Gene Conley

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Gene Conley
Pitcher
Born: (1930-11-10)November 10, 1930
Muskogee, Oklahoma
Died: July 4, 2017(2017-07-04) (aged 86)
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 17, 1952, for the Boston Braves
Last MLB appearance
September 21, 1963, for the Boston Red Sox
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 91–96
Earned run average 3.82
Strikeouts 888
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Donald Eugene "Gene" Conley (November 10, 1930 – July 4, 2017) was a Major League Baseball pitcher who played 11 seasons from 1952 to 1963 for four different teams. Conley also played forward in the 1952–53 season and from 1958 to 1964 for two teams in the National Basketball Association. He is best known for being one of only two people (the other being Otto Graham–1946 NBL and AAFC Championship, plus three more AAFC and three NFL championships) to win championships in two of the four major American sports, one with the Milwaukee Braves in the 1957 World Series and three Boston Celtics championships from 1959–61.

Early life[edit]

Conley was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. While still young, his family moved to Richland, Washington. He attended Richland High School, where he played multiple sports.[1] He reached the all-state team in baseball and basketball and was the state champion in the high jump.[2]

Conley attended Washington State University, where (as he told The Boston Globe in 2004) students "kidnapped" him during a recruiting visit in an effort to convince him to matriculate.[3] In 1950 he played on the Cougar team that reached the College World Series.[2][4] In basketball, Conley was twice selected honorable mention to the All-America team, leading the team in scoring with 20 points per game.[2] He was a first-team All-PCC selection in 1950.

During the summer, Conley pitched semiprofessional baseball in Walla Walla, Washington, in which scouts from almost every Major League Baseball team came to recruit him.[2] He also was getting contract offers to play professional basketball from the Minneapolis Lakers and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. At first he declined the offers, saying that his family didn't want him to sign any professional contracts until he finished school.[5] But the offers were getting bigger, and in August 1950 he signed a professional contract with the Boston Braves for a $3,000 bonus.[2]

Minor league career[edit]

Conley attended spring training in 1951 and was assigned to Hartford of the Eastern League by the request of former Braves star Tommy Holmes, who was managing the club.[6] After a month, Conley had a record of five wins and only one loss and was praised by observers in the league, saying that he had the best fastball since former pitcher Van Lingle Mungo played in the league in 1933.[7] On June 10, he threw a one-hitter against Schenectady Blue Jays, giving up the lone hit in the seventh inning.[8] Holmes was promoted to manager of the Braves on June 25, and was replaced by future Baseball Hall of Famer Travis Jackson.[9]

By August 1, Conley had a record of 16 wins with only three losses, leading the league.[10] He was unanimously selected to the Eastern League All-Star team on August 29.[11] He received the Eastern League MVP award that season after he became the first player in Hartford history to win twenty games in a single season.[12]

In the beginning of the 1952 season, Conley, along with fellow rookies George Crowe and Eddie Mathews, was invited to spring training with a chance of making the roster.[13] Around that time, the United States Army was drafting for the Korean War. Many major and minor league players were selected to fight in the war, depleting team rosters. Conley was deferred because of his height (6'8'), which was above the Army maximum height for a soldier.[14]

Major league career[edit]

Conley's debut with the Boston Braves was April 17, 1952 versus the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Braves' third game of the regular season. Conley started and faced a lineup that included four future members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snyder. In four innings, Conley gave up four runs on 11 hits and two walks, taking the loss as the Dodgers prevailed 8-2.[15] Conley lost his next three starts through early May, ending the season with an 0-4 record and a 7.82 ERA.[16]

Conley would return to the majors in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, going 14-9 in 28 games with a 2.82 ERA, making the National League All-Star team and finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting[16] behind Wally Moon and Ernie Banks, with Conley's Braves teammate Hank Aaron finishing fourth.[17]

The following season in 1955, Conley would be named to the All-Star game again, completing the season with an 11-7 record with a 4.16 ERA. Conley would pitch for the Braves through 1959, compiling a record of 42-43 including an 0-6 record in his final season in Milwaukee.[16]

In his lone postseason appearance in the 1957 World Series on Oct. 5 against the New York Yankees, Conley pitched an inning and two-thirds in relief of starter Bob Buhl, surrendering a two-run home run to Mickey Mantle as the Yankees went on to win the game 12-3; but with the Braves winning the series in seven games.[18]

In the spring of 1959 with the Celtics in a playoff push, Conley delayed reporting to spring training with the Milwaukee Braves, prompting the team to trade Conley on March 31 to the Phillies.[1] Conley would make his third and final All-Star game with the Phillies, going 12-7 with a 3.00 ERA,[16] with his season ending on August 19 after he was hit by a pitch while batting, breaking his hand.[1]

After new contract talks bogged down, on Dec. 15, 1960 the Phillies traded Conley to the Red Sox; when he debuted with the Red Sox on April 28 against the Washington Senators, Conley became the first athlete to play for three professional teams in the same city along with the Celtics and his short stint with the Boston Braves in 1952.[1] In three seasons with the Red Sox through 1963, Conley had a 29-32 record,[16] with the win total including the final start of his major league career on Sept. 21, 1963, going six innings against the Minnesota Twins in an 11-2 victory.[19]

In 11 seasons pitching for the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox, Conley posted a 91–96 record with 888 strikeouts and a 3.82 ERA in 1588.2 innings.

Conley was the winning pitcher in the 1955 All-Star Game and was selected for the 1954 and 1959 games.

Conley was the last living player to have played for both the Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves.

Professional basketball career[edit]

Gene Conley
Gene Conley 1960 (cropped).JPG
Gene Conley with the 1960 Boston Celtics
Personal information
Born (1930-11-10)November 10, 1930
Muskogee, Oklahoma
Died July 4, 2017(2017-07-04) (aged 86)
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)
Listed weight 225 lb (102 kg)
Career information
High school Richland (Richland, Washington)
College Washington State (1949–1950)
NBA draft 1952 / Round: 10 / Pick: 90th overall
Selected by the Boston Celtics
Playing career 1952–1969
Position Center / Forward
Number 17, 5
Career history
1952–1953,
19581961
Boston Celtics
1961–1962 Washington Tapers
19621964 New York Knicks
1966–1968 Hartford Capitols
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points 2,069
Rebounds 2,212
Assists 201
Stats at Basketball-Reference.com

In the middle of his first season of professional baseball, Conley agreed to sign with the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the struggling American Basketball League.[20]

On April 26, 1952, the Boston Celtics selected Conley with the 90th pick of the NBA draft.[21] Playing 39 games as a rookie in the 1952-53 NBA season, Conley averaged about 12 minutes a game for a Celtics team that went 45-26 in the regular season under Red Auerbach.[22] Conley did not play in the Celtics' two playoff series that season, with the team losing 3-1 in the Eastern Division finals to the New York Knicks.[23]

After a five-year hiatus to focus on baseball with the Milwaukee Braves, Conley returned to the Celtics for the 1958-59 season, again seeing limited usage at about 13 minutes a game for a team that swept the Minneapolis Lakers 4-0 in the NBA finals. Conley averaged 4.2 points and 5.4 rebounds during the regular season and 4.9 points and 6.8 boards in the playoffs. Conley would have his best year as a Celtic the following season, averaging nearly 19 minutes a game during the regular season to score 6.7 points while hauling in 8.3 rebounds on average over 71 games in the regular season. The Celtics repeated as NBA champions with a 4-3 finals win over the St. Louis Hawks, with Conley roughly duplicating his regular season averages during the playoffs.[22]

Conley would play on one more championship Celtics team during the 1960-61 season, culminating in a 4-1 defeat of the Hawks. Conley skipped the following NBA season while pitching for the Red Sox, then joined the New York Knicks where he averaged 9.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in 70 games during the 1962-63 season, before his minutes dropped precipitously the following year which was his last in the NBA.[22]

In six seasons in the NBA, Conley averaged 5.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 16.5 minutes of playing time. Conley's No. 17 would subsequently be assigned to John Havlicek and then retired by the Celtics in recognition of Havlicek's career.[3]

"When I look back, I don't know how I did it, I really don't", Conley was quoted saying in 2008 by the Los Angeles Times, on playing two professional sports in tandem. "I think I was having so much fun that it kept me going. I can't remember a teammate I didn't enjoy."[24]

When Abe Saperstein's American Basketball League was born in 1961, Tuck Tape Company owner Paul Cohen purchased a franchise, gave it the Tapers name, and placed it in Washington. Conley signed with the team. With the Tapers, Conley often accompanied Cohen on sales calls for his company and gained industry experience.[25]

Retirement[edit]

After his retirement from professional sports, Conley started working for a duct tape company in Boston, Massachusetts.[26] After a year working there, the owner of the duct tape company died. Conley later founded his own paper company, Foxboro Paper Company, which he owned for 36 years until he retired from the business.

The Washington Sports Hall of Fame included Conley in its 1979 class of inductees.[27]

Until December 2009, Conley lived in Clermont, Florida, where he played golf and watched the Orlando Magic play in his free time. He moved to his vacation home in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, in 2010.[26]

Personal life[edit]

Conley's mother was of Cherokee heritage and stood 6 ft (1.83 m) tall.[3]

In the spring of 1951, Conley married Kathryn Dizney whom he met the previous fall.[28] They had three children and seven grandchildren.[29] In 2004, his wife released a biography of Conley called One of a Kind that chronicled his life in both baseball and basketball and related how his family dealt with his being gone for most of the year.[30]

In the days following July 27, 1962, Conley made headlines after exiting a Red Sox team bus that was stuck in New York City traffic with teammate Pumpsie Green to find a restroom, with the bus driver subsequently driving away without the players on board. As Conley recollected the episode in a 2004 interview with the Boston Globe: "So we got off and went in this bar, and when we came back out, Pumpsie said, 'Hey, that bus is gone,' and I said, 'We are, too!'"[3] Conley and Green checked into a hotel, with Green rejoining the team the next day in Washington, D.C., but Conley taking a hiatus during which he attracted media attention in attempting to fly to Jerusalem. As told by Conley, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey fined him $1,500 with the promise he would refund the money at the end of the season if Conley rededicated himself to the team, with Yawkey fulfilling the promise in September.[31]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Husman, John M. "SABR Baseball Biography Project: Gene Conley". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved January 12, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Roger Dove (January 2, 1952). "Conley Tabbed a Major Sure-Shot". The Sporting News. p. 2. 
  3. ^ a b c d Dan Shaughnessy (December 15, 2004). "Conley's stories fit to print". The Boston Globe. 
  4. ^ "Washington State University Baseball Players Who Made It to the Major Leagues". Baseball-Almanac.com. Archived from the original on December 16, 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2012. 
  5. ^ Donald Honig. Baseball between the Lines: Baseball in the Forties and Fifties as Told by the Men Who Played It. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 193–205. ISBN 0-8032-7268-5. 
  6. ^ Bob Ajemian (April 18, 1951). "New Tempest Brews in Boston". The Sporting News. p. 14. 
  7. ^ "Eastern League". The Sporting News. May 30, 1951. p. 30. 
  8. ^ "Eastern League". The Sporting News. June 20, 1951. p. 34. 
  9. ^ "Travis Jackson Replaced Holmes in Harford helm". The Sporting News. July 4, 1951. p. 33. 
  10. ^ "Conley, 20, Tops E.L as Hill Winner". The Sporting News. July 4, 1951. p. 33. 
  11. ^ "Scranton Places 4 Players on Eastern League All-Star Team". The Sporting News. August 29, 1951. p. 33. 
  12. ^ "Conley gets MVP award". The Sporting News. September 26, 1951. p. 31. 
  13. ^ Al Hirshberg (December 12, 1951). "Ailing Braves to Try Old Fashioned Cure, More Daylightball". The Sporting News. p. 20. 
  14. ^ Steve O'Leary (November 21, 1951). "Braves Official High on Six-Eight Rookie". The Sporting News. p. 11. 
  15. ^ "Apr 17, 1952, Dodgers at Braves Box Score and Play by Play". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved January 12, 2017. 
  16. ^ a b c d e "Gene Conley". Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved January 12, 2017. 
  17. ^ "1954 Awards Voting". Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved January 12, 2017. 
  18. ^ "Oct 5, 1957, Yankees at Braves Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved January 12, 2017. 
  19. ^ "Sep 21, 1963, Twins at Red Sox Play by Play and Box Score". Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved January 13, 2017. 
  20. ^ "Eastern League". The Sporting News. August 29, 1951. p. 33. 
  21. ^ Husman, John M. "SABR Baseball Biography Project: Gene Conley". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved January 12, 2017. 
  22. ^ a b c "Gene Conley". Basketball-Reference.com. Retrieved January 13, 2017. 
  23. ^ "1952-53 Boston Celtics Roster and Stats". Basketball-Reference.com. Retrieved January 13, 2017. 
  24. ^ He put in some double time in the big leagues
  25. ^ Husman, John M. "SABR Baseball Biography Project: Gene Conley". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  26. ^ a b Jeff Twiss. "Timeout with Gene Conley". NBA.com. Retrieved January 5, 2008. 
  27. ^ ""1979 Inductees". Washington State Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 13, 2017. 
  28. ^ http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/b5fecb6f "Gene Conley." Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved January 12, 2017
  29. ^ Jon Goode (March 2, 2005). "Double play Catching up with Gene Conley". Boston.com. Retrieved January 5, 2008. 
  30. ^ Melanie Curtsinger. "Gene Conley: One of a Kind". Orlando Magic. Retrieved January 5, 2008. 
  31. ^ Golenbock, Peter (2015). Red Sox Nation: The Rich and Colorful History of the Boston Red Sox. Chicago, Ill.: Triumph Books LLC. pp. 255–262. ISBN 978-1-62937-050-7. 

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