Profiles in Courage


The odds of playing Major League Baseball are very long. Those who have overcome either injury, illness, or physical limitations need to be commended.  Today’s column is a tribute to some of those players.


Tony Conigliaro was the starting right fielder for the Boston Red Sox at the age of 19, and was a very talented player. In 1964, his rookie season, he batted .290 with 24 home runs, despite missing a considerable time with a broken arm.  In 1965 he led the AL with 32 home runs, and in 1967 he made the All-Star game and at the age of 22 become the youngest player to reach 100 home runs.


On August 18, 1967, he suffered a serious beaning which caused considerable damage to his left retina.  The remainder of his career he was legally blind in his left eye.  Despite that, he hit 20 home runs for the Red Sox in 1969 and 36 in 1970.  He played two more seasons, and retired from the Sox in 1975.


The career and life of Conigliaro were filled with setbacks and tragedy, but it is truly amazing that he was able to play and contribute on a Major League level with one eye.


The Tony Conigliaro award was instituted in 1990 and is given annually to honor the player who has overcome obstacles and adversity.


Jim Abbott was born without a right hand.  He was a pitcher and was a talented quarterback in high school.  He pitched in the big leagues between 1989 and 1999, and played for the Angels, Yankees, White Sox and Brewers.  His best season was in 1991, when he went 18-11 for the Angels. In 1992 he won the Tony Conigliaro award. On September 4th, 1993, he pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees against the Cleveland Indians.  He finished his career with 87 victories and a 4.25 ERA, and also managed to get two big league hits. 


Pete Gray lost his right arm at the age of six in an accident on a farm.  He made it to the major leagues, and played one season (1945) as an outfielder for the St. Louis Browns, where he bated .218 with 51 hits and 13 RBI.


Mordecai “Three Fingered” Brown got his nickname after also sustaining an accident on a farm.  Ironically, he used the accident to his advantage, as the unorthodox grip he utilized allowed him to  put a great deal of spin on the ball.  He pitched for fourteen seasons, was a six time 20 game winner, won 239 games and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.


There are many others.  Eric Davis (a childhood friend of Darryl Strawberry) overcame colon cancer to hit 28 home runs for the Orioles in 1998.  Mike Lowell overcame testicular cancer and was the 2007 World Series MVP.  Jim Eisenrich played for 15 seasons, had a .290 batting average with 1,160 hits while battling Tourette Syndrome.  These three players were all recipients of the Tony Conigliaro award.


We all know how difficult it is to make it to the big leagues, and it is a testament to those who battled through injuries, afflictions, or accidents to continue to contribute and should be an inspiration to others who follow the game.


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