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"I've had a broken thumb, a broken wrist, a broken hand, a broken arm, a fractured cheekbone, a dislocated jaw, a fractured shoulder blade and a cracked finger," he protests. "And people say I'm a hypochondriac."
But all his injuries the past three years had one benefit, he says. They served to effectively camouflage his real trouble—diminishing vision in his left eye. He nearly lost the sight of the eye and came reasonably close to losing his life when he was struck by a pitch thrown by Jack Hamilton in 1967.
Conigliaro sat out the 1968 season recovering from the blow—it was assumed he would never play again—then came back dramatically the following year to hit 20 home runs and drive in 82 runs. And last year he had his best season ever, with 36 home runs and 116 RBIs. But in October the Red Sox traded him to the Angels, a transaction that bewildered and angered the Conigliaro clan. Tony had been a Boston-area schoolboy hero, and as a home-town star and a bachelor, he had been reaping a celebrity's harvest. Now all that was gone.
In Southern California, Conigliaro found starlets for company, the promise of a part-time show-business career and a snappy apartment in Newport Beach with Raquel Welch as a next-door neighbor. But as idyllic as that might sound, Conigliaro was a cod out of water. "Tony is a young 26," a friend said a couple of weeks ago, "and I know damn well he is homesick. He misses his brothers. He misses his father. He misses his mother. And maybe most of all, he misses his Boston."
Nonetheless, Conigliaro maintains that his failing sight is the only cause of his abrupt retirement. Phillips has angrily accused him of taking the easy way out of a bad season. Conigliaro replies that by retiring he loses $40,000, the second half of his annual salary that he might have kept had he merely claimed an injury. And in answer to those skeptics who say he had put together two pretty fair seasons for a one-eyed man, he answers that the effort had caused him repeated headaches and nervous tension.
"It's difficult for me to explain the condition of my eye," he said on Sunday. "I can see the sides of a television screen, but I have trouble seeing the center of it. I can see sidearm pitches pretty well, but not somebody like Sam McDowell coming straight over the top. If I closed my right eye against a pitcher like that, I couldn't see the ball at all."
The eye has not been operated on, as is commonly believed, he said. "I didn't want to tell anyone that the eye was not as good as it should be. I let it get out that my vision in my bad eye was 20-30 in a test, but I cheated on the test. I had studied the chart before with my other eye. I felt that if people in baseball knew my eyesight was as bad as it was, I'd never have made it back. Even last year when I was having a great season, I was scared. I could get hit again by a pitch and maybe get killed. I was risking my life in the outfield. Really. I'd lose the ball and it would reappear, bang, in my glove. But my lawyer, Joe Tauro, convinced me that I should not retire. He said it would not have looked right to retire when I was traded."
The trade remains an injury of a different sort. "It was stupid. At the end of the season I told the Red Sox about my eye trouble. I asked them to move me from right field to left, where the sun wouldn't bother me so much in Fenway Park. But they told me no, because that would admit I had a problem. I really felt great when they said that—and I mean that seriously. I needed support, and I thought they were behind me and that we would be there together for a long time. Then came the trade.
"I was never happy with the Angels. When I was traded, I went into shock. I began to think what baseball was all about. It is big business. I discovered a ballplayer is a machine. When a player is hurt, they grease him, scrub him, oil him and push him onto the field."