NEW YORK (AP) Billy Connors, a three-time New York Yankees pitching coach and confidant of late owner George Steinbrenner, has died. He was 76.
The Yankees said Wednesday that Connors died Saturday. The team held a moment of silence before their game Wednesday night against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium.
”A close and trusted friend of my family for many years,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. ”Billy contributed to the organization in countless ways over his long career as a pitching coach, executive and advisor.”
Connors coached the Yankees from 1989-90, 1994-95 and 2000, and was vice president of player personnel from 1996-2012. He was instrumental in the development of Yankees pitchers Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang and Mariano Rivera.
Steinbrenner and Connors would go over pitching plans not only at the team’s spring training complex in Tampa, Florida, but also while regularly watching Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games in the Boss’ suite.
A native of Schenectady, New York, Connors played baseball and basketball at Syracuse and was member of the Schenectady team that won the Little League World Series in 1954.
Connors spent three seasons in the major leagues, starting with the Cubs in 1966 and then with the New York Mets the following two years. He was 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA in one start and 25 relief appearances.
Connors became a Mets batting practice pitcher in 1971 and was a minor league pitching instructor for New York from 1972-76. He spent 17 years in the big leagues as a pitching coach, working for the Chicago Cubs from 1982-86, and also spent time with Kansas City and Seattle.
He was with the Cubs when they won the NL East championship in 1984, the teams’ first postseason trip since winning the 1945 NL pennant. Rick Sutcliffe, acquired in a mid-season trade from Cleveland, went 16-1 to capture the NL Cy Young Award.
Connors also helped the Royals win the 1980 AL pennant.
Former Yankees pitcher Jim Abbott shared a story about Connors’ on Twitter.
”Sadly, our family once lost a beloved dog in an accident,” Abbott wrote. ”I was with the Yankees and on the road in Anaheim when it happened. Our pitching coach, Billy Connors, told me I needed to be at the ballpark early the next day. I arrived to the Yankee clubhouse to find the cutest brown and white Springer Spaniel, ribbon around its neck, frolicking with the players. Billy with a smile on his face. He had driven around Southern CA all morning in search of this puppy. We lived with `Billy’ the Springer Spaniel for 12 years, never forgetting the smile on Billy’s face that day in Anaheim.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, at his induction ceremony, discussed the important role Connors played in his career. Atlanta scout Tom ”T-Bone” Giordano scouted Connors as a high school player and the pair became long-time friends.
”Lost a dear friend and a heck of guy,” the 92-year-old Giordano said. ”A great baseball man.”