Red Sox mourn 1st draftee, Billy Conigliaro

February 10th, 2021

BOSTON -- The first time the Red Sox made a selection in an MLB Draft was 1965, and they called out a name with familiar bloodlines.

Billy Conigliaro, the fifth overall pick by Boston in the 1965 and the younger brother of Tony Conigliaro, died on Wednesday at the age of 73.

Billy was a right-handed-hitting outfielder -- just like his brother -- and he drew the attention of scouts while hitting long drives for Swampscott (Mass.) High School. Tony did his damage in high school for St. Mary's of Lynn (Mass).

The highlight of Billy Conigliaro's baseball life was spending the first two seasons of his career (1969-70) on the same team as his brother, who was one of the most popular and productive Red Sox players of the mid 1960s and early '70s.

In fact, in 1970, the Conigliaro brothers often formed two-thirds of Boston's starting outfield.

While right fielder Tony raked 36 homers in 1970, left fielder Billy pitched in with 18 dingers while adding 58 RBIs and an .801 OPS in what wound up as the best season in his five-year career.

In fact, Billy Conigliaro was so highly thought of early in his career that the Red Sox moved the legendary Carl Yastrzemski to first base to make room for him in the lineup.

Billy became very emotional when the Red Sox traded Tony to the Angels following that 1970 season.

Billy himself would play just one more season for the Red Sox in 1971, before being dealt along with Jim Lonborg, George Scott, Ken Brett, Joe Lahoud and Don Pavletich to the Brewers for Tommy Harper, Pat Skraple, Marty Pattin and Lew Krausse.

Another similarity Billy had with Tony is he had trouble finding happiness in baseball after he left Boston. In fact, Billy announced his retirement in the middle of the 1972 season with the Brewers.

But some good fortune would come the next season when he made a comeback with the 1973 Oakland Athletics as a part-time player.

Those A's of 1973 won their second of three consecutive World Series championships, allowing Billy to win the championship ring his brother was never able to obtain.

Billy played 48 games for Oakland that regular season and got seven at-bats in the postseason, including three against the Mets in the World Series.

That would be his final season as a player. Billy hit .256 in his career with 56 doubles, 40 homers and 128 RBIs in 1,239 at-bats.

While Billy made no secret of how much he idolized Tony as a ballplayer, their relationship went to another level in their post-playing days.

When Tony experienced one major health issue after another -- including a heart attack in 1982 and a stroke shortly thereafter -- Billy spent much of his time caring for his brother.

Billy was driving Tony to Fenway Park for an audition to be a Red Sox broadcaster when Tony suffered the heart attack.

Tony, who mashed 162 homers for his hometown Red Sox despite a brutal beaning that took him out of the stretch run of the 1967 pennant race, died Feb. 24, 1990.

Billy helped keep Tony's legacy alive by serving on the committee for the Tony Conigliaro Award, given each year to the "Major Leaguer who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage that were trademarks of Tony C."

Each year, Billy would go over each nominee and speak passionately to the committee about the candidates he felt best embodied what his brother was all about.

Former Red Sox and current Rockies reliever Daniel Bard was the most recent winner of that award back in December.

Billy is survived by his wife, Keisha, and brother, Richie.