In which I tell you stories of baseball times gone by…
I know what the title sounds like, but this is not a Nancy Drew novel. It is, however, one of the weirdest baseball stories I’ve ever heard. And coming from a member of Red Sox Nation, that’s really saying something.
On this day, July 26, in 1962, Red Sox players Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green disappeared. That’s right. After a 13-3 loss to the Yankees, Conley and Green left the team bus and disappeared.
Pumpsie Green was the first black player on the Red Sox. He was often used as a pinch-runner or substitute infielder, and only would play in 56 games that season.
Gene Conley was a completely different animal. Standing at an almost Aaron Judge-esque height of 6″8, Conley actually played in both the NBA and MLB somewhat simultaneously. He was a 4-time MLB All-star (striking out the likes of Ted Williams and Al Kaline), member of the 1957 World Series champion Milwaukee Braves, and a 3-time NBA champion with Bill Russell and the Celtics! Over his two careers, he played for the Boston Celtics, Boston Braves, Milwaukee Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, and New York Knicks. During his career, coach Red Auerbach once called him “the most incredible athlete in the country… the only one who spends the entire year competing under the heaviest of pressure in two major sports. The average athlete would crack under that strain in a hurry. He thrives on it.” Conley remains the only athlete to ever win both NBA and MLB championships, and he probably always will be.
Conley had started against the Yankees in the loss that day but only lasted 2.2 innings, in which he walked four and allowed 8 runs on 5 hits. The lovable losing team was leaving the Bronx in shame when they got stuck in classic New York traffic. Green and Conley decided that they had to use the bathroom, and left the bus.
The way Conley told it, he and Green got permission from manager Mike Higgins to go into a bar to use the bathroom while their bus was sitting in standstill traffic. When they emerged, Pumpsie said, “Hey, that bus is gone,” and Conley said, “We are, too!”
They either returned to find that the bus had left without them, or, and this is more probable, they simply decided to go on a walkabout/adventure/bender.
After two days of taking a big bite of the Big Apple, Pumpsie reappeared to the team on July 28, but Conley was a whole other story. He got a room at the Waldorf, where he saw on the news that people were looking for him. Conley thought the whole situation was very funny, and continued his vacation, drinking at Manhattan bar Toots Shor’s, a spot favored by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio. At some point during his 68 hours of playing hookey, Conley decided that he wanted to go to Israel, so he bought a ticket, but wasn’t able to board the flight without his passport. He finally returned to the team on July 30, where he was greeted by Tom Yawkey, a fine for going AWOL, and an offer for a stiff drink, which he turned down.
I don’t know how this hasn’t been made into a movie yet. It has all the fun of Ferris Bueller, Home Alone 2, and Harold and Kumar rolled into one story. Red Sox history has all the best stories.