On this date in 1967, Tony Conigliaro (also known as Tony C. to Red Sox fans) was beaned by a high, hard one from Angel’s pitcher Jack Hamilton. It’s ironic that tonight the Red Sox are again playing the Angels on this grim anniversary.
I was only 4 years old at the time, and can still remember watching it on a black & white TV in the living room with my dad. At the time I thought Tony C. had been killed. He was one of the brightest and most gifted young players in Red Sox history, a local kid from Revere and East Boston in the days before free agency when players often signed and stayed with a club for their careers.
The 1967 season is remembered by Red Sox fans who were alive then as “The Impossible Dream,” when the magic of Tony C., Carl “Yaz” Yazstremski and Rico Petrocelli filled Fenway Park with faith, hope and the love of classic baseball.
As for Tony C., he was the youngest home run champion at age 20 when he hit 32 in 1965, and was also the youngest player to reach 100 career home runs during 1967. Statistically he was very similar to Mickey Mantle at age 20-21. He loved to crowd the plate, and that proved to be his downfall.
After he was hit, Tony C. was temporarily blinded in his left eye and missed the entire 1968 season. He won the AL Comeback Player of the Year in 1969, and continued to play for several more years but was never the same. He retired for the second and final time with the Red Sox in 1975 at the age of 30. He died in 1990 at the young age of 45.
In the immortal words of Boston sportswriter Dan Shaugnessey,
Tony C was youth and hope. Always it seemed there would be another comeback.
Now he is gone and will be frozen in time — forever tall, dark and handsome, a slugger for the ages . . .
I have been watching the Little League World Series this past week with great interest and enjoyment. To me, it’s some of the best baseball on television. However, I have a question that no one I know is able to answer, so I’ll throw it out there to the readership for a comment:
Little League International innovated the pitch count rules several years ago which many youth baseball organizations subscribe to. There is an ongoing debate about whether Little League has actually followed the best advice from sports medicine experts in changing those rules for this year, but in watching the LL World Series I have noticed a different problem which remains unaddressed: The use of breaking balls (curve balls) by youth pitchers.
Everything I have learned from sports medicine in trying to be a better baseball coach states that curve balls should NEVER be thrown by players until they are 15-16 years old and have experienced the physical development in their arms that can withstand the unique strains this pitch requires. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that youth pitchers who throw curves too early directly affect the growth of their radius and ulna bones, damaging both the wrist and the elbow.
I don’t allow any of my players to throw anything other than fast balls and change-ups. In my opinion, the deceiving nature of a curve ball can also be effectively accomplished with a cut fast ball (“cutter”) which is thrown with a fast ball motion and still breaks across the plate but does not endanger a young pitcher’s arm. Why Little League seems preoccupied with pitch counts while ignoring the use of a dangerous and damaging pitch in high-level competition seems to me to be both inconsistent and irresponsible.
What do you think?
BIG DIAMOND, BIG BARREL
Previously I wrote an article on The Great Baseball Bat Debate which considered the issues of non-wood vs. wood bat performance particularly with regards to safety issues for youth baseball. As my own dirtdog son has now moved to the big diamond where “big barrel” bats (2 5/8″ diameter) are the standard, I have learned that there are differences which continue between AAU baseball and scholastic baseball (NFHS/NCAA) regulations. This is of interest to me because in 2011 my son will play his rookie season of Middle School baseball in addition to AAU club baseball.
Thinking ahead about ways to save costs on bat purchases, I recently discovered that the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) have now adopted the more conservative National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulations for non-wood bat specifications. While this rule change for 2012 probably will not silence the purists who believe that only wood bats should be used in baseball at all levels for safety if not aesthetic reasons, I believe it certainly changes the discussion regarding whether non-wood bats are inherently more dangerous. In my view they are not, and with the new performance standards they will behave more like their wood counterparts than ever before.
NCAA BBCOR BAT LABEL RULE
To begin with, in May of 2009 the NCAA adopted a new Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) standard for testing baseball bat performance. This standard is effective January 1, 2011 as an addendum to NCAA rules, and states that bats not constructed of one-piece solid wood must be certified and labeled by the manufacturer to meet the new BBCOR standard in order to be approved for NCAA competition play. The BBCOR standard supercedes the previous Ball Exit Speed Ratio (BESR) standard which measured the “exit speed” of the ball off the bat and certified that BESR-compliant non-wood bats do not drive balls significantly faster than wood bats of comparable weight and length.
The new BBCOR standard regulates the flexibility of non-wood bats in their construction along with the resultant “trampoline effect” of balls springing off the striking surface of the barrel. This will be accomplished by making barrel walls thicker and less flexible, or by installing barrel inserts behind the “sweet spot” to block flexing. It also requires that the length/weight differential of bats be no greater than 3.0 (or -3) units without the grip. Additionally, the bats must display a new, permanent BBCOR certification label on the barrel end of the bat. Bats without this mark will NOT be allowed for NCAA play effective January 1, 2011 regardless of whether the identical make/model of bat was used during the previous season. There is no grandfathering provision in the rules, so players will be obligated to purchase new “compliant” bats for the upcoming season that have the correct certification label. Bats will not be available with the new compliant labeling until August, 2010 at the earliest.
NFHS STANDARD FOR 2011
As of this writing, the NFSH has also adopted the same BBCOR standard to be effective January 1, 2012. This will aid High School players by making them accustomed to play using compliant bats prior to their introduction to NCAA-level play. Affiliated Middle School programs can also expect to follow compliance according to this schedule, especially since talented Middle School players often “play up” onto High School JV squads.
IMPACT ON PLAY
With the adoption of the new BBCOR standard, non-wood bats will closely compare to their wood counterparts more than ever before. This will improve safety for pitchers and also return the game to a point where skilled hitting is essential for success. It will also minimize the changes that high-level players need to go through in adjusting to play with wood bats, while providing the benefits of wood bat characteristics in the form of more durable non-wood products.
Jacoby Ellsbury (photo by Matt Stone)
Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the Red Sox lineup after a long rehab. Welcome back Jacoby!
”Injuries are part of the game. Some people understand it. Some people won’t, but the fans have been great.”
Congratulations to Alex Rodriguez for hitting his 600th career home run today! The youngest player to ever reach this milestone, he hit it exactly three years to the day after his #500. Pretty cool.