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The game that finally broke Tony Conigliaro
2008-07-09 00:10
by Bob Timmermann

Today is not the 37th anniversary of not Jack Hamilton's beaning of Tony Conigliaro, but rather this game, a 1-0 win by the Oakland A's over the California Angels in 20 innings.


Untitled The game featured 43 strikeouts, 26 of them by Oakland pitchers, the most ever in a major league game. Angels cleanup hitter and left fielder Billy Cowan struck out six times and Conigliaro went 0 for 8 with five strikeouts.


In his last at bat, Conigliaro argued the strikeout call and was ejected by home plate umpire Merle Anthony. Angels manager Lefty Phillips had ordered Conigliaro to bunt in an attempt to sacrifice over Ken Berry in the 19th inning. But Congiliaro missed on two bunt attempts and then tried to pull the bat back on the third, but Anthony ruled that Conigliaro had offered at the pitch and called him out. Congiliaro threw his bat, helmet, cap, and some other objects on the field in protest as he left.



At 5 am after the game (which finished at 1:05 am), Conigliaro called a press conference in the a hotel lobby and announced his retirement. Although Conigliaro had played pretty well in 1969 and 1970 trying to come back from his severe eye injury suffered in 1967, he felt that the strain was too much on his eye and his psyche.

Conigliaro talked of how he felt that he was going to lose his mind while standing in the outfield. He could not wait to get on a plane and fly home to his family in New England. Conigliaro was batting just .222 with 4 homers at the time. He had hit 56 home runs the previous two seasons for Boston.


Untitled Phillips was not overly sympathetic. During Conigliaro's argument with Anthony, Phillips was quoted as twice saying "The man belongs in an institution." And after Conigliaro announced his retirement, Phillips downplayed any vision problems on the part of Conigliaro and said that the man knew the risks inherent in playing baseball.


But Conigliaro was true to his word and he didn't come back to the Angels. He tried another comeback with Boston in 1975, but that was even worse. Conigliaro passed away in 1990.

The 1971 Angels may have had the poisonous clubhouse atmosphere in the history of baseball. There is an excellent examination of the team in Mark Armour and Dan Levitt's Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way.

I had my first vague notions of baseball in 1971. But I never really found out about what happened with that Angels season. And when I asked my brothers or mom about it, I tended to get, "You'll figure it out when you're older." I still don't know if that's true.


2008-07-09 08:20:45
1.   ToyCannon
I was a big fan.
2008-07-09 10:04:55
2.   Strike4
That SI cover photo of Tony C was one of the most frightening images of my youth. Unfortunately, it's still easy to remember every square inch of the picture. As a kid with coke-bottle glasses, I felt a certain kinship because of the vision issues. Obviously Tony C had more and worse problems stemming from the accident.
2008-07-09 12:55:49
3.   bobsbrother
I always loved on that Billy Cowan card how the halo is right over his head.
2008-07-09 20:45:53
4.   Eric Stephen
Wow, that is a haunting cover.

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