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THE INSIDE TRACK | THE HOT CORNER

September 10, 1997|KEITH THURSBY

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Tony C. The Triumph and Tragedy of Tony Conigliaro," by David Cataneo

Price: $19.95

Even before it turned tragic, Tony Conigliaro's life was the stuff they made movies about. He was a home-grown hero for the Boston Red Sox, a slugger who was a star before he was 20. In his spare time, he cut records and hoped for a second career in rock 'n' roll.

But his tragic elements--a terrible beaning in 1967, a heart attack at 37, years as an invalid before he died in 1990--take up much of the book by Cataneo, a former Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Herald.

Conigliaro hit at least 20 home runs in each of his first three seasons and was reaching his prime just as the Red Sox were getting good enough to contend for the American League pennant. Then came a game with the Angels and pitcher Jack Hamilton. The beaning, of course, changed everything. Conigliaro sat out the rest of season and the next and never totally regained his vision. He eventually came back for the 1969 season. He somehow hit 36 home runs in 1970. Then another cruel blow--a trade to the Angels.

Conigliaro, away from his close-knit family for the first time, was miserable, even if Raquel Welch was his next-door neighbor in Newport Beach. And the team--with Alex Johnson, Chico Ruiz and managed by Lefty Phillips--was terrible. Conigliaro lasted until a July game in Oakland that went 20 innings. He was thrown out of the game, then retired. There was a 1975 comeback with the Red Sox, but his vision would never give him another chance.

Cataneo covers everything from the childhood sweetheart Conigliaro broke up with to concentrate on baseball to the largely unsympathetic portraits of Conigliaro teammates and former managers. The only thing missing is what Conigliaro and his long-suffering family longed for--a happy ending.

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