Baumann: Tony Conigliaro, Ray Chapman and the catastrophic beaning

From Michael Baumann at on August 19, 2013:

It’s easy to forget how dangerous baseball can be. It isn’t embroiled in a head injury crisis the way hockey and football are, and medical advances are quickly making pitcher injuries more of a nuisance than a tragedy. Tommy John surgery — which was only invented in the past 40 years — now puts an overwhelming majority of pitchers back on the field within 18 months. In years to come, one assumes surgeons will solve the shoulder as well as the elbow, and we’ll have fewer and fewer injury-related “what-ifs” to concern ourselves with.

It’s easy to forget until a catastrophic accident takes place, as it did 46 years ago yesterday. Consumed in a legendary four-way pennant race the likes of which we may never see again, the Boston Red Sox relied on two corner outfielders who seemed to be on Hall of Fame trajectories. Carl Yastrzemski, of course, hit .326/.418/.622 that year (in an environment that was only slightly less hostile to hitters than the surface of Venus) en route to the Triple Crown and, indeed, the Hall of Fame.

Tony Conigliaro, 22, hit .287/.341/.519. But on August 18, Angels right-hander Jack Hamilton lost control of a fastball that struck Conigliaro in the head, breaking his orbital bone and cheekbone and causing a cyst to form behind his eye. The aftermath wasn’t all that pleasant for Hamilton (who was interviewed by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan for this story on the 40th anniversary of the incident), but Conigliaro missed a season and a half, and while he staged a briefly successful comeback, vision problems forced him out of the game for good at 30.

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Originally published: August 19, 2013. Last Updated: August 19, 2013.