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Last Sunday, when the California Angels were in Oakland and the Boston Red Sox were in New York, Tony and Billy Conigliaro were at home in Nahant, Mass., fishing for flounder in the morning and gloomily catching television accounts of the controversies they had created in the afternoon.
At dawn of the day before, Tony had issued the startling announcement that, at age 26, he was quitting the Angels and ending forever his frequently brilliant but sometimes calamitous seven-year career in the major leagues. He had virtually no vision, he said, in the left eye that was struck by a pitched ball four years ago.
Billy, who ordinarily would have been either in the Red Sox outfield in New York or perhaps, the way things are going, in their dugout, had hurried to his older brother's side, pausing to blame teammate Carl Yastrzemski for the trade that sent Tony from Boston to the benighted Angels in the first place.
Ostensibly, Billy was home in Nahant to fulfill a military reserve commitment. He begged off, however, claiming a broken toe—medical intelligence that must have surprised the Red Sox, for whom he had played the previous day. More probably, Billy was out of both Red Sox and armed forces uniforms to bring solace to his anguished brother.
The Conigliaros—father Sal, mother Theresa and brothers three—are that close. And in their company Tony is hardly the erratic cutup who, in the opinion of Angel Manager Lefty Phillips, "belongs in an institution." But Phillips may be forgiven for such outbursts, with Conigliaro and Alex Johnson (SI, July 5) in the same outfield much of this season, he has had a trying time.
Tony seemed as rational as a man in his depressed circumstances could be as he sat in the living room of his family's fine house Sunday watching first a taped interview of himself, then one in which Boston Manager Eddie Kasko discussed the trouble Billy's accusation has caused in the Red Sox camp. Dressed in kid brother Richie's high school football jersey and a pair of bathing trunks, Tony appeared tanned, rested and not in the least like someone at the end of his tether. He was back home at last, back where a lonely, troubled 26-year-old could relax and, hopefully, find himself again.
He had called a 5 a.m. press conference Saturday morning in Oakland and told the bleary-eyed newsmen, "I have lost my sight and I'm on the edge of losing my mind." His performance in the 20-inning loss to the A's that had only concluded four hours before had, in fact, bordered on the manic. After going 0 for 8, striking out five times and getting into a heated argument with an umpire, Conigliaro was tossed out of the game when he swung in frustration at his own batting helmet and then flung his bat.
After the game he told Phillips he was quitting. This was not an original thought, but one he had nursed since spring training. Dick Walsh, the Angels' general manager and the man who had made the trade with Boston that brought Tony C to California, tried until 4:30 in the morning to talk Conigliaro out of his decision to retire. "I spent most of the time trying to make him realize that this wasn't an hour for decisions," Walsh says, "but he was a picture of a totally frustrated young man. He kept referring back to taking our money under false pretenses. There was failure in his eyes. It was futile."
"I was going over the edge," Conigliaro said, sitting in his parents' living room. "The way I was, I couldn't sleep. I was tossing in bed nights, and I was obviously on the brink of something bad. Now was the time for me to get out."
Conigliaro had been on the periphery of the Angel storm center all season, though teammate Johnson's bizarre behavior usually overshadowed his own. Tony never produced as a hitter for the Angels. His average was .222 and he had only four home runs. He suffered from a succession of injuries, the most severe being a pinched nerve in his neck. His new Angel teammates did not always accept his explanations of poor health, however, and after one trip to the hospital he returned to find a catsup-spattered uniform laid out on a stretcher alongside his locker. Conigliaro dismissed this far-from-subtle intimation of hypochondria as a clubhouse prank. But he was obviously troubled by accusations of malingering. It is odd, considering his medical history, that they should persist.