Friday, August 26, 2011

#235 - Dave McNally

Dave McNally may be the first guy on this blog from Montana. He was pretty much a local icon before, during, and after his baseball life. Here he couldn't be further from home climate-wise as he soaks up some early spring rays in Florida. Even Walt Disney - or at least his name - makes an appearance. Dave was off a '72 during which he got no support and in '73 his win total ratcheted to 17 but his vaunted control began to be compromised as his walk totals nearly matched his strikeouts. Dave had a pretty excellent run in the late '60s to early '70s. Unfortunately he is the second player in a row to fall victim to lung cancer at a rather early age.

Dave McNally helped put Montana baseball on the map in 1960 when he led his American Legion team to its World Series, in which it finished second. Dave went 18-1 that year and received all sorts of attention from scouts. His dad had been killed in WWII so a family friend helped him through negotiations and Dave finally opted for Baltimore and a signing bonus of $85,000, half of which he gave to his mom.By then he had missed the rest of the '60 season so the following year he kicked things off in B ball and a few games in Double A. While that season was a struggle, in '62 he went 15-11 in Single A and by the end of the year he was up top to throw a two-hit shutout in his first start. After a couple losing seasons for some not great O's teams, Dave began progressing nicely, going a combined 24-12 in '65 and '66. Those years peaked in the '66 Series when he threw the final shutout win against LA's Don Drysdale to sweep it.

In '67 McNally had some serious elbow problems which contributed to an off year that included about two months of downtime. He rebounded huge in '68 by winning 22 and sporting a 1.95 ERA, by far the best of his career. His 20-win streak lasted four seasons with the O's reaching the Series the last three, winning it all in '70. By '71 shoulder pain started affecting his pitching although he would generally put up very god numbers the next few years. In '72 he dropped eight wins and posted his first losing season since '64 despite an excellent ERA that included six shutouts. The O's averaged scoring less than three runs a game during Dave's starts that year. After a '74 season in which he went 16-10, Dave was traded to the Expos with Rich Coggins for Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez. It would be a great deal for Baltimore. Dave pitched through a lot of pain but after a start of 3-6 with an ERA over 5.00, he retired. He finished with a record of 184-119 with a 3.24 ERA, 120 complete games, two saves, and 33 shutouts. He was spectacular in the post-season, going 7-4 with a 2.49 ERA and two shutouts in 14 games. He was also a three-time All-Star.

Ironically, some of McNally's most high-profile time in baseball took place after he retired. In '75 Dave played for the Expos without a contract, as did Andy Messersmith with the Dodgers. That status allowed them to successfully file a grievance against Major League Baseball and its reserve clause and in March of '76 the two were officially declared free agents. The player's union encouraged Dave to sign with a team to memorialize the event and though he had a few offers, he knew his arm was toast and he declined. Dave returned to Billings where he ran a chain of auto stores with his brother, for a time was the state's highway commissioner, and coached some ball. One of his players was Jeff Ballard, who went on to pitch for the Orioles. Dave passed away in 2002 at age 60, a couple years after being named Montana's best athlete of the 20th century.

During Dave's 20-win streak he went 85-31. In an American Legion game he struck out 27 batters, including five in one inning. He must have moved the ball around pretty well during that game. He has a very detailed obituary linked to here. Elrod Hendricks would fondly remember him years later wen he said Dave's injuries forced him to stop relying exclusively on his fastball and "learn to PITCH!"

The Pittsburgh connection helps here:

1. McNally and Tim Foli '75 Expos;
2. Foli and John Milner '79 to '80 Pirates.

Good luck to all you fellow east-coasters during Irene.

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