30 years ago today was a bad day for one of baseball’s most ill-fated individuals. On Jan. 9, 1982, former Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro suffers a stroke that nearly kills him. He’s only 37 years old when it happens. He survives, but not before falling into a coma. He’ll spend two months in the hospital trying to recover.
It’s just one in series of incidents causing someone who started out so blessed to end up seemingly cursed. Born in Massachusetts, Conigliaro appeared to live every boy’s dream when the high school baseball star was signed by the local team. He was just 17 years old when the Red Sox claimed him in 1962.
Conigliaro’s fortune continue after that. He roared through the minors as an 18 year old in 1963, batting .363 with 70 extra-base hits in just 83 games, and that earned him a slot on the big league roster the next year. Boston stationed him in center field on Opening Day 1964, right alongside their other hot young outfielder, Carl Yastrzemski.
Though one of the youngest starters in Red Sox history, Conigliaro played like he belonged. In the first four months, he swatted 20 homers with a nice .280 average. The first ominous sign of his future came in late July when a pitch broke his wrist, knocking Conigliaro out of commission for 40 days. He never was very good at avoiding the inside pitch.
No matter. At the time, it seemed like a fluke, and he kept hitting upon his return. In 1965, at the tender age of 20, he led the AL in home runs. Two years later, he became the youngest player to hit his 100th career long ball. The world seemed his.
Then came Aug. 17, 1967. In the fourth inning against the Angels, a fastball got away from pitcher Jack Hamilton, and Conigliaro couldn’t get out of the way. He turned toward it and got the ball flush in his face, right in his eye socket. He was done for the year. In fact, he was done for next year.
He suffered serious damage to his eye socket, and though he returned to baseball in 1969, he never really recovered. A career that promised Cooperstown ended in disappointment in the 1970s.
In January of 1982, Conigliaro was in Boston getting ready for an interview as an announcer for his old club. That’s when the heart attack struck. It wasn’t a small one, either. He went into a coma and didn’t regain consciousness for months.
Eventually he was released, but Conigliaro was unable to take care of himself. He spent the rest of his days living with his parents. A man whose body once gave him fame and adulation was now immobilized. He died of pneumonia in early 1990, at the young age of 45.
Tony Conigliaro suffered many setbacks after his impressive start, but the biggest setback came 30 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim through the list:
1,000 days since the White Sox sign free agent Scott Podsednik. It’s a return to the team for which he hit a World Series home run.
1,000 days since Yuniesky Betancourt lays down a rare walk-off sacrifice hit as the Mariners edge the Angels, 3-2.
2,000 days since Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens face off in Wrigley Field. Both men already have won 300 games prior to the contest, and today Clemens has the better of it, winning 4-2. For Maddux, it’s his 200th career loss. I attended this game. At one point, Maddux got a standing ovation for his fielding, as he made numerous plays on grounders.
3,000 days since David Wells has to leave the mound early in a start in Game Five of the 2003 World Series. He pulls a muscle, a problem partially caused by his poor conditioning. It comes at the worst possible time for the Yankees, who seek to rest their bullpen after losing in extra innings the previous game. They lose here, too, 6-4 to the Marlins.
4,000 days since Texas signs Alex Rodriguez to a contract worth $252,000,000.
5,000 days since Jeff Kent lays down the last sacrifice hit of his career. He’ll have 6,433 more PA.
7,000 days since the Rockies sign amateur free agent Neifi Perez.
7,000 days since Drayton McLane, Jr. buys the Houston Astros.
7,000 days since the Mariners name Lou Piniella as their new manager.
10,000 days since Charlie Robertson, who threw a perfect game in 1922, dies.
15,000 days since Rick Helling is born.
1892 Slide Kelly Slide becomes the first baseball song to make the popular music charts.
1894 Boston catcher Charlie Bennett loses both of his legs in a horrific train accident.
1903 Gambler Frank Farrell and ex-NYC police chief Big Bill Devery buy the AL’s Baltimore Orioles for $18,000 with the intent of moving the club to New York.
1903 The AL and NL begin meeting to create a truce between the two leagues.
1908 Detroit names Frank Nevin the team’s president.
1915 Baseball’s national commission (the ruling body before the commissioner position was created) declares University of Michigan senior George Sisler to be a free agent. This ends a two-year fight over Pittsburgh’s claims on him.
1924 The Yankees release third baseman Frank Baker, ending his career.
1927 The Giants, Dodgers and Phillies engage in a three-team trade. The Dodgers send Burleigh Grimes to the Giants, the Giants send Fresco Thompson and Jack Scott to the Phillies, and Philadelphia sends George Harper to the Giants and Butch Henline to the Dodgers.
1952 Ted Williams is recalled to active duty with the marines due to the Korean War.
1957 The Indians release Bob Feller, ending his career.
1959 Speedster Otis Nixon is born.
1960 The White Sox sign free agent Chico Carrasquel.
1961 Calvin Griffith settles with the American Association’s Minneapolis team for territorial rights to the Twin Cities. He gives them $500,000, and in return his Washington Senators will become the Minnesota Twins in three months.
1971 Elmer Flick, Hall of Fame outfielder, dies.
1974 In the early year draft, the following teams draft players they will later sign: Texas gets Roy Smalley and Bump Wills, Boston gets Bob Stanley, Detroit gets Tom Brookens, and California gets Willie Mays Aikens.
1976 Charles Ruppert, Giants vice president and son-in-law to team owner Horace Stoneham, announces the sale of the club to a group based out of Toronto. The city of San Francisco will get an injunction to stop this.
1979 In the January draft, the Tigers draft Howard Johnson, Toronto gets Mark Eichhorn, and California drafts Gary Pettis and Otis Nixon. All these players except Nixon will sign with the club after this draft.
1989 Hall of Famer Bill Terry, the last National Leaguer to bat .400, dies at age 92.
1989 Texas signs free agent Buddy Bell.
1990 The owners announce a lockout will begin on Feb. 15.
1990 Spud Chandler, mid-century Yankees pitcher, dies.
1991 St. Louis signs free agent pitcher Jamie Moyer.
1996 Oakland trades Todd Stottlemyre to the Cardinals.
1996 San Francisco signs free agent infielder Shawon Dunston.
1997 Detroit signs free agent Vince Coleman, who will play six games for them and then be gone.
1998 The White Sox sign free agent Ruben Sierra.
2003 The Mets sign free agent outfielder Cliff Floyd.
2004 Colorado signs free agent Jeromy Burnitz.
2006 Pittsburgh signs free agent Jeromy Burnitz.
2006 Boston signs free agent first baseman J.T. Snow
2006 The Cubs trade one-time centerfielder of the future Corey Patterson to the Orioles.
2006 Seattle signs free agent starting pitcher Kevin Appier.
2008 Kansas City signs free agent pitcher Hideo Nomo.
2009 The Cubs sign free agent outfielder Milton Bradley to a three-year, big-money deal.
2009 Dave Roberts, 1970s pitcher, dies.
2010 Texas signs free agent Vladimir Guerrero.