Connie Ryan, a scrappy major-league infielder for a dozen years, had stints with the Braves as a player, coach, and manager in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, and was Milwaukee’s third-base coach in the triumphant 1957 season after managing in the Braves’ farm system for the previous two years. He managed the club for five days in June when skipper Fred Haney was ill. In a move that was not unexpected, Ryan and two other coaches, Johnny Riddle and Charlie Root, were fired after the season. (Only coach Bob Keely escaped the noose.) Haney had inherited the coaches when he was hired as the Braves’ manager in 1956. During the 1957 season, Ryan and Haney had a relationship that was testy as best, and Ryan occasionally expressed criticisms where they could be heard and relayed back to Haney.1 According to The Sporting News, the two were “scarcely on speaking terms when the campaign ended.”2
Ryan’s seven seasons with the Boston Braves included the pennant-winning year of 1948. That was far from the best season of his career (51 games, .213 batting average), but Ryan was a valuable utility infielder, primarily backing up incumbent Eddie Stanky (and later Stanky’s replacement, Sibby Sisti) at second base. Ryan was an intense competitor as well as an occasional sparkplug for the National League pennant-winners, and he could be counted on to play solid defense. Ryan also was not averse to a scuffle now and then.
These qualities stood out to former New York Giants manager Mel Ott, who had scouted Ryan before bringing the young infielder to the major leagues in 1942. “From all the tales that have come on here before Ryan he is a competent and aggressive agent,” read one 1942 newspaper account found in his Hall of Fame file. “Ott saw [Ryan] in New Orleans … and admired his fighting spirit as well as his ability. He is a peppery, chip-on-shoulder player like [Dick] Bartell or John McGraw.”3
Ryan’s teammates typically viewed him as pleasant and gentlemanly. Another 1942 account claimed that Connie was “much more articulate than the average rookie getting his first major league chance, and so humble that he ministers to everybody from the bellhops to the bat-boy.”4 Yet Ryan’s competitiveness occasionally boiled over. In 1940, while playing second base in the minor leagues for Savannah, he had a scuffle with future teammate Stanky, who was then the second baseman for the opposing Macon team. As Ryan recounted years later, “Every time that I went out to my position, I noticed that my glove was in right field instead of near second base [fielders routinely left their gloves on the field between innings in those days]. I figured somebody was kicking it out there, so I watched – and it turned out to be Stanky kicking it.
“I ran over and took a swing at him, and we got into a little scrape before other players tore us apart. The next thing we knew, we were on the way to the Savannah jail. He was fined $100 and I got off for nothing, for some reason. We got back to the park about a half-hour later and finished the game.”5
Occasional bellicosity notwithstanding, Ryan was remembered as “a good team player” and as “an excellent baseball man.”6 Such compliments were traceable to his rookie season of 1942, when an article commented on how Ryan was “an eager and enthusiastic youngster, though a pleasantly restrained and polite one, looking much like [boxing great] Billy Conn and exuding Conn’s engaging sureness in himself.”7
In fact, when he first came to the major leagues that spring with the New York Giants, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Ryan was reportedly so deferential that he referred to teammates, including Carl Hubbell, as “Mister.”8 At one point, manager Ott took Ryan aside and told him that everyone with the team would prefer that Connie use their respective first names. With that, one newspaper reporter remarked: “Suddenly you remembered who Connie Ryan reminded you of. Another quiet, courteous gentleman from New Orleans, named Mel Ott.”9
Cornelius Joseph Ryan was born on February 27, 1920, in New Orleans. He was of Irish heritage and had two younger brothers. His father did administrative work for a New Orleans barge line.
Connie’s interest in sports was evident from an early age, and the young man played for local American Legion teams in 1935 and 1936. He also saw action on the baseball, football, basketball, and track teams at Jesuit High School in New Orleans. In addition to becoming the first person ever to receive a full baseball scholarship to Louisiana State University, Ryan also played semipro ball in 1938 for Angier, North Carolina, and the next year he was with a developmental team in Colonial Heights, Virginia.
Ryan’s love of the game led him to leave LSU over the Christmas break of his sophomore year to play for the Atlanta Crackers in the Class A-1 Southern Association. Ryan reportedly was conflicted between a career in baseball or in the legal profession, but he elected to choose the former. While he was optioned to Savannah of the Class B Sally League during that first season, Ryan was sent back to Atlanta in 1941 after batting .316 in 113 games for Savannah. During the 1941 season with the Crackers, Ryan batted .300 in 151 games with 83 runs batted in and was chosen as Atlanta’s Most Valuable Player.
The Giants purchased Ryan’s contract from Atlanta on August 7, 1941, and soon began preparing him to be the team’s second baseman in place of Burgess Whitehead, who left the team after a subpar 1941 season. According to one 1942 article: “The kid from Atlanta reminds some of Billy Conn, others of Larry Doyle, but despite the ballyhoo, he has managed to remain Cornelius Ryan, Jr., with a great deal of dignity for a 21-year-old. The boy moved stylishly at second base yesterday, but it’s no time to put the plug in for him. If he’s overly praised now, it might have to be said next week that Ryan doesn’t look like Ryan did last week. In brief, he’s just a rookie.”10
In spite of these high expectations, Ryan played in only 11 games in 1942, batting .185 with two RBIs. He also committed an alarming four errors. “The boy is very nervous, all tightened up,” said a newspaper account of May 20, 1942. “That is plain, and there is no need to go beyond that into the play by play of the rookie’s misadventures. Summing up, Ryan has not hit, has not come through on double plays and has not fielded with assurance.”11
While noting that Ryan had performed all of these tasks well in the minor leagues, sportswriter Joe King went on to say: “There’s a lot of ball-player in him – it will come out again in awhile, but the Giants need it now.” The popular perception was that Ryan suffered a nervous breakdown, similar to what Mickey Witek had endured two years prior.12
One bright spot in Ryan’s abbreviated rookie season was the time he almost turned an unassisted triple play against Pittsburgh. On May 12 at the Polo Grounds, the Pirates’ Frank Gustine hit a line drive to Connie in the seventh inning. Rather than touching second base to force Johnny Lanning and then tagging out Pete Coscarart, who were both running on a 3-and-2 pitch, Ryan instead threw to shortstop Billy Jurges, who forced Lanning and tagged Coscarart for the triple play. “Just a few steps,” said one report, “and Ryan could have retired the side [himself].”13
His part in one of baseball’s rarest feats notwithstanding, New York soon optioned Ryan to Jersey City of the International League for more seasoning. And after hitting a disappointing .243 in 112 games there, the highly-touted second baseman never made it back to the Giants. On April 27, 1943, Ryan was traded to the Boston Braves along with catcher Hugh Poland in exchange for catcher (and future Hall of Famer) Ernie Lombardi. There was some controversy surrounding the deal, with rumors that Boston may have received a secret $30,000 as part of the trade, but it was a great move for Ryan, as he was the regular second baseman in 1943 for the sixth-place Braves club managed by Casey Stengel and Bob Coleman (who took over during Stengel’s convalescence from a broken leg). In 132 games during his first full major-league season, Ryan batted only .212. He did, however, hit a three-run ninth-inning home run on April 28 to win the game, 3-2, against his former Giants teammates.
Apparently over his nervousness, Ryan dramatically improved his hitting and fielding the next year, and he was chosen for the first and only time to the National League All-Star team. Ryan played all nine innings of the 1944 All-Star Game at second base, got two hits, and had the lone stolen base of the contest during a 7-1 NL victory at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.
Two weeks later, on July 25, Ryan
enlisted in the Navy. At the time, his batting average of .295 was second on the team, he was tied for the NL lead in stolen bases with 13, and his fielding average was on pace to lead the circuit as well. Duty called, however, and so like many ballplayers during World War II, he entered the military while at the top of his game. Ryan played in just 88 games that year, yet he made enough of an impression that he still received votes for Most Valuable Player that October.
Ryan was discharged in January 1946. Returning to the Braves, he stepped right back in as the team’s starting second baseman for the 1946 and 1947 seasons. The club was much improved; under new manager Billy Southworth, it rose to fourth place in 1946 and third in 1947. Ryan was a steady contributor on defense and at bat showed surprising offensive production. However, when the team traded for Dodgers second baseman Eddie Stanky shortly before the 1948 season began, Connie became a reserve. Ryan did play briefly in the 1948 World Series, appearing in two games and striking out in his only at-bat.
Connie may be best remembered for an incident that took place on September 29, 1949, at Braves Field, during his last full season with Boston. During a meaningless end-of-season game, as rain fell and the skies darkened at Braves Field, Ryan donned a raincoat while waiting to bat in the on-deck circle. Home-plate umpire George Barr threw him out of the game for his not-so-subtle suggestion that the game be called.
As Ryan later recounted: “They wouldn’t listen to us when we hollered at them from the bench that it was raining too hard to play. They wouldn’t even take a hint when we built a little fire out of programs and newspapers in front of the dugout. I thought I’d try to convince them some other way, that’s all.”14
Ryan remained with the Braves until May 10, 1950, when he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Walker Cooper. Ryan started at second base for the Reds through 1951. The Reds were a sixth-place team, and despite his sharp baseball mind and solid day-to-day contributions – he led the 1951 team with a career-high 16 home runs – Ryan was not in the team’s plans as the organization sought to rebuild. On December 10, 1951, Cincinnati traded Connie along with catcher Smoky Burgess and pitcher Howie Fox to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Andy Seminick, infielder Eddie Pellagrini, first baseman/outfielder Dick Sisler, and pitcher Niles Jordan. Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer was thrilled to acquire Ryan, saying: “I think Ryan at second with Granny Hamner at short will make a dandy keystone combination.”15
They did, for a while. Ryan played all 154 games, hit 12 homers in 1952, scored a career-high 81 runs, and he and Hamner turned nearly 100 double plays. A highlight of Ryan’s time with Philadelphia was getting six hits in six at-bats during a game at Pittsburgh on April 16, 1953, making him the first Phillies player and just the 31st in major league history to accomplish what at the time was a big-league record. This game was the springboard for another strong year at the plate, as Ryan hit .296 through the first half of the year. But Philadelphia still left Ryan unprotected later that summer, and when released on August 25 he was picked up on waivers by the Chicago White Sox. He played in only 17 games for Chicago (hitting just .222), then was traded back to the Reds with third baseman Rocky Krsnich and pitcher Saul Rogovin for right fielder Willard Marshall on December 10, 1953. Ryan’s only appearance in his second stint with Cincinnati, on April 19, 1954, turned out to also be his last game in the big leagues. He finished his 12-year career in the majors with 988 hits in 1,184 games, 56 home runs, 381 RBIs, and a .248 batting average.
Not surprisingly, Ryan’s reputation as a tough, heads-up ballplayer helped him to stay in the game. He played the rest of that season for Louisville of the American Association, then in 1955 played for and managed Corpus Christi of the Class B Big State League. After he appeared in 45 games as player-manager of Austin of the Texas League in 1956, Ryan’s professional playing days were over, but his managerial career was just beginning. Ryan’s other minor-league managerial stints were with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in 1958, Oklahoma City of the American Association in 1962, and Magic Valley (Idaho) of the Pioneer Rookie League in 1968-1969. Ryan was also an interim manager twice in the major leagues: for 27 games with Atlanta in 1975 and for six games with Texas in 1977. Both times, the full-time position went to others, perhaps because Connie’s no-nonsense approach worried management. “I am not concerned with anybody’s feelings,” he was quoted as saying while Atlanta’s interim manager. “I would pinch-hit for my mother to win a ballgame.”16
After his coaching and scouting days were through, Ryan kept busy in church and civic groups during his retirement. He was a member of the executive board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the New Orleans Diamond Club, and the Major League Players Association. According to the New Orleans Times Picayune, he was also active in the St. Mary Magdalene and St. Clement of Rome Catholic churches. He was elected to both the New Orleans and the Louisiana Sports Halls of Fame.
Ryan died on January 3, 1996, after a heart attack. He was 75 years old and was survived by his wife, Lorraine Chalona Streckfus Ryan; four children; six grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. He is buried in Metairie Cemetery.
An updated version of this biography is included in the book "Thar's Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves" (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. It originally appeared in "Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston's (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948" (Rounder Books, 2008).
Biographical and statistical information from the websites baseball-reference.com, baseball-almanac.com, and baseballlibrary.com, as well as the following clippings from Connie Ryan’s player file at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York (dates and publications given where known):
Cincinnati Reds biography, 1951.
“Connie Ryan Discharge Today,” January 17, 1946.
“Connie Ryan, Veteran of Baseball Battles, Could Rub Some of His Fight on Braves,” December 9, 1956.
“Cooper for Connie Ryan,” May 19, 1950.
Daley, Arthur, “Triple Play by Ryan and Jurges Marks 7-3 Success for Ott Team,” New York Times, May 13, 1952.
Daniel, Dan, “Daniel’s Dope,” April 29, 1943.
“He Reminded You of Someone,” Giant Jottings, March 18, 1942.
Kahn, James M., “Ryan Moves Into His First Workout: Connie, Not Yet 22 Years Old, is Ticketed to be Giants’ Regular Second Baseman this Year.”
King, Joe, “Ryan Touted Early as Rookie of ’42: But New Giant Retains His Poise,” February 28, 1942.
King, Joe, “Nerves Still Wrecking Ryan’s Play: Another Rest May Solve His Problem,” May 26, 1942.
King, Joe, “Ryan Relieved of Keystone Job on Giants: Witek Takes Over for Jittery Recruit,” March 1942.
King, Joe, “Unassisted Triple Play – Almost: Few Steps Would Have Turned the Trick,” May 13, 1942.
King, Joe, “Rookie Ryan Key Player of Giant Infield: Ott Banks on Youth To Fill Keystone Spot,” February 24, 1942.
King, Joe, “Nerves Still Wrecking Ryan’s Play: Another Rest May Solve His Problem,” May 20, 1942.
Lewis, Ted, “Player, coach, scout Ryan dies at age 75,” New Orleans Times Picayune, January 4, 1996.
Minor league data, apparently from the 1978 Texas Rangers media guide, provided by the Hall of Fame.
Minshew, Wayne, “Trade Winds Send Players Into Motion,” September 20, 1975.
Mitchell, Jerry, “Ott Is Sold on Connie Ryan: Rookie Second Baseman’s Fielding Impresses,” 1942.
“New Orleans Boys Get Break from Mel Ott,” February 4, 1942.
Obituary, “Connie Ryan 75,” Sports Collector’s Digest, February 2, 1996.
Obituary, “Infielder ‘Connie’ Ryan II, N.O. baseball legend, dies,” New Orleans Times Picayune, January 4, 1996.
“Ott at Last Gets Slugger He Long Has Been Seeking: Mel’s Infield Reserve Strength Reduced to Bartell by Trade,” April 28, 1943.
“Redleg in a Rhubarb: One of the reasons Connie Ryan has become Cincy’s ace second sacker is because he once went to bat in a raincoat when he was with Boston.”
Roeder, Bill, “Giants Not Amused by Connie’s Con Game,” May 7, 1951.
“Ryan of Braves Goes Into Navy,” July 25, 1944.
“Ryan Is 31st To Get 6 Hits.”
“Ryan First Phil To Get ‘6 For 6,’” April 17, 1953.
“Sawyer High on Ryan’s Hustle,” Boston Daily Record, March 17, 1952.
Smith, Ken, “Ryan Homer in 9th Shames Giants, 3-2,” New York Daily Mirror, April 29, 1943.
Tagliabue, Emil, “Ryan’s Right Cross Starts Corpus Christi Mass Fight: Park Police Stop Melee Between Teams,” August 17, 1955.
United Press, “Braves Sign Connie Ryan To Coach at 3d,” October 6, 1956.
“Walker Cooper for Braves’ Ryan,” May 11, 1950.
3 Joe King, “Rookie Ryan Key Player of Giant Infield: Ott Banks on Youth To Fill Keystone Spot,” February 24, 1942.
4 Jerry Mitchell, “Ott Is Sold on Connie Ryan: Rookie Second Baseman’s Fielding Impresses,” 1942.
5 “Connie Ryan, Veteran of Baseball Battles, Could Rub Some of His Fight on Braves,” December 9, 1956.
6 Ted Lewis, “Player, coach, scout Ryan dies at age 75.” New Orleans Times Picayune, January 4, 1996.
7 James M. Kahn, “Ryan Moves Into His First Workout: Connie, Not Yet 22 Years Old, is Ticketed to be Giants’ Regular Second Baseman this Year.”
8 Joe King, “Nerves Still Wrecking Ryan’s Play: Another Rest May Solve His Problem,” May 26, 1942.
9 “He Reminded You of Someone,” Giant Jottings, March 18, 1942.
10 Joe King, “Ryan Touted Early as Rookie of ’42: But New Giant Retains His Poise,” February 28, 1942.
11 Joe King, “Nerves Still Wrecking Ryan’s Play: Another Rest May Solve His Problem,” May 26, 1942.
13 Joe King, “Unassisted Triple Play – Almost: Few Steps Would Have Turned the Trick,” May 13, 1942.
14 “Redleg in a Rhubarb: One of the reasons Connie Ryan has become Cincy’s ace second sacker is because he once went to bat in a raincoat when he was with Boston.”
15 “Sawyer High on Ryan’s Hustle,” Boston Daily Record, March 17, 1952.
16 Wayne Minshew, “Trade Winds Send Players Into Motion,” September 20, 1975.