In this April 23, 2003, file photo, New York Yankees pitching development coach Billy Connors, right, talks to pitcher Jose Contreras, left, through interpreter Lou Astacio, center, at the Yankees' minor league facility in Tampa, Fla. Contreras pitched part of a simulated game. Photo courtesy of WTOP.com (AP Photo/Scott Martin, File)
During the heart of the George Steinbrenner era, the Yankees went through pitching coaches like you or I might go through napkins. One of the coaches hired multiple times was Billy Connors, who served as the Yankees’ pitching coach under Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, Stump Merrill (1989-1990), and Buck Showalter (1994-1995). He also had a brief stint with Joe Torre in 2000 when Mel Stottlemyre was on a medical leave of absence. Sadly, Connors passed away Monday at age 76.
Hal Steinbrenner released the following statement:
“The Yankees organization mourns the passing of Billy Connors, who was a close and trusted friend of my family for many years.
“Since joining the Yankees at the conclusion of the 1988 season, Billy contributed to the organization in countless ways over his long career as a pitching coach, executive, and advisor. On behalf of the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family, I extend our deepest condolences to Billy’s family, friends, and loved ones.”
Connors was a trusted employee of Steinbrenner in a number of different capacities. Once Stottlemyre became the full-time pitching coach in 1997, Connors served as Vice President of Player Personnel and was one of the top influencers in the organization. He worked closely with the Tampa contingent of the front office until he was let go in September of 2012.
Connors was referred to by many, including Steinbrenner, as a “pitching guru”. When a Yankee hurler, such as Jose Contreras, was struggling at the Big League level, he could find himself in Tampa for some one-on-one sessions with Connors.
A product of Syracuse University, Connors had a brief Major League career with the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets (1966-1968) before turning to coaching. He started as a Minor League instructor with the Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. In addition to his time with the Yankees, Connors worked at the Major League level with the KC Royals, the Cubs (two stints), and the Seattle Mariners.
Little known fact: Connors was a member of the 1954 Little League World Championship team from Schenectady, NY.
Among the players who credited Connors for helping them to succeed were: Andy Pettitte, Dwight Gooden, Mariano Rivera, and Orlando Hernandez. Baseball Hall of Fame member Greg Maddux mentioned Connors several times in his induction speech and thanked him for teaching him how to throw a cutter, which became a devastating weapon in his pitching arsenal.
The Bronx Pinstripes family would like to express our condolences to Mr. Connors’ family and friends.