BOSTON – Billy Conigliaro, the first-ever Red Sox draft pick who started out in the Boston outfield with star-crossed brother Tony and later spent years taking care of him after a heart attack, died Wednesday. He was 73.
Conigliaro's family told the team he died at home in Beverly, Massachusetts. The club didn't provide a cause of death.
Though he wound up winning a World Series ring with Oakland in 1973, Billy always remained a part of New England lore, forever connected by his local roots and the tragic events surrounding his older brother, powerful slugger Tony C.
Born less than 10 miles from Fenway Park in Revere, Billy C. was 19 when he was chosen fifth overall out of Swampscott High School in Major League Baseball’s inaugural amateur draft in 1965.
Conigliaro made his big league debut as a pinch-runner in April 1969, the same month his brother returned from a beaning that quickly derailed his All-Star career.
Five days later, in his first start, Billy hit two home runs in Boston. He also connected the next day, but homered just once more that season.
His best season was in 1970, when he played 114 games and batted .271 with 18 home runs and 58 RBIs. The following season, he added 26 doubles and 11 home runs in 101 games.
Overall, Conigliaro played 247 games for the Red Sox through 1971, was sent to Milwaukee in a 10-team trade and abruptly retired during the 1972 season. He returned in 1973 and played three games in the World Series as the A's beat the Mets.
A knee injury ended Conigliaro's career after that season. He hit a career .256 with 40 home runs and 128 RBIs in 347 games.
Conigliaro played his first two big league seasons with his brother. Tony was an enormous star for a franchise that hadn't won the World Series since 1918 — local, popular and talented.
Tony Conigliaro debuted for Boston in 1964 at 19 and won the AL home run title the next year. A month after batting ahead of Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski in the 1967 All-Star Game, and with Boston in the midst of its “Impossible Dream” season, Conigliaro was hit in the cheekbone by a fastball from the Angels' Jack Hamilton.
Conigliaro suffered extensive injuries, including permanent damage to his left eye.
Almost 20 months later, Conigliaro returned to the majors. Despite limited eyesight, he hit 20 homers in 1969 and put up 36 home runs and 116 RBIs for the Red Sox in 1970 alongside his brother.
Tony C. played a half-season with the Angels in 1971. He was out of baseball for three years before trying a comeback with Boston in 1975, batting .123 in 21 games.
Tony was working a sportscaster in San Francisco when he auditioned for a job as a broadcaster with the Red Sox. By all indications, he was set to get the job when he suffered a heart attack while Billy was driving him to the airport in Boston.
Tony later had a stroke and was in a coma. Billy devoted much of his life to caring for him until his brother's death in 1990 at 45, then worked longer to preserve Tony C.'s legacy.
For the past 31 years, Billy had served on the committee for the Tony Conigliaro Award, given annually by the Red Sox to a major league player who ”has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.”
Billy Conigliaro is survived by his wife, Keisha.