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In June of 1962, Tony Conigliaro of Swampscott, MA, starred for St. Mary’s High School of Lynn. By April of 1964, the 19-year-old Conigliaro was a starting outfielder for the Boston Red Sox.
In his first at-bat at Fenway Park, Tony Conigliaro hit the first pitch thrown to him for a home run. In his rookie year he belted 24 roundtrippers to set a major league record for home runs by a teenager. In 1965 he hit 32 homers to lead the American League, making him the youngest player to ever lead the league in home runs. In June of 1967 he hit his 100th major league home run. At age 22 years, 6 months and 16 days, he was the youngest player in the history of the American League to reach that level.
But Tony Conigliaro was more than a home run hitter and more than raw statistics. Tony C. was a local hero. He was one of us.
We mocked our friend, called him a Punch and Judy wimp. We bet 10 bucks and a pack of baseball cards he could never hit a home run, not over the fence anyway. It was a Saturday. We were in the outfield taunting him. There were no teachers and so he marched with bat and ball to second base and yelled, “You want some home run action. I’ll give you some home run action.’’
He tossed the ball in the air and waited for it to come down, level with his bat, and when it did, he swung and made solid aluminum contact, a line drive SMASH, into a second story window of our elementary school, 250 feet away.
Three dynamic duos provided the driving force behind the Cincinnati Reds winning the 1961 National League pennant. And for good measure, manager Fred Hutchinson had a secret weapon. His name was Jerry Lynch.
Most notable among the Reds' productive pairs were outfielders Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, who combined to score 218 runs. Robinson, who hit 37 home runs and drove in 124, was the league's MVP. Pinson, who hit .343 and finished second behind Roberto Clemente (.351) in the batting race, placed third in the voting. Joey Jay and Jim O'Toole formed a nice righty-lefty pitching tandem, winning 40 games between them and throwing a total of 499 innings. Right-hander Jim Brosnan and southpaw Bill Henry earned 16 saves a piece in a day when there was no gimme for protecting a three-run lead.
SGB is very fortunate to have paintings by Lindsay Frost gracing the covers of two of our titles. Soap opera fans and fans of television in general will recognize Lindsay’s name from her first big role in As the World Turns in the 1980s. Since that time she has appeared in dozens of shows and films.
I knew none of this when I came across her paintings one day while surfing for suitable cover art. All I knew was that this was a person who has a strong emotional connection to and understanding of baseball. It really came through her art.
2016 is our third year of publishing quality baseball books. We’ve come a long way already, but even more exciting is all the great things ahead of us, not the least of which is our superb 2016 publication list.
Early April features new editions of two really strong titles, both with a Red Sox theme. The first is TONY C, an in-depth biography of Boston’s tragic hero, Tony Conigliaro, which blends Conig’s career as a ballplayer, with his rather active off-the-field social life (pop star, playboy, karate), and the tension between him and Sox icon Carl Yastrzemski.
Jump forward about 15 years to 1986 for Mike Sowell’s account of the 1986 post season, ONE STRIKE AWAY, in which the Red Sox joined the Mets, Astros, and Angels to battle it out in what is probably the most intense and dramatic playoffs and World Series in baseball history.
Early May will bring our first original title of the year, and it’s a beauty. BORN INTO BASEBALL, by Jim Campanis, Jr., is a collection of stories, reflections, and brief essays by a third-generation baseball man. There’s plenty of humor, an inside look at the hard life of a minor leaguer, and the pressures of living up to high family expectations.
When most fans hear the name “Campanis,” they think of only one thing – Al Campanis and Nightline. Jim Jr. was in the midst of launching his own career as a ballplayer when that disaster struck, and his life changed forever. But BORN INTO BASEBALL offers an entirely fresh perspective on that seminal event in the history of race relations in baseball, and its author shows us how good often comes from even the worst adversity, if we direct our energies towards hope and growth rather than becoming defensive or bitter.