Little League® International mourns the passing of Billy Connors, a player on the 1954 Little League World Series Championship team from Schenectady, N.Y., former Major League Baseball (MLB) player, coach and front office official; and was honored as the recipient of the Little League International William A. “Bill” Shea Little League Graduate Award in 2004. He was 76.
Born and raised in Schenectady, Mr. Connors’ National Little League team reached the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in 1953, suffering a 1-0 loss to Southside Little League of Birmingham, Ala., in the championship game. One year later, Mr. Connors, and the members of National Little League returned to Williamsport for a second chance at Little League’s world title. This time around, National Little League with Mr. Connors and fellow future Major Leaguer Jim Barbieri, went on to defeat the Colton Lions of Colton, Calif., 7-5, featuring future N.L. Rookie of the Year, Ken Hubbs, to win the 1954 Little League World Series.
After graduating from Linton High School in 1959, Mr. Connors attended Syracuse (N.Y.) University (SU), and played basketball and baseball. He joined the SU varsity basketball team as a sophomore in the 1960-61 season, appearing in 23 games and started 17. On the baseball field, Syracuse reached the 1961 College World Series, with Mr. Connors contributing to the team’s 16-3 regular season. Following that season, he signed with the Chicago Cubs.
Mr. Connors spent nearly 30 years in Major League Baseball, breaking into the Majors as a player in 1966. He pitched for the Cubs in 1966 and the New York Mets in 1967 and 1968. His big league pitching career encompassed only 26 games, but it was as a pitching coach and director of player personnel that he made his mark. Mr. Connors served as pitching coach with the Mets organization and was a major league pitching coach with the Kansas City Royals, Cubs, Seattle Mariners, and New York Yankees. He retired from baseball in 1995, as the vice president of player personnel for the Yankees. During his time with the Yankees organization he played a part in four World Series championships.
During the 2004 Little League Baseball World Series, Mr. Connors’ enduring commitment to Little League and his success in Major League Baseball, was honored by Little League International as the recipient of the William A. “Bill” Shea Little League Graduate Award. Mr. Connors’ visit to Williamsport marked the 50th anniversary of him becoming a Little League World Series champion. The Bill Shea award is presented to a former Little Leaguer in Major League Baseball who best exemplifies the spirit of Little League Baseball. Consideration for selection includes both the individual’s ability and accomplishments and a person’s status as a positive role model.
Others who played with Mr. Connors in the ’54 Series and went on to careers in the major leagues include John ‘Boog’ Powell (Orioles 1961-74, Indians ’75-76, Dodgers ‘77) and Carl Taylor (Pirates 1968-69, Cardinals ’70, Royals/Pirates ’71, Royals ’72-73).