Tuesday, February 2, 2016

#17 Gene Conley - Milwaukee Braves

Donald Eugene Conley
Milwaukee Braves

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'8"  Weight:  225
Born:  November 10, 1930, Muskogee, OK
Signed:  Signed by the Boston Braves as an amateur free agent in 1950
Major League Teams:  Boston Braves 1952; Milwaukee Braves 1954-1958; Philadelphia Phillies 1959-1960; Boston Red Sox 1961-1963

Gene Conley, all 6 feet and 8 inches of him, won a World Series ring with the Braves in 1957 and helped the Boston Celtics win three NBA titles in 1959, 1960 and 1961.  His SABR biography notes that he played 12 seasons in the NBA and MLB over six years without a day off in between seasons. A two time Minor League Player of the Year (in 1951 and 1953), Conley was also named to three All-Star teams.

In 11 seasons with the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox, Conley went 91-96 with a 3.82 ERA.  He also played six seasons in the NBA with the Celtics and New York Knicks.

Building the Set
June 20, 1992 in Ocean City, NJ - Card #101
This is one of 11 cards my Dad I bought in June 1992 at the Ocean City baseball card show held on the boardwalk at the Music Pier.  We paid $60 for the lot of 11 cards, which at the time was most likely a steal.  Chronologically, I have this listed as the 101st card we added to the set.

I would have just graduated high school when we attended this show, and I'd be heading off to college in the fall.  If I had to guess, I'd say we purchased this lot of 11 cards from a baseball card dealer who had a store called Diamond Dust.  His cards were always nicely displayed in binders and I remember his table would be positioned in the back right of the lower level of the Music Pier.

After purchasing these cards, Dad and I undoubtedly sat at the counter of Mack & Manco's, enjoying a few slices with birch beer.

The Card
As is the case with most of these first series cards, this is the third time collectors would have seen Conley's head shot photo.  The same photo is used on his 1954 and 1955 Topps cards. All three panels on the back of Conley's card paint him as a larger than life athlete.

1956 Season
Shoulder problems hampered Conley throughout the 1956 season, although he still appeared in 31 games with the Braves.  Appearing primarily as a relief pitcher as the season wore on, Conley went 8-9 with a 3.13 ERA for the second place Braves.

Phillies Career
Right before the start of the 1959 season, on March 31st, the Phillies traded Ted Kazanski, Stan Lopata (#183) and Johnny O'Brien (#65) to the Braves for Conley, Harry Hanebrink and Joe Koppe. The new Phillies general manager was John Quinn.  Quinn had spent the previous 13 years as GM for the Braves so he was familiar with the players he was acquiring.  Conley reported late to spring training following the trade as his Celtics were busy wrapping up their second NBA title.

Conley enjoyed one of his finest baseball seasons in 1959, making the N.L. All-Star team and finishing the season with a 12-7 record and a 3.00 ERA.  He pitched two perfect innings in the All-Star Game, striking out both Ted Williams (#5) and Yogi Berra (#110).  At the end of the season, he was named the N.L. Comeback Player of the Year.

Conley's second and final season with the Phillies saw him post a record of 8-14.  When he refused to end his basketball career to focus solely on baseball, the Phillies sent Conley to the Red Sox on December 15, 1960 for Frank Sullivan (#71).  Conley appeared on two Topps cards and within three oddball issues to mark his time in Philadelphia.  He's in the 1959 and 1960 Topps sets, as well as the 1960 Armour Coins and 1961 Post sets as a member of the Phillies.  He also has a postcard within the multi-year set released by the club throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

1953 Topps #215
1959 Topps #492
1964 Topps #571
2013 Topps Heritage Real
One Autographs #ROA-GC
Other Notable Baseball Cards
First Mainstream Card:  1953 Topps #215
First Topps Card:  1953 Topps #215
Representative Phillies Card:  1959 Topps #492
Last Topps Card:  1964 Topps #571
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2013 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #ROA-GC

50 - Conley non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 2/1/16

Conley's final Topps card features him as a member of the Cleveland Indians.  He had signed with the Indians on April 22, 1964, following his release by the Red Sox.  He pitched two minor league games with the Indians before deciding his long lingering shoulder injury couldn't take any more strain.  He retired from baseball at the age of 33.

Granted, I know absolutely nothing about basketball cards, but I find it strange that Conley didn't appear on any basketball cards during his six-year NBA career.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Phillies Room
The Trading Card Database

In some cases, the first and last cards listed above are subjective and chosen by me if multiple cards were released within the same year.  Most recent mainstream card may also be subjective and does not include extremely low serial numbered cards, buybacks or cut autograph cards.

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