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by Harold Friend
In 1961, the American League added the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators to become a 10-team league. Finishing in eighth place no longer meant finishing last.
Ninth to First
Five years later, in 1966, the Boston Red Sox finished a dismal ninth, but they weren't as bad as they looked. The following season, they proved it by winning the pennant. The Boston Red Sox became the first American League team to go from ninth to first.
A Sad Sidebar
In one of the greatest pennant races ever, Boston edged the Tigers and Twins, each by a single game, to win the 1967 pennant. The Red Sox faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, and it took the Cardinals seven games to win, but there is a sad sidebar to the great 1967 Red Sox season.
Tony Conigliaro's Fast Career-Start
Nineteen year old Tony Conigliaro was a rookie in 1964. He batted .290, hit 24 home runs, and had 52 RBIs in 444 plate appearances. Tony led the league with 32 home runs in 1965, which made him the youngest home run champion in American League history. Tony tailed off slightly in 1966, batting .265 with 28 home runs, but with a career high 93 RBIs.
In 1967, Tony Conigliaro was having the best season of his career, batting .287, with 20 home runs and 67 RBIs in 95 games. In a game against the Angels on Aug. 18, Tony was hit in the face by a Jack Hamilton fastball, which essentially ended his career.
Jack Hamilton's Control Problems
Jack Hamilton was a hard thrower who had suffered from control problems earlier in his career. Hamilton had improved his command by 1967, and had hit only one batter all season before the Conigliaro incident. Jack Hamilton finished his eight-year career hitting only 13 batters, but he was extremely shaken after he hit Conigliaro. He no longer pitched batters inside for fear of severely injuring another batter, which greatly affected his effectiveness and shortened his career.
Would the Red Sox Have Won the World Series With Conigliaro?
A nagging question, which will always remain unanswered, is, "Would the Red Sox have won the World Series if they hadn't lost Tony Conigliaro?
The Red Sox used Hawk Harrelson, Jose Tartabull, and George Thomas and Norm Siebern in right field against the Cardinals in the World Series. The quartet managed only 4 hits in 31 at-bats for a .129 batting average, which are not Tony Conigliaro numbers.
The Red Sox lost Game 1 to Bob Gibson, 2-1. It was the only one-run game of the series. The other Red Sox defeats were by scores of 5-2, 6-0, and 8-4, so statistically, it is unlikely that Conigliaro would have made a difference. But it is more complex than merely scores.
How Would Conigliaro's Presence Affected the Games?
How would having Conigliaro in the lineup have affected the dynamics of the Red Sox offense? How would having Conigliaro in the lineup have affected the way Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nellie Briles, Dick Hughes and the rest of the Cardinals' staff pitched to the Red Sox? How would the presence of Conigliaro have affected the Red Sox' confidence?
Another Ninth to First Finish
The 1967 Red Sox didn't remain the only team go jump from ninth place to first place the next year. In 1968, the New York Mets finished ninth, 24 games behind the Cardinals. They not only won the pennant in 1969 - they became World Champions.
The difference was that the 1967 Red Sox had to have a better 1967 record that nine other teams. Nineteen sixty nine was the first year of divisional play, which meant that the Mets had to have a better record than the other five teams in the Eastern Division, and then beat the Western Division Champion Atlanta Braves.