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Friday, March 10, 2006

 


To An Athlete Dying Young:
Kirby Puckett's Passing Too Young, Too Soon Brings Back Tragic Boston Memories of Harry Agganis And Tony C.

"Agganis was a Massachusetts schoolboy legend. Recruited to play football by Notre Dame, Harry, the youngest of seven children, chose to stay close to his widowed mother and play instead at Boston University. An All-American quarterback, he was a first-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns. But again he decided to stay home, this time to play first base for the Boston Red Sox. In 1955, Agganis was hitting .313 in his second major-league season when he was sidelined with chest pains; he died at age 26 of a pulmonary embolism."

"A decade later, I felt the full impact of a similar tragedy involving another local hero turned Red Sox star. Born only a few miles from where Agganis was raised, Tony Conigliaro might have been called "The Golden Italian" had it been the least bit alliterative. Hollywood handsome and a gifted slugger, Tony C became the youngest home-run champ (at age 20) in baseball history and the second youngest ever (at age 22) to reach the 100-homer career mark. But in 1967 he was hit in the face by a pitch, suffering injuries: A fractured cheekbone, dislocated jaw, blurred vision that sidelined him for more than a year. Conigliaro would make a remarkable comeback before recurring vision problems forced him to call it quits at age 26. A decade into retirement, he suffered a heart attack, lingering semicomatose until his death at age 45."

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