Donald Eugene „Gene“ Conley (born November 10, 1930) is a former Major League Baseball pitcher who played eleven 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 3 more AAFC and 3 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.
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. He reached the all-state team in baseball and basketball and was the state champion in the high jump. Conley attended Washington State University, where in 1950 he played on the Cougar team that reached the College World Series. In basketball, Conley was twice selected honorable mention to the All-America team, leading the team in scoring with 20 points per game. 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. 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. But the offers were getting bigger, and in August of 1950 he signed a professional contract with the Boston Braves for a $3,000 bonus.
In 1949, he and his wife married. They are still married and have three children and seven grandchildren.
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. 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. On June 10, he threw a one-hitter against Schenectady Blue Jays, giving up the lone hit in the seventh inning. Holmes was promoted to manager of the Braves on June 25, and was replaced by future Baseball Hall of Famer Travis Jackson.
By August 1, Conley had a record of 16 wins with only three losses, leading the league. He was unanimously selected to the Eastern League All-Star team on August 29. 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.
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. 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.
In 11 seasons pitching for the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox, Conley posted a 91–96 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.
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.
Conley played in the National Basketball Association for six seasons—four seasons for the Boston Celtics and two for the New York Knicks. Conley helped more in a backup role as a strong rebounder averaging 6.3 rebounds per game in only 16.5 minutes of playing time. „When I look back, I don’t know how I did it, I really don’t“, Conley said. „I think I was having so much fun that it kept me going. I can’t remember a teammate I didn’t enjoy.“
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.
After his retirement from professional sports, Conley started working for a duct tape company in Boston, Massachusetts. 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.
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. In 2004, his wife released a biography of him 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.
Conley is the last living player to have played for both the Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves. As of June 2016, Conley is also one of just eleven living former Boston Braves, and the youngest of the group.