The Pitcher Fixer

February 26, 2014 – Last spring, I spent a day with Yankees pitching guru Billy Connors, at his home in Safety Harbor, Florida, for a feature story that was published in the Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Connors, who was a major league pitcher for two seasons in the ’60s and who has served as an executive in the Yankees’ baseball operations department since 1995, has played a unique and significant role in the team’s success over the last twenty years.

For nearly two decades, the Yankees sent pitchers, who came upon hard times on the mound, to work with Connors in Florida. In many cases, the pitching guru found ways to revive their careers.

Connors, who does much of his work during spring training these days, helped David Cone, Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens become major contributors after the trio struggled during the first half of the 2000 season.

More recently, Connors worked with relief pitcher Damaso Marte mid-way through the 2009 season. Marte was ineffective in the first part of 2009, and after several intense sessions, Marte was lights out, especially in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Over the years, Connors has also worked with several young pitchers and helped them to complete their repertoire of pitchers.

Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are two of those pitchers.

“When Andy was young, he had a tough time getting the ball inside to left-handers,” Connors said. “When I saw that, I told him that he needed a pitch that would get left-handers to pull the ball foul, and I taught him how to throw the cutter.”

Connors also worked with Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez during the first three months of the pitcher’s time with the Yankees. After defecting from Cuba and signing with the Yankees, Hernandez quickly put his trust in Connors.

“I knew he had great stuff,” Connors said. “But he needed to get a feel for how to pitch to live hitters again.”

The interview with Connors took place in his backyard. While we talked, a few of Connors’ favorite pets visited us frequently, including two donkeys (see photo below).

“Say hello to El Duque and Mariano,” Connors said to me. “I named them after two of my favorite people in the game.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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