Right-handed pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who overcame a torn right rotator cuff to pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, has been voted the winner of the 21st annual Tony Conigliaro Award. This honor is presented to a Major League player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.
Tony's brothers, Billy and Richie, will officially present the award at the 72nd Boston Baseball Writers' Association of America's annual dinner on January 20, 2011 at the Westin Copley Place in Boston.
The Red Sox began the award in 1990 to perpetuate the memory of Tony C., who died in February of that year following an eight-year struggle to come back from a massive heart attack that left him severely handicapped. Major League teams submit nominations and an independent 12-person panel does the voting.
Benoit missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery that January. The Tampa Bay Rays signed the right-hander to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training in February 2010. Benoit began the season with AAA Durham, before he was called up to the Rays’ big league roster on April 29. He went on to become a key part of the Tampa Bay bullpen, leading all American League relievers with a 1.34 ERA (60.1 IP, 9 ER) over 63 appearances.
A free agent this winter who signed with Detroit, Benoit beat out Boston Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie and Oakland Athletics left-handed pitcher Bobby Cramer for the award. Also receiving votes were: Cincinnati Reds left-handed pitcher Arthur Rhodes, Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Chris Capuano, and New York Yankees outfielder Colin Curtis.
Past winners include: Jim Eisenreich (1990), Dickie Thon (1991), Jim Abbott (1992), Bo Jackson (1993), Mark Leiter (1994), Scott Radinsky (1995), Curtis Pride (1996), Eric Davis (1997), Bret Saberhagen (1998), Mike Lowell (1999), Kent Mercker and Tony Saunders (2000), Graeme Lloyd and Jason Johnson (2001), Jose Rijo (2002), Jim Mecir (2003), Dewon Brazelton (2004), Aaron Cook (2005), Freddy Sanchez (2006), Jon Lester (2007), Rocco Baldelli (2008) and Chris Carpenter (2009).
Tony C. became the youngest player (at age 20) to lead his league in home runs when he hit 32 in 1965, and the youngest in American League history to reach 100 homers (22 years, 197 days). His promising career was tragically cut short when he was hit in the face by a pitch at Fenway Park on August 18, 1967. He missed all of 1968, made a inspiring comeback in 1969 and was traded to the California Angels after the 1970 season. Tony played two years with the Angels and then made another comeback with the Red Sox in 1975, his final season in the Majors.
Tickets for the dinner are $150 and available by sending a check payable to The Sports Museum, 100 Legends Way, Boston, MA, 02114. Credit card purchases can also be made by calling Rusty Sullivan at 617-624-1237.