Blues For Vogelsong

If you're my age, the first two words into your brain when you saw the pitch sail up and in and catch Ryan Vogelsong flush around the left cheek and eye Monday were Tony Conigliaro. Then, as Vogelsong was carted off the PNC Park field en route Allegheny General Hospital, you said a prayer that the Pirates' right-hander doesn't face even one degree of what Tony C. faced.

Customarily a reliever, Vogelsong was pressed into starting duty to keep the Pirate rotation on regular schedule after a Sunday rainout. He had two scoreless innings in the book when he batted in the bottom of the second.

Let's get this one out of the way first: There is no way Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles was looking to brush Vogelsong back or hit him with a purpose. Not with the bases loaded and one out. Not on a day he was having a little control trouble, during a season in which he's been anything but consistent, with a wild pitch accounting for the first of two Pirate runs in the bottom of the second.

It might be tough for Pirate fans to remember the pitch that crashed into Vogelsong sent home Francisco Cervelli on the house. With the second of 6 runs on the day as the Pirates managed to beat the Rockies, 6-3, with Wilfredo Boscan picking up a win with four relief innings — in his second major league gig — after Vogelsong went down.

They were probably too busy watching Vogelsong spin around and down over his right side and hit the deck in ferocious pain. At 38 years old with a long enough and hard enough major league journey already on his resume, this — in his return to the Pirates, for whom he pitched earlier in his career — was the absolute last thing Vogelsong needed.

Lyles walked down from the mound and over to the fallen Vogelsong at once. Only he knows what was pouring in and out of his mind as he did so, and it probably included a few dozen prayers. If you think Lyles isn't feeling a little more than sick about what happened, you might care to remember Jack Hamilton.

Hamilton was the Angels right-hander who coned Conigliaro August 18, 1967, with the Red Sox gunning for a miracle pennant and Conigliaro at the plate with twenty bombs and 67 steaks on his season's credentials. Conigliaro suffered a smashed cheekbone and a cyst behind his left eye.

Tony C feared no pitcher and not much of anything or anyone else, for that matter. He was just as as notorious for crowding the plate as he was for becoming the youngest man to hit a hundred career home runs. But even he couldn't get out of the way fast enough when Hamilton's pitch sailed up and into him. Until then, Hamilton hadn't hit a single batter all year.

As a matter of fact, for all that Red Sox Nation thought (then and now) that Hamilton was some kind of headhunter, he'd retire averaging (count them) three hit batsmen per 162 games, with thirteen lifetime over an eight-year career. That didn't exactly comfort Hamilton in the years following the Conigliaro crunch. To this day Hamilton probably finds it difficult to live down. "No one lets me forget it," he told Yahoo! Sports's Jeff Passan in 2007.

Conigliaro managed to make a comeback after losing the rest of 1967 and all 1968. In 1969, he hit twenty bombs with 82 steaks. In 1970, he was better: 36 bombs, 116 steaks, .822 OPS. But the vision trouble incurred from the Hamilton beaning returned and he was forced to retire after 1971, other than a brief but abortive comeback bid in 1975. He worked as a sportscaster until felled by a heart attack, after which a stroke put him into a coma from which he never recovered, dying at 45 in 1990.

Hamilton, who'd finally figured out control before the Congiliaro hit, would have a fine 1968 as a middle reliever for the Angels before finishing his career in 1969 between the Indians and the White Sox. Some thought the Conigliaro incident made him wary of pitching inside, but Hamilton has insisted a torn back muscle or two was what really finished him.

Not even a revelation from Jim Bouton (in Ball Four) helped soften Hamilton's reputation:

"[W]hen Hamilton hit Tony Conigliaro in the eye a couple of years ago and put him out for the season, I thought, boy, this guy is some kind of super rat. But when I played with him ... I found out he was just a guy like everybody else, honestly sorry he'd hit Conigliaro, a good team player, a friendly fellow who liked to come out early to the park and pitch batting practice to his kids. All of which made me feel like an ass."

"I couldn't take a baseball and throw it at somebody's head on purpose," Hamilton told Passan. "I don't have the guts. I really don't care what the public thinks about me. Accidents happen. If I thought about it all the time, it would bother me. I know in my heart, I didn't mean to throw it." He became a restauranteur after baseball and now lives in Branson, Missouri with his wife.

Conigliaro's brother, Billy, has never forgiven Hamilton for the errant pitch and believes to this day he threw it on purpose. Tony C. himself wrote in his memoir that he didn't think Hamilton did it deliberately but wasn't sure about forgiveness, either.

Vogelsong was once a prospect turned reclamation project who pitched a brilliant Game 6 of the 2012 National League Championship Series for the Giants — and went 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA all that postseason — but got jumped early in Game 4 and could only help stop the bleeding in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series.

I hope to God Vogelsong recovers as soon as possible, with all his faculties intact, and that he knows Lyles wasn't even close to trying to hit him deliberately. I hope to God those close to him get with Lyles post haste and tell him, as often as he needs to hear it, that none but a genuine idiot thinks he hit Vogelsong on purpose.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site