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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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"Was that a strike?" I'd ask when I let one go by on the outside. "No," Moe'd say. "Low and away." I couldn't tell. Dr. Regan was right. I couldn't judge anything. That's how bad it was.

I stayed in the cage for almost an hour, trying every way I knew to get a hit, but it was no use. I went inside, took a shower and got a rub from Vinnie Orlando, who does the same thing for Mr. Yawkey every day. "How'd it go out there, Tony?" he asked.

"Don't ask, Vinnie," I said. "It'll make you sick."

A week later I saw Dr. Regan again. My vision was 20/100 and my distance judgment was still poor. "The blind spot is still there, Tony," he said, "and your distance vision is so poor that it might be dangerous for you to play any more ball this year."

There it was. Somebody finally said it to me. Now I had the word. "There's no way," Dr. Regan said, "you could get ready in time to play in the World Series if the Red Sox make it." We set up another appointment for October and I left. The next day the Red Sox announced that I was through for the year.

I had to be alone and I went back to my apartment. I lived on the 10th floor of a modern building that had balconies. Mine overlooked the ball park but the view was almost entirely of right field. I stood there by myself for most of the afternoon trying to fight down the things going through my mind. I began to cry. Later on, when the game started, I stood out there in the dark and watched Harrelson playing my position. I could hear the crowd howling and I realized how nice the park looked with all those lights on. I realized how much I missed it and how I wished I were playing. And I suspected I'd never play again.

The season was down to the last week. When the club got home I went to the ball park every day. But, of course, I wouldn't go near the cage. I'd suit up and shag flies in the outfield, fielding them on hops. I was trying to convince everyone that I was just keeping in shape and staying away from the writers.

We won the pennant when Detroit, playing a couple of hours later than us, lost its last game. Suddenly there was champagne and screaming in our packed clubhouse. We had been a 100-to-1 shot this year and we'd taken the pennant. The Impossible Dream. The guys were pounding each other on the back; the noise was so deafening I couldn't hear myself screaming. It was wild. But all of a sudden a terrible feeling of depression came over me. What was I feeling so good about? I might never play again. I was sitting in front of my locker and I broke into tears. I couldn't stop myself. Mike Ryan saw me and put his arm around me. "What's wrong, roomie?" he said. I shook him off. "Just what the hell did I do? What did I contribute?" I asked. Tom Yawkey told me, "Tony, you helped. You were a part of it." I pretended that everything was O.K., but I got away from the celebration as soon as I could.

I was allowed to sit on the bench during the Series against St. Louis. Before the game I went around the locker room juicing up the players—saving the Boomer for last. That's George Scott. He's always hanging around me and he's truly one of the funniest people I know. I've never seen a guy in my life maintain his confidence like the Boomer does, even when he's in the worst kind of slump. I've also never met anybody who's more superstitious. He'll spend half an hour before a game examining each one of his bats looking for the ones with hits in them. He talks to them. He'll grip a bat and say, "You got any hits in you today?" Then he'll pump it a few times with those powerful wrists and throw it down on the floor with a thud and say, "You ain't got nothin'." He'll pick up another one and do the same thing until it's time to go out. By then he's sure he's found the right bats. And when he has a good one he'll lock it up in our little bat room so that nobody else will find it.

"How you feeling today, Boomer?" I asked. "Hey T.C., T.C.," he said. "Somebody's gonna get hurt out there today."

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