Tony Conigliaro

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Tony Conigliaro was one of the first professional athletes to parlay his success on the playing field into a recording career, cutting a series of pop singles for RCA at the peak of his fame as a member…
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Tony Conigliaro was one of the first professional athletes to parlay his success on the playing field into a recording career, cutting a series of pop singles for RCA at the peak of his fame as a member of baseball's Boston Red Sox. Born January 7, 1945, in Revere, MA, Conigliaro signed with his hometown Red Sox in 1962, just weeks removed from high school. A minor league phenom during the 1963 season, he hit .363 while hitting 24 home runs and 74 RBI in Single A, earning an invitation to try out for the majors the following season. Though still just 19, Conigliaro was a starting outfielder for the Red Sox as the 1964 campaign began, hitting a home run over Fenway Park's fabled Green Monster in his first major league at-bat. Combined with his rugged good looks, "Tony C." instantly became a darling of the Boston fans and media, and looked like a lock to win the American League's Rookie of the Year honors when he broke his arm in August shortly after smashing his 24th homer of the season.

Though still in his freshman year, Conigliaro was notorious throughout the league for his womanizing and club-hopping, regularly jumping on-stage at nightspots to sing with the band. Word of his musical exploits eventually reached public relations exec and former Boston radio personality Ed Penney, who in late 1964 escorted the slugger to a New York City recording studio to make a record with Frankie Valli's longtime arranger Charlie Calello. Issued on Penney and Conigliaro's own Penn Tone label, "Playing the Field" quickly sold out its 15,000-copy pressing and after the follow-up, "Play Our Song," proved equally successful, Conigliaro signed a 25,000-dollar recording contract with RCA, which reissued "Playing the Field" in the spring of 1965. He refused to moonlight during baseball season, however, and in his sophomore campaign won the American League home run crown with 32. At season's end Conigliaro finally returned to the studio, cutting a pair of RCA singles: "Little Red Scooter" and "When You Take More Than You Give." Neither record earned much attention outside of the Red Sox Nation, and the label terminated the slugger's contract prior to the 1966 season. He nevertheless remained a popular headliner at Boston area nightclubs, performing covers of current Top 40 pop hits backed by local acts including Cheryl Parker & the All Night Workers.

During thee 1967 season Conigliaro became the second-fastest major leaguer to reach the 100 home run mark, behind Hall of Famer Mel Ott. Although he never hit .300 for a season, most Red Sox fans believed he was the key to a long-sought World Series pennant. But on August 18, he was struck in the face by a pitch thrown by California Angels hurler Jack Hamilton that crushed his cheekbone, triggering the implosion of his left eye; after over a year on the disabled list, Conigliaro miraculously returned in 1969, swatting 20 home runs and 82 RBI on his way to earning the Comeback Player of the Year award that would later bear his name. Even more remarkable, he hit 36 homers and 116 RBI in 1970, but to the dismay of the Red Sox faithful the organization traded him to the Angels during the off-season. Conigliaro played just 74 games for California before retiring in 1972, still just 26 years old. Following the implementation of the designated hitter position, he returned to the Red Sox in 1975 but appeared in just 21 games before hanging 'em up for good. That same year, he also issued one final single, "Poetry," on the tiny Magna Glide label. In 1982, while on his way to a job interview for a broadcast position, Conigliaro suffered a massive heart attack that left him severely incapacitated, leading to his death at just 45 on February 24, 1990.