Tony Conigliaro Dies; Beaning Cut Career Short
Eight years after suffering a massive heart attack that incapacitated him, former Boston Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro is dead at age 45.
He died at Salem Hospital, north of Boston, Saturday afternoon of kidney failure.
Conigliaro suffered the heart attack on Jan. 9, 1982, while riding with his brother Billy to Logan Airport in Boston. Doctors said Conigliaro’s brain was deprived of oxygen for 14 minutes.
He remained in a coma for weeks, and has required constant care since.
At the time of the heart attack, Conigliaro was on his way back to Los Angeles after visiting his family in Boston during the Christmas holidays.
He had been living in Los Angeles and working as a sports agent for Dennis Gilbert, whose company, now handles such stars as Bret Saberhagen and Jose Canseco.
“I was on the next plane to Boston,” said Gilbert Saturday night, recalling when he learned of the heart attack. “Tony C was one of my best friends.
“I made the trip back to Boston a number of times over the next few years to see him, but it just got to me after a while, and I quit going.
“I would talk to him, but he couldn’t respond.”
Younger brother Richie Conigliaro said two years ago that Tony talked at times. “He can talk when he’s in the mood,” he said. “He sees a speech therapist. Sometimes I ask him how he feels and he says, ‘Good.’ ”
Gilbert, who also played for the Boston organization, said he met Conigliaro in 1968 when both were playing in the Winter Instructional League in Sarasota, Fla.
Gilbert was a prospect out of Gardena High School, while Conigliaro was attempting a comeback after being hit in the head by a pitch from Angel pitcher Jack Hamilton on Aug. 18, 1967.
The beaning ended up ruining a promising career.
Conigliaro, signed by the Red Sox in 1962 and given a $20,000 signing bonus, made it to the majors two years later. He hit .290 and had 24 homers his rookie season. He hit .269 and had 32 homers the next year, and by the time he was 22, he had 100 career homers, making him the youngest player to reach that total.
The beaning broke his left cheekbone, dislocated his jaw, and resulted in 20/300 vision.
In June, 1968, physicians were surprised to find Conigliaro’s vision had improved to 20/100. He began working out and later that year the Red Sox sent him to Sarasota.
In 1969, he batted .255, hit 20 home runs and drove in 82 runs. He hit .266 with 36 homers and 116 runs batted in in 1970.
However, Conigliaro and Red Sox Manager Dick Williams weren’t getting along, so Conigliaro was traded after the 1970 season to the Angels.
But his eyesight worsened and he never again was the same ballplayer. He played in only 74 games in 1971, hitting .222, before going on the disabled list in July. He retired at the end of the season.
He attempted a comeback in 1975 with the Red Sox, and hit two home runs in 21 games before retiring for good.
He went to work as a sportscaster, first in Providence, R.I., and later in San Francisco, at KGO-TV.
“He was under a lot of stress after that job in San Francisco,” Gilbert said. “That’s when he was working for me.
“He had been prescribed blood-pressure medication, but he didn’t like to take it.”
He was a front-runner among applicants for a Red Sox commentating job in 1982 before suffering the heart attack.
Since then, when not hospitalized, he lived with his brother in Nahant, north of Boston.
A number of benefits were held to help pay for his round-the-clock care, which cost more than $100,000 per year, according to Billy Conigliaro.
One of the benefits, held at Boston’s Symphony Hall, featured Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick and Marvin Hamlisch. It raised $230,000.
Still, money was always a problem, particularly in recent years.
Gilbert said the limit on Conigliaro’s major league medical insurance was $225,000.
Gilbert and attorney Dale Gibrow were able to obtain another $225,000 in workmen’s compensation in 1985, but $37,500 of that went for legal fees and other costs.
Conigliaro’s father, Salvatore, died two years ago after suffering a heart attack.
“It’s a sad story, a really sad story,” Gilbert said.
TONY CONIGLIARO: 1945--1990
Season Team AB H HR RBI Avg. 1964 Boston 404 117 24 52 .290 1965 Boston 521 140 32 82 .269 1966 Boston 558 148 28 93 .265 1967 Boston 349 100 20 67 .287 1969 Boston 506 129 20 82 .255 1970 Boston 560 149 36 116 .266 1971 Angels 266 59 4 15 .222 1975 Boston 57 7 2 9 .123 Totals 3,221 849 166 516 .264
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