have risen.
Producing runs are also important and the Red Sox lineup in the 1970s was a machine. From 1970-1980 the Red Sox lead all American League teams in home runs (1753), runs (8316), ISO (149), wOBA (.338), and average (.268). There would be little pitching around Conigliaro with the hitting talent those Red Sox teams possessed.
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Conigliaro was not a great hitter, but he was a great home run hitter. Would he hold the Red Sox record for career home runs? Staying reasonably healthy and putting in 16+ seasons, he would be number one.