Half a century later it remains one of the most infamous dates in Boston baseball history.
Friday, August 18, 1967: the night Tony Conigliaro, who by late in his age 22 season had already hit 104 home runs and recorded four seasons with an OPS of .817 or higher, was hit in the face by a fastball from Jack Hamilton of the California Angels. Conigliaro would miss the rest of Boston’s “Impossible Dream” season with a fractured cheekbone. He would sit out 1968 with blurred vision and while briefly trying to convert to pitching. He would make two ultimately unsuccessful comebacks, play on a second Red Sox team that reached the World Series but never himself appear in the post-season, slip into a life of substance abuse, and die at the age of just 45.
And the pitcher who hit him, Hamilton?
All the evidence suggests that just hours earlier he had posed, with the hint of a smile on his face, for his 1968 baseball card photo.
This macabre coincidence may have dawned on collectors when those ’68 cards came out; it didn’t hit me until about a decade ago when I had a chance to review the vast archive of used and unused Topps negatives (the Hamilton ’68 image was auctioned off on eBay just last year). Barring the most unusual and unlikely of coincidences, Hamilton and a bunch of other Angels and Red Sox players shown in the ’68 and ’69 sets must have been photographed during California’s visit to Fenway that began on that awful Friday in August and continued through the weekend.
Understand the context here. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but I believe the photos of Hamilton and the other Angels and Red Sox were the first Topps ever shot in Fenway. Through the ‘60s their photography was largely limited to the New York parks, the Bay Area, Chicago, Philadelphia, Spring Training, and a couple of cameos in other cities. Topps had published at least four colorized black and white Red Sox publicity handout photos shot in Boston, but had never sent its own man (probably George Heier, who was their regular New York photographer) until 1967.
The familiar landmarks of Fenway – the Green Monster, the vast bleachers, some of the billboards outside the ballpark – appear in the backgrounds of at least six Angels’ cards in the 1968 Topps set (Jimmie Hall, Hamilton, Woodie Held, Roger Repoz, Hawk Taylor, and Jim Weaver). Images of two other ’67 Angels shot in Boston, Curt Simmons and Bill Skowron, were also hidden in that unused photo archive. And there are three ’68 cards showing Red Sox players at home: Elston Howard, Dan Osinski, and Norm Siebern.
With the exception of Osinski, the players share one thing in common: they all joined either Boston or California in 1967. And the photographs share one other thing in common besides the venue: they all look like they were taken in the late afternoon or early evening.
The only Angels-Red Sox night game during that series was the Friday, when Hamilton hit Conigliaro. The teams played a day game on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday. While newspaper archives suggest each day carried a risk of thunderstorms and thus cloudy conditions that might give a similar look to photos snapped near dusk, there’s clearly batting practice going on in the background as nearly all of the Angel and Red Sox were photographed and B.P. would not have been likely if the weather was threatening enough to darken the skies.
There’s one other slight variable. The Angels also visited Boston on July 25, 26, and 27, and played only night games. Hamilton had joined the team from the Mets by then, and indeed Skowron (May 6), Held and Repoz (June 15), Siebern (July 15), Taylor (July 24), and Hall and Osinski (who had both opened the season with their new teams) would all have been on the field had the Topps photographer been shooting at Fenway for that series.
But Elston Howard (August 3), Curt Simmons (August 7), and Jim Weaver (August 13) hadn’t traded uniforms yet. And unless the Topps man went twice to Fenway inside of a month to shoot the same two teams and just happened to get the exact same lighting, there’s no other plausible conclusion: Jack Hamilton posed somewhere between the visitors’ dugout and the mound at Fenway Park literally just hours before he in essence ended Tony Conigliaro’s career.