After the 1970 baseball season, the Boston Red Sox traded Tony Conigliaro to the California Angels for three players whose names mean nothing today.
What a story Tony C was back then.
Big kid. Handsome. A local boy. Those soft brown eyes melted hearts. Glib, controversial, appealing. Good hitter, right-handed with power, perfect for Fenway Park. He hit 24 home runs as a rookie in 1964. He was 19.
A fast ball hit him flush in the left eye in August 1967.
Fearless at bat. Stood on the inside line of the box. Put his head into the air space over the plate. He saw Jack Hamilton's fast ball all the way. "It followed me," he said in his biography, explaining why a hitter's instinctive move away from a pitch didn't save him. "When it was four feet away, I knew it would get me."
On the ground in pain, Tony C thought, "I'm blind, I can't see."
He couldn't play in '68. He tried pitching that winter. Failed at that. So he tried the impossible in spring training of '69. He tried to hit again.
He did it.
In '69 Tony C hit 20 home runs. In '70 he hit 36 more.
And the Red Sox traded him away. The team he dreamed of playing for traded him to the other coast.
His brother and teammate, Billy, picked up Tony C at the Boston airport that day and told him about the trade.
"He was devastated," Rico Petrocelli said. Rico was his buddy, the Red Sox shortstop. "All eyes had been on him in the comeback, to see if he'd stand on the plate again, and the first time up they knocked him down, they brushed him back--and he stood on the plate again. Such a great comeback--and then they traded him. It saddened him."
Tony C came to like California.
He dated Mamie Van Doren, a movie star. He lived at Park Newport, across the hall from Raquel Welch.
Then the left eye went bad.
Double vision at first.
Then no vision straight ahead. It was 20-500 vision, meaning what the normal eye judged to be 20 feet away seemed 500 feet away for Tony C.
He tried the impossible again.
He tried to hit with one eye. For a right-handed hitter to let the right eye do all the work, he must turn head-on to the pitcher. It is unnatural.
He was hitting .222 with four home runs in 74 games when he retired in midseason.
This was 1971 and Tony C was 26.
Out of baseball, Tony C operated a golf course.
He ran a restaurant.
He tried a night-club singing career. Voice okay, presence terrible. "I was mobile as a mannequin," he told an interviewer last year.
He wanted back in baseball.
He came to spring training in 1975.
The Red Sox kept him and sent Jim Rice down.
"When the season started, Tony was striking out, taking half-swings, pressing a lot, bouncing right back to the pitcher," Petrocelli said. "Being a local boy, it was really tough for him. But he kept his head up, he kept believing he could do it."
After 21 games, hitting .123, Conigliaro went down to Pawtucket.
He never played again in the big leagues.
He was 30.
He tried television as a sportscaster.
First he worked at WJR-TV in Providence, R.I. Then KGO-TV in San Francisco.
He wasn't good on the air.
The Boston accent hurt him. Even Tony C described the accent as "phenomenal." He couldn't read the teleprompter very well, maybe for the same reason he couldn't hit a fast ball. A friend said, "I cringed every time I saw him. He always looked harried."
"Tony was very serious about TV," said Bob Manspach, who worked with Conigliaro and now is with CBS-TV Sports. "He worked very hard on his presentation, how to look at the camera, tie stories together, go to tape. He did great stuff during the World Series."
Conigliaro won a local Emmy for a feature called "The Running Nun," about a Dominican nun who was a serious runner.
The next week, in his third year at the station, KGO fired him.
A new news director, or something.
At another San Francisco station, KRON-TV, he lasted 10 months, fired in March of 1981.
"He was always asking me, 'I ain't that bleeping bad, am I?' " said Bill Brown, a sportscaster at KGO. "But I think he really wanted to get back into baseball. He probably felt that baseball was the only thing he'd succeeded at.
"We were in a bar once, right when he was turning 35, and we were talking about free agents, somebody had signed a big contract. Out of the blue, Tony says, 'If this hadn't happened to my eye, I'd have one good year left.' Then he just let it drop."
The Giants talked to Conigliaro about a job as their minor league hitting instructor.
Nothing came of it.
He ran five or six miles a day, played pickup basketball, played golf a lot and went to Old Timers' baseball games. Still a jock.
He opened a health food store near his home outside San Francisco.
In July of '78, he told a TV reporter he was thinking of a third comeback. "Every time I see Carl Yastrzemski hit a home run, every time I see Ron Fairly or Willie McCovey get a base hit, I say to myself, 'Hey, Conigliaro, you can still do the same thing.' "
He didn't try this time.
Two years later, he told a newspaperman, "I think I would have broken Henry Aaron's career record, and I'm serious. I could've been making $500,000 a season. But I didn't get a chance to do either."
In Henry Aaron's first four seasons, he hit 110 home runs in 579 games.
In Tony C's first 589 games, he hit 124 home runs.
Aaron wound up with 755 home runs.
Tony C hit 166.
NBC-TV last year asked Tony C to do the color on one of its Game of the Week baseball shows.
Three days before the game, he played some basketball. The ball hit him in the face and broke his nose. He couldn't go on the air.
"We never understood how he handled it all so well," Mansbach said. "You'd think with all the breaks going against the guy, he'd have given up. He never did."
Still trying, Tony C came to Boston two weeks ago to audition at WSBK-TV for the color job on Red Sox telecasts. The phenomenal accent wouldn't hurt him at home.
He auditioned on a Thursday, his birthday.
The following Saturday, his brother Billy gave him a lift to the same Boston airport where 11 years ago he had delivered the sad news of the trade.
Tony C was to fly home because his health food store had been destroyed in a mud slide during San Francisco's rainstorms.
He had a heart attack in Billy's car.
He didn't die.
But he hasn't regained consciousness fully.
Doctors say he might have brain damage.
They also say patients with similar cases have come out of it as good as ever.
The day Henry Aaron was elected to the Hall of Fame, something called a "balloon pump" helped move blood through Tony Conigliaro's aorta.
Tony C is 37 now.