Billy Connors has been around baseball for his entire life, and this year the 58th Little League Baseball World Series marks the 50th anniversary of him becoming a Little League World Series champion.
In recognition of his enduring commitment to Little League and his success as a pitching coach in the major leagues, Mr. Connors will be presented the 2004 William A. “Bill” Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award prior to the Little League Baseball World Series United States championship game on Saturday, Aug. 28.
“It’s a wonderful thing being honored by Little League,” said Mr. Connors. “Little League has been a big part of my life and it’s a great thrill receiving an award that honors Bill Shea because I played for New York Mets and I know how important Mr. Shea was to Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball.”
One year after suffering a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Southside Little League of Birmingham, Ala., in the final game of the 1953 Little League World Series, Connors and the younger members of his National Little League team from Schenectady, N.Y., returned to Williamsport for a second chance at Little League’s world championship.
This time around, National Little League with Connors and fellow future major leaguer Jim Barbieri, went on to defeat the Colton Lions of Colton, Calif., 7-5, to win the 1954 Little League World Series. Others who played in the ’54 Series and went on to careers in the major leagues include Ken Hubbs (Cubs 1961-63), 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).
“Jim Barbieri was the captain of our Little League team in Schenectady and I still talk to him all of the time,” said Mr. Connors. “Ken Hubbs played for Colton in 1954, and we became the best of friends. Those memories were everything to us and they are so vivid because Little League was our start. It gave me the fundamentals and that’s where we all learned how to win. For me, everything I know today I owe to that time in my life.”
“For 50 years, Billy Connors has made baseball his life, and although he’s lived a lifetime filled with fond memories, he still proudly remembers his years in Little League like they were yesterday,” said Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball and Softball. “As a Little Leaguer, and later a Major League player, and coach, Mr. Connors understands what it means to be a role model. It’s that balance that’s allowed him to be a positive influence in the lives of the young baseball players under his tutelage.”
Mr. Connors broke into the major leagues in 1966. He pitched for the Chicago Cubs in 1966 and the New York Mets in 1967-68. He pitched in only 26 games in his Major League career, but it was as a pitching coach and director of player personal that he has made his mark. Mr. Connors has been a pitching coach with the Mets organization and has been a major league pitching coach with the Kansas City Royals, Cubs, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees.
Currently, Mr. Connors is the vice president of player personnel for the Yankees. During his time with the Yankees organization he has played a part in four World Series championships.
The William A. “Bill” Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award was established in 1987 to serve purposes. First, and most importantly, the 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 that person’s status as a positive role model.
Secondly, the award was established in honor of the many contributions made to Little League Baseball by Bill Shea, a former president of the Little League Foundation. Bill Shea is credited with bringing National League baseball back to New York in the early 1960s, while also working diligently for the advancement of Little League Baseball.