Billy Conigliaro, the first draft pick in Red Sox history, who started out in the Boston outfield with his star-crossed brother Tony and later spent years taking care of him after a heart attack, died on Wednesday at his home in Beverly, Mass. He was 73.
His death was announced by the team. No cause was given.
Though he wound up winning a World Series ring with the Oakland A’s in 1973, Billy Conigliaro was always a part of New England lore, forever connected by his local roots and the tragic events surrounding his older brother.
Born less than 10 miles from Fenway Park in Revere, Mass., on Aug. 15, 1947, Billy Conigliaro was chosen fifth overall out of Swampscott High School in 1965, in Major League Baseball’s inaugural amateur draft.
He made his big-league debut as a pinch-runner in April 1969, the same month his brother returned after almost two years from a beaning that had derailed his All-Star career.
Five days after that, Billy made his first start, hitting two home runs in Boston. He hit another the next day, but he had just one more that season.
His best season was 1970, when he played 114 games and batted .271 with 18 home runs and 58 runs batted in. The next season, he hit 26 doubles and 11 home runs in 101 games.
Overall, Billy Conigliaro played 247 games for the Red Sox through 1971. He was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in a 10-team trade in 1972 and abruptly retired. He returned with Oakland in 1973 and played three games in the World Series as the A’s beat the Mets. A knee injury ended his career after that season.
Conigliaro played his first two big-league seasons alongside his brother, an enormous star for a franchise that hadn’t won the World Series since 1918.
Tony Conigliaro made his debut for Boston in 1964 at 19 and won the American League home run title the next year. A month after playing in the 1967 All-Star Game, with Boston on its way to a championship, he was hit in the cheekbone by a fastball from the Angels’ Jack Hamilton. He suffered extensive injuries, including permanent damage to his left eye.
He returned to the major leagues in 1969 and, despite limited eyesight, hit 20 home runs that year and 36 in 1970, playing alongside his brother.
Tony Conigliaro was working as a sportscaster in San Francisco when he auditioned for a broadcaster job with the Red Sox in 1982. By all indications, he was set to get the job when he had a heart attack while Billy was driving him to the airport in Boston.
He later had a stroke and was in a coma. Billy devoted much of his life to caring for him until Tony’s death in 1990 at 45.
For the past 31 years, Billy Conigliaro had served on the committee for the Tony Conigliaro Award, given annually by the Red Sox to a major league player who “has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.”
His survivors include his wife, Keisha, and a brother, Richie.