Legal Timeout with Gene Conley
Timeout with Gene Conley
By Jeff Twiss
He was a three-letter athlete in baseball, basketball and track in Richland, Washington growing up. He is was an All-American at Washington State in 1952 and is enshrined in the Washington State and the State of Washington Hall of Fame. And, that's before his remarkable professional career flourished!
It's apparent that Donald Eugene 'Gene' Conley loved sports at an early age, became comfortable and successful as an athlete, carried it with him through in his young adult years and still today is in tremendous shape. It may be safe to say that Gene could still throw a mean fastball, swish a 15' set shot or land an elbow underneath the basket with the best of them.
And about that professional career, Gene simply helped lead the Celtics to three consecutive NBA World Championships (1959-61); was the winning pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves in the 1957 World Series; was the victorious pitcher in the 1955 Major League Baseball All-Star game and, just for kicks, he once pitched the Red Sox to a victory just nine days after helping the Celtics capture their NBA title in 1961. Between two sports, baseball and basketball, Gene played 22 years of professional sports. And, he can claim to be the only professional athlete to play for three major league teams in one city (Boston Red Sox, Braves and Celtics).
Celtics.com's Jeff Twiss recently sat down with the brilliant two-sport star to see what he has been doing and what his future plans may be.
Where has Gene Conley been over the last few years?
Conley:"Actually, I live in Clermont, Florida, and now I'm here for about three months. My daughter and her husband have a condo up in Waterville Valley (New Hampshire) and my wife, Katie, and I come up and get out of the humidity and the warm weather in Florida, and I get a chance to see my daughters and my grandkids. And, every so often, I get the chance to play some golf."
For many years you played two sports. How active are you now?
"Well, I've been down in Florida now for several years and almost 74 years old now. And, people say, "What do you do now that you're not doing anything and you're retired? I say, by the time I get up, by the time I clean up, get dressed, go to my doctor or dentist's appointments, go to the drug stores and get all my prescriptions and everything... I say, honey, it's 4:00 - the day is gone! It's funny because people say you must have a lot of time on your hands... I don't have any time; I'm too darn busy!
Was it difficult to walk away from professional sports, in your case two sports, and move on with your life when it came time to hang up the sneakers (and cleats)?
Conley: "It was a shock! Yes, it was a shock, it really was. But, fortunately, in my last ball game that I played in I called a fellow named Paul Cohen who owned a company called Technical Tape Corporation (manufacturer's of duct tape). I had played basketball for him in an industrial league a few years back and he said, 'Gene, I have been following you and I was wondering when you were going to get it out of your system, now I want you to go and work for my company selling tape in the Boston and Providence (Rhode Island) area. So, it was just a miracle - just a phone and the day after...I got this job. I worked for him for about a year or so and then he passed away. Then I went into my own business (Foxboro Paper Company) and I ran that for 36 years."
Do you have any fond or extra-special memories from your Celtics playing days?
"Oh, I don't know...I was always a role player for the Celtics because, going back and what a privilege it was, I played with and was on a team that had seven guys, who are now, in the Hall of Fame. I always tell them, when I see them, that it was me that caused them to get there because they were fighting for a job and I was ready to go in there and get their job. So, talk about a privilege to play with seven guys in the Hall of Fame - that was really fun. And, of course, with Red being the coach he was like a father to all of us. He was a motivator and it was just a wonderful few years I had with him (four years all together). It was just exciting and I still walk around with Celtics on my shirt (Gene was proudly wearing a "Red Auerbach - 50 Years" fleece warm-up)."
Do you follow the NBA today?
"Yes, I follow it. I watch games down in Orlando. I watch the Magic games; they weren't too good last year. I see the guys moving just as fast but I don't see the man-on-man, one-on-one defense like they used to have. I see a lot of guys passing around the old triangle thing and then when 22 seconds is up, they throw it outside and someone takes a shot...and that kind of bothers me a little bit. I always thought the ball should go into the post, first thing, and then work from there. But, it doesn't always happen that way. But the game is great and I still enjoy it."
Is there anything that you learned by being a Celtic?
"I've learned that I have a lot of friends by being a Celtic. At my age, they all remember back in the '50's, in the hey-days, the '60's and all the championship years and they say, 'you were a Celtic?' In other words, I didn't say I was a Knick or a baseball player, but when you say 'you were a Boston Celtic', whether you are in the South, the East or West, people say, 'wow, isn't that amazing - you played with the famous Celtics!'"
Sports in still in your blood, as evident by your solid golf game, do you have any other hobbies or interests?
"Yes, I do play in some charity golf tournaments in Florida. There are a lot of retirees down there, mostly baseball players who played back in the '40's, '50's and '60's. In the old days, when the money wasn't quite there, that's where most of the ball players settled (in Florida) because it was a cheaper way of living. Today, some very big-name ball players have charity games and I enjoy going down and seeing a lot of the players."