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RETURN FROM THE DARK
Tony Conigliaro
June 22, 1970
On a night in Boston a pitched ball blinded—and nearly killed—Red Sox Outfielder Tony Conigliaro. Here begins the story of his early terror and his struggle toward recovery
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June 22, 1970

Return From The Dark

On a night in Boston a pitched ball blinded—and nearly killed—Red Sox Outfielder Tony Conigliaro. Here begins the story of his early terror and his struggle toward recovery

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During the morning I heard a commotion going on outside my room. The door was ajar and I heard the nun say, "But you can't come in here. He's not having any visitors." Then I heard another voice say, "Ah, come on, Sister, just let me in for a minute." I recognized that voice, all right. It was Mike Ryan, my roommate and closest friend on the ball club. "Is that you, Mike?" I called out.

"Hey, roomie, you in there?" he yelled. "Hey, come on out. I got the babes and some beer waiting downstairs in the car. Let's go." I thought the nun would have a fit. But I was too sick to even laugh. "No, I'm dying, Mike," I said. "Some other time."

"Come on, Sister," Mike said. "See, he needs me. Let me in." She finally did. "How'd you get up here anyway?" I asked. "Sneaked up the fire escape," he said. I laughed. When he left I felt a lot better. I also found out that Jack Hamilton had come by that morning and wanted to see me but they wouldn't let him up.

There was absolutely nothing I could do those first couple of days in the hospital except lie there like a vegetable. But once I realized I was out of danger I began thinking for the first time about the beaning. The big question I asked myself was: Did Hamilton hit me intentionally? I had been in a slight hitting slump going into the series with the Angels and pitchers usually don't try to stir up guys who are slumping. So I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Besides, I figured the pitch he hit me with was a spitter. I was hit because of the crazy way it broke in on me. If a guy's going to hit you, or even brush you back, he certainly isn't going to throw a spitter—he gives you smoke. I didn't feel one way or the other about Hamilton before he beaned me and I don't hate him for what he did. I have no grudge against him, but I wouldn't invite him over to the house for dinner, either. Only one person in the whole world knows if Jack Hamilton was trying to hit me that night.

It's not that I object to getting thrown at. I feel that brush-back pitches are part of the game and I've always accepted them. Not beanballs, though. There's a difference. It may be slight, but it's there just the same. It's maybe a difference of a couple of inches, a difference between being hit and not being hit, a difference of what's on the pitcher's mind. Some pitchers just try to loosen the batter up at the plate so he doesn't get a good toehold. I'll go along with that. But any pitcher who deliberately throws at a batter is a coward. It takes more guts to throw the ball over the plate.

I was a happy man when I woke up on my second morning. I could see. Not great, the sight out of my right eye was fuzzy, but I could make things out. All I saw were flowers and mail sacks, a roomful of them. They knocked me out. Thousands of letters—we counted 13,000—from people all over the country. They must have started writing the night I was hurt.

But just being able to see again was enough to revive my spirits. I couldn't tell sunlight or whether it was a beautiful day outside or a cloudy one. The headaches eased off to where I could go a few hours without feeling pain. That's when they started giving me all the medication I needed and that's when Dr. Tierney told me how bad things looked when I was first brought there.

"You're a lucky guy, Tony," he said. "We were really worried about you for the first 24 hours or so. Had the pitch been two inches higher you would have been dead." He then explained that I had suffered a linear fracture of the left cheekbone and a dislocated jaw. I had taken the brunt of the pitch high up near my temple, and the tremendous concussion is what caused my eyes to slam shut. He told me that even after the left eye opened, it would be weeks before the swelling would go down so they could examine the damage inside. He's a real pro and I'm glad he always leveled with me.

On his next visit Dr. Tierney let me look at myself in a mirror. What I saw sickened me. The left eye was black and purple and nearly the size of a handball. I could actually make out the imprint of the stitches where the ball had hit me. On top of that I had lost seven or eight pounds and I looked pale and emaciated.

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