Jack Hamilton, Who Hurled a Fateful Pitch, Dies at 79

The Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro writhed at home plate moments after Jack Hamilton of the California Angels hit him in the head with a fastball in August 1967.

Jack Hamilton pitched for all or part of eight seasons in the major leagues, but he was remembered mostly for a single moment. He threw the fastball that struck the head of the slugging Boston Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro in August 1967, a gruesome episode that shortened the career of a potential Hall of Famer.

In the decades that followed, Hamilton was sought out from time to time for interviews about that night in Boston, in a season when the long-shot Red Sox went on to their Impossible Dream pennant victory.

He died on Thursday in Branson, Mo., at 79. His wife, Janyce, said he had had heart problems and other ailments.

A journeyman pitcher, Hamilton had been traded from the Mets to the California Angels in June 1967 and had a record of 8-2 when he started against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on the night of Aug. 18.

Conigliaro, a handsome, popular player from the Boston suburbs, was an All-Star who at 22 had become the youngest American League player to reach 100 home runs.

They faced each other in the fourth inning of a scoreless game. Conigliaro crowded the plate, as was his custom.

And then Hamilton delivered the pitch that decked him. Conigliaro had barely moved as the baseball flew toward his head.

The ball fractured his left cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and left him with retina damage and blurred vision. An unsettling photo appeared in newspapers showing Conigliaro in his hospital bed, his left eye blackened.

“It was a high fastball,” Hamilton told The Associated Press in 1987. “He didn’t move at all. He didn’t even flinch, jerk his head or anything. It was hard to sit there and take a pitch like that.”

Conigliaro missed the rest of the 1967 season and all of 1968. He returned to the Red Sox for 1969 and 1970, hitting 56 home runs over those seasons. In 1971, he was traded to the Angels, but with the vision in his left eye deteriorating, he struggled at the plate. He retired in midseason.

He came back to the Red Sox in 1975, then left baseball for good after playing in 21 games.

Conigliaro was hoping to return to the game as a broadcaster when he had a heart attack in 1982 and was confined to a nursing home afterward. His brother Billy, a former Red Sox teammate playing the outfield, and other family members oversaw his care until his death from kidney failure in 1990 at 45.

“I know in my heart I wasn’t trying to hit him,” Hamilton told The New York Times shortly after Conigliaro died. “I never hit a guy that hard in my life. He went right down.”

On the night he was felled, Conigliaro wore a cap of hard plastic. It wasn’t until 1971 that the major leagues required helmets, though only for new players. An earflap was mandated in 1983, though veteran players were allowed to shun them if they wished.

Jack Edwin Hamilton was born on Dec. 25, 1938, in Burlington, Iowa, and grew up nearby in Morning Sun. He was an all-state baseball player in high school and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization in 1957. A right-hander, he made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962 and later pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox as well as the Mets and Angels.

He pitched the second one-hitter in Mets history in May 1966, allowing only a bunt single by Cardinal pitcher Ray Sadecki. Both a starter and a reliever, Hamilton had a career record of 32-40 and later owned restaurants in Iowa, Illinois and Branson.

In addition to his wife, the former Janyce DeYarman, he is survived by a daughter, Karla Hamilton; a son, Kyle; his sisters Patsy Huddle, Janet Hall and Judi Delzell; four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“Watching baseball on TV, anytime a guy gets hit, I think about it,” Hamilton told The Times in 1990, referring to the Conigliaro incident. “I was just a common pitcher, but people remember me for what happened to Tony.”

He went on: “I tried to go see him in the hospital, but they were just letting his family in. When Tony came back in 1969, I really didn’t try to talk to him about it. I’m just sorry it ever happened. I’ve had to live with it, too.”

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