By Sterling Pingree
Injuries are a most unfortunate byproduct of sport and an injury the magnitude of Gordon Hayward’s horrific season ending accident is one of the most prime modern examples. This got me thinking about what are the most impactful injuries in the annals of Boston sports. This is a list of the 10 most impactful injuries, taking into account the affect the injury had on the franchise’s fortunes during the season it occurred and beyond.
For that reason, the Gordon Hayward and Julian Edelman injuries are not on the list. The reason being, we don’t know the impact that these injuries will have for some time. There is a chance that these could be franchise altering, but right now, we just don’t know.
These aren’t necessarily the most gruesome happenings we’ve seen, though some of them are and number 10 on the list is perhaps the bloodiest of this list.
2000 Bryce Florie. On September 8, 2000, a line drive off the bat of Yankee infielder Ryan Thompson struck Red Sox relief pitcher Bryce Florie on the right side of his face, shattering his cheek and orbital bones. Florie was a middle of the road relief pitcher, but this injury effectively ended his career. He would come back the next season in Boston, but after seven appearances and a double digit ERA the Red Sox released him. Florie never pitched again in the big leagues, but when I posed the question of Boston injuries on social media, Florie’s injury had clearly left a lasting image.
1967 Jim Lonborg. In 1967, Jim Lonborg won the Cy Young and led the Boston Red Sox on the Impossible Dream season. After dropping the series in 7 games to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals, Lonborg tore knee ligaments skiing. Lonborg would recover midway through the season, but would become a constant problem. After winning 22 games in 1967, Lonborg would only win 27 games in his next 4 seasons in Boston. Lonborg was traded to Milwaukee in ’72 and the Brewers sent him to Philly where he pitched to only moderate success over the next 6 plus seasons.
1999 Robert Edwards. Robert Edwards was drafted in the first round of the 1998 draft by the Patriots and rushed for 1,115 yards, 9 touch downs and caught 3 more as a rookie. Edwards took away much of the sting that Curtis Martin’s departure left in Foxboro. After his rookie season however, at a horribly thought out rookie flag football game on the beach at the Pro Bowl, Edwards suffered a knee injury so severe that it almost led to amputation. Edwards would never play another down for the Patriots but would attempt a comeback with the Dolphins in 2002, but only carried the ball 20 times before being released.
1991 Cam Neely. The Neely/Bourque era Bruins never quite got to the mountain top. Part of that is due to Neely’s injury in game 3 of the Easter Conference Finals when Pittsburgh’s Ulf Samuelsson low bridged the Bruins power forward. Neely would only play 22 games over the following 2 years and just 162 of the team’s next 410 games.
2009 Kevin Garnett. The Celtics were the defending champions and were rolling towards the playoffs when a knee injury to KG on February 19th derailed Boston’s chance at repeating. Garnett missed the entire postseason that saw the Celtics fall to Orlando in 7 games in the Eastern semifinals. Remember, Orlando would go on to upset Lebron and the Cavs and fall to the Lakers in the Finals that year. You can’t help but wonder if the Celtics could have won back to back championships.
(Side note here, what if Kendrick Perkins hadn’t torn his ACL in game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals? The Celtics were two knee injuries away from possibly three-peating as champions.)
1973 John Havlicek. The forgotten great Celtics team is the 1972-73 squad that won 68 games. The reason that they’re forgotten is because they didn’t win a championship and the reason they didn’t win the championship is because in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Knicks, John Havlicek, badly injured his shoulder. Hondo, who was having a marvelous season, would miss game four and play through the rest of the series with one arm, only to see the Celtics lose in 7 games to the eventual champion Knicks. If Havlicek is healthy, they probably dispatch the Knicks and beat the aging Lakers in the Finals.
1975 Jim Rice. Rookies Jim Rice and Fred Lynn led the 1975 Red Sox offensively. Lynn of course became the first player to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year, but people forget that Rice finished second in Rookie of the Year and third for the MVP voting. Rice hit 22 home runs and drove in 102 runs before September 21st when Vern Ruhle ended Rice’s season with a fastball to his left hand. Rice would stay in the game, but his broken hand would keep him out of the entire postseason. You know the rest; Carbo and Fisk in game six; Tony Perez hit Lee’s eephus pitch to the moon in game seven; Reds win the series. One can’t help but think it would have been different if Jim Ed was in the Red Sox line up.
1978 Darryl Stingley. Stingley had scored 16 touch downs in his five year Patriots career and at just 26 years old, was thought to be just entering his prime. That is until a preseason game in 1978 when Oakland’s Jack Tatum leveled Stingley with a hit so vicious that if it happened today, Roger Goodell would buy Alcatraz, reopen it, put Tatum inside, lock the doors and leave. Stingley lived the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. Raiders coach John Madden was so disturbed by the hit that just 10 years into his coaching career and just 42 years of age, he walked away from coaching for good after the 1978 season.
2008 Tom Brady. The Patriots are coming off of the 18-1 season where the team set every offensive record in NFL history and everybody is ready to move on from Super Bowl 42. You had to strain your eyes to find a game on the 2008 Patriots schedule that you thought they could lose but that all changed when Bernard Pollard plowed into Brady’s knee, tearing his ACL and knocking TB12 out for the season. The Patriots did go 11-5 in his absence, but became the only 11-win team to miss the playoffs.
1967 Tony Conigliaro. Tony C was just 22-years old and had hit 104 home runs in his almost four complete big league seasons. Conigliaro was a matinee idol; a sort of pre-Benintendi. The Impossible Dream was coming true when on August 18th, a Jack Hamilton pitch got away from him and struck Conigliaro’s left cheek bone. Tony C would miss the next year and half, but come back to hit 20 home runs in 1969 and 36 more in 1970, but his vision betrayed him over the next five years and his career was over in 1975.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.