Bettis wins Conigliaro Award, calls it ‘nothing short of an honor’

Starting pitcher Chad Bettis has been named the winner of the 2017 Tony Conigliaro Award, which has been given every year since 1990 in memory of the former Red Sox outfielder, whose career was tragically shortened by a beanball in 1967 and whose life ended in 1990 at the age of 45. It is awarded to a “Major Leaguer who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.” Conigliaro’s brothers, Richie and Billy, are part of the 21-person committee that votes on the award, which will be awarded to Bettis in Boston on January 18.

“I think being able to be the recipient of this year’s award is nothing short of an honor,’’ Bettis said. “And I feel like the award goes beyond just myself, [but also] to the help and encouragement of my family and teammates and the entire Colorado Rockies organization.’’

Bettis, 28, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in November of 2016. Bettis underwent surgery soon after and reported to spring training on time, but during a follow-up screening in March, doctors discovered his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. He underwent nine weeks of chemotherapy, beginning nine days before his wife, Kristina, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Everleigh Rae.

Bettis’ final cancer treatment came on May 16, after which he worked himself back into playing shape. Astoundingly, on August 14, Bettis made his return to the Rockies, pitching seven scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves. He started nine games for the playoff-bound Rockies, and is expected to be a full-time member of their rotation in 2018.

Bettis is the second Rockies player to win the award, after fellow starting pitcher Aaron Cook, who was selected as the 2005 recipient. To further raise awareness of — and money to combat — testicular cancer, Bettis will host a golf tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. in January.

Famous for his tragic story, Conigliaro, a phenom for his time, hit a home run in his first at-bat at Fenway Park in 1964 at only 19 years old. A year later, he became the youngest player to lead his league in home runs when he hit 32 in 1965, his second full season in the big leagues. He also became the youngest American League player to reach 100 home runs when he hit No. 100 at 22 years and 197 days old, just 65 days older than the major league record holder, Mel Ott (22 years, 132 days).

Conigliaro’s promising career was derailed after he was hit by a pitch on August 18, 1967. The pitch fractured his left cheekbone, dislocated his jaw, and severely damaged the retina in his left eye. The gruesome injury caused him to miss all of the 1968 season, but returned to play two more years in Boston, hitting a career-high 36 home runs for the Sox in 1970, when he also drove in 116 runs. He was traded after the season to the Angels, but declining vision led him to announce his retirement in 1971. He attempted another comeback for the Red Sox in 1975, but ended his career after batting just .123 in 69 plate appearances. Congliaro suffered a heart attack in 1982, and died eight years later at the age of 45.

Tony Conigliaro Award recipients:
2017—Chad Bettis, Rockies
2016—Yangervis Solarte, Padres
2015—Mitch Harris, Cardinals
2014—Wilson Ramos, Nationals
2013—John Lackey, Red Sox
2012—R.A. Dickey, Mets
2011—Tony Campana, Cubs
2010—Joaquin Benoit, Rays
2009—Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
2008—Rocco Baldelli, Rays
2007—Jon Lester, Red Sox
2006—Freddy Sanchez, Pirates
2005—Aaron Cook, Rockies
2004—Dewon Brazelton, Rays
2003—Jim Mecir, Athletics
2002—Jose Rijo, Reds
2001—Jason Johnson, Orioles; Graeme Lloyd, Expos
2000—Kent Mercker, Angels; Tony Saunders, Marlins
1999—Mike Lowell, Marlins
1998—Bret Saberhagen, Red Sox
1997—Eric Davis, Orioles
1996—Curtis Pride, Tigers
1995—Scott Radinsky, White Sox
1994—Mark Leiter, Angels
1993—Bo Jackson, White Sox
1992—Jim Abbott, Angels
1991—Dickie Thon, Phillies
1990—Jim Eisenreich, Royals