The first 16 times Tony Conigliaro—then only 18 and known to his friends as "Conig"—went to bat in Organized Baseball he failed to reach first base. It didn't bother him a bit. He still talks about the hit he was robbed of the 16th time up, and he batted .382 the rest of that 1963 season.
The first time Tony Conigliaro—now 19 and a celebrated Boston Red Sox rookie known as "Tony C."—went to bat in the major leagues, he hit into a double play in Yankee Stadium that missed being a triple play by half a step. That didn't faze him either. When he came to bat later in the game he complained to the umpire that it looked to him as though the pitcher, Whitey Ford, age 35, was throwing spitters. As a rule, umpires abhor fresh rookies, but this one forgot. "What can I do?" he asked the kid plaintively.
Then Tony C. and the Red Sox returned to Boston to open their home schedule, and the first time Conigliaro, who is a Boston boy, batted in Fenway Park he hit the first pitch out of Fenway Park, thus occasioning the greatest homecoming hoopla since the prodigal son came back and everybody in the place got half a day off. In attendance for Tony's first home run were Attorney General Kennedy, Governor Peabody, Mayor Collins, American League President Cronin, Red Sox Owner Yawkey, Stan Musial, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney and the whole damn Harvard band. "That was something, hitting that home run," Tony says. "All my buddies were out there in the center-field stands."
Boston's favorite ever since, Conigliaro at midsummer is among the Red Sox leaders in every batting category. He is hitting .280 and, with 20 homers, had a good shot at the major league record for home runs by a rookie (38) until he hurt his forearm last Sunday. You can't ask much more of a local boy, and Tony C. is as local as they come. He was born in Revere, Mass., went to school in Lynn, Mass., now lives in Swampscott, Mass. and spent eight formative, fighting years in East Boston. Tony politely gives credit to all these principalities for providing him with his special elixir, but Mayor Collins of Boston, aware that citizens of Revere, Lynn and Swampscott do not vote in Boston elections, says: "We lay claim to Tony as a product of East Boston."
It is not easy being 19 years old and a home-town hero. "Like the other day," Tony says, "I was just driving through Swampscott. Uh, I have this red Sting Ray. Yeah, everybody knows it. And this buddy of mine saw me and honked a couple times, and when I stopped I was just surrounded by kids. They know me all over Boston now, too. You see, I have had this fantastic publicity ever since the start of spring training." He gets about 20 fan letters a day from all over, including "and you won't believe this, even from Europe." Tony lives at home and his parents have had to get an unlisted phone number because, Tony says, the phone was ringing literally every 10 seconds.
But aside from this overabundance of attention, nothing seems to bother Tony C. He does not drink or smoke, and he may be the only major leaguer who endorses ice-cream sodas. Yet he is not a gee-whiz kid. In truth, some people are sure that he is going to be temperamental, and others think he is too cocky already. The evidence suggests, however, that his is a natural and becoming confidence and not one created by his rookie performance as a teen-ager.
"Oh, he's got a freshness about him," says Boston Manager Johnny Pesky. "He's said a couple of things that were meaningless, but then I guess all kids his age do. But one thing: he still can't understand how anybody can get him out."
For all his confidence, Conigliaro takes nothing for granted. He plays hard and has been knocked out of the lineup four times this year by injuries. Last Sunday he suffered a lineal fracture of the wrist (which will sideline him for several weeks) when he was hit by a pitch, and earlier in the season he ran into the stands in Chicago chasing a fly. All his injuries were valid, but Tony picked up a reputation for dramatizing them. Opponents gave him the Academy Award for his Chicago performance and said that he prepared for the majors at Pasadena Playhouse. Once he sat glumly complaining that he had a bad back while with consummate feeling he rubbed his leg.
The Boston sportswriters are all extremely fond of Tony. "He's a fine boy and a wonderful player," Cliff Keane of the Boston Globe says. Conigliaro, on the other hand, is patently unawed by the press and, indeed, consciously avoids reading his notices. "Look," he says, "I'm only 19. All this stuff they're writing could go to my head. You know, the hardest thing about the big leagues is just to act like a big leaguer. I mean, any kid of 19 has all these teen-age habits. You have to learn that the other guys on the team just don't want to go to a dance party and twist or something."
Conigliaro is big—6 feet 3 and 180—and good-looking, but he's 19, all right. And in keeping with his remarkably unaffected character, he is content to be 19. Coming into the clubhouse in slacks and a white shirt not tucked in, he seems no different or older than the clubhouse boys. About the most important change that big league status has made in his life is that he can sleep more. Tony Conigliaro spends, in fact, most of his waking hours sleeping. On road trips his feats of somnolence are the most prodigious since Sleeping Beauty vacated her title. After a night game, Tony gets to bed about one o'clock. Sometimes, after a day game, he does not get to bed until one o'clock, either—and last week he was fined $250 by Pesky for violating the 12:30 a.m. curfew. He sleeps till about 1:30 the next afternoon. Then he wakes up, rolls over and calls room service. He orders breakfast: strawberries and corn flakes (that's "strahberries and cahn flecks" in his Boston accent), ham, scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice and two large glasses of milk. He eats, rolls over again and goes back to sleep for another two hours or so until it is time for him to break up the day with baseball.