Comeback king Bard earns Conigliaro Award

December 21st, 2020

Rockies right-hander was named the winner of the 2020 Tony Conigliaro Award on Monday, in recognition of his amazing comeback after a six-season absence from the Major Leagues.

This isn’t the first hardware Bard has won this offseason. Earlier in December, he took home the 2020 National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, which is presented by Major League Baseball.

The Tony Conigliaro Award, instituted by the Red Sox in 1990, honors the late Boston outfielder, whose promising career was cut short by a beanball in 1967. It goes to a “Major Leaguer who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.” A 15-person committee that includes media members, MLB executives, Red Sox officials and Conigliaro’s brothers, Richie and Billy, vote on the award.

Conigliaro, a Massachusetts native, joined the Red Sox at age 19 in 1964. He led the American League in home runs a year later and was an All-Star in ‘67, shortly before he was struck in the face by a pitch that August. After missing all of the ’68 season, Conigliaro managed to return to the Majors and play in 382 more games, but declining vision forced him to step away. He died in 1990 of a heart attack at age 45.

“From my days playing in Boston, I remember how special this award is,” Bard said in a statement. “Not only because of Tony’s story and the incredible obstacles he had to overcome, but I also remember the list of names of all the great players who have won previously. I am grateful to those who voted for me and to the New England baseball community for their support over the years. I am honored to be chosen as this year’s recipient.”

Bard has plenty of history with the Red Sox, who selected him 28th overall in the 2006 Draft out of the University of North Carolina. Bard made it to Boston in ‘09 and quickly became a key member of the team’s bullpen. He had his best season in ’10, posting a 1.93 ERA and striking out 76 batters over 74 2/3 innings.

But Bard began to struggle late in the 2011 season, the beginning of a long ordeal that included injuries, bouts with the yips, anxiety and an attempt to adopt a submarine-style delivery. He pitched in two MLB games for Boston in ‘13 and then none at all for the next six seasons while bouncing to five other organizations.

It wasn’t until Bard retired and joined the D-backs in a mentoring role that he realized he once again had the ability and desire to pitch in the Majors. He signed a Minor League deal with the Rockies in February and proceeded to go 4-2 with six saves, a 3.65 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings at the age of 35.