Glancing Back, and Remembering Gene Conley
Gene Conley was the first athlete to play for World Champions in two different major sports: for the Milwaukee Braves as a pitcher in 1957, and as a member of the NBA’s Boston Celtics from 1959 to 1962.
A two-sport All-American at Washington State University, the six-foot-eight-inch Conley was signed by the Boston Braves in 1951. He was outstanding from the start of his professional baseball career, winning 20 games his first minor league season, and then going 11-4 for Milwaukee in the American Association before being called up to Boston at the end of the 1952 season … and promptly losing his first three major league starts. He spent the 1953 season in the minors, winning 23 games at the AAA level.
In 1954, he stepped right into the Braves’ starting rotation and was 14-9 in his rookie season, with a 2.96 ERA, fifth best in the National League. Conley was named to the All-Star team, and finished third in the voting for Rookie of the Year, won in 1954 by Wally Moon (Ernie Banks finished second … and Hank Aaron fourth).
Conley was 11-7 in 1955, and then didn’t win more than nine games in a season until 1959 when, as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, he went 12-7 with a 3.00 earned run average. He was 8-14 for the Phillies in 1960, and then was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Frank Sullivan. He was 11-14 for the Red Sox in 1961, finishing third on the team in victories behind Don Schwall and Bill Monbouquette. In 1962, his 15-14 record tied him with Monbouquette for the team lead in wins.
Conley appeared in nine games for Boston in 1963, going 3-4 with an ERA of 6.64. He was released by the Red Sox and signed the next day with the Cleveland Indians, but never pitched in an Indians’ uniform, retiring in June at age 32.
In 11 major league seasons, Conley posted a 91-96 record with a career ERA of 3.82. He struck out 888 batters and pitched 13 shutouts.