Baseball great Dave McNally dies in BillingsDave McNally, Montana's Athlete of the Century who played a key role in gaining free agency for Major League Baseball players, has died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
The former Billings American Legion and Baltimore Orioles star died Sunday in Billings at the age of 60. He had been battling prostate and lung cancer since the fall of 1997.
David Arthur McNally was born in Billings on Oct. 31, 1942. After a remarkable Legion baseball career that included twice leading Billings to the Legion World Series, he went on to win 184 games in 14 major league seasons, the first 13 with the Orioles.
McNally died late Sunday, John Michelotti of Michelotti Sawyers & Nordquist Funeral Home said Monday.
A funeral mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Billings, with burial to follow at Yellowstone Valley Memorial Park.
A viewing will be held at the mortuary today from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday prior to the funeral beginning at 9:30 a.m. His family asked that any memorials be sent to the Billings Ronald McDonald House, Billings Boys and Girls Club or the Billings American Legion baseball program.
Three years ago, McNally was honored by The Gazette and Sports Illustrated magazine as Montana's Athlete of the Century (1900-2000).
McNally played for Baltimore from 1962-74. McNally was a three-time All-Star and had a string of four straight 20-victory seasons (1968-71). His 181 wins in an Oriole uniform are the most ever by a Baltimore left-hander.
McNally may be best known for helping to change the landscape of Major League Baseball. In 1975, McNally and Andy Messersmith won a grievance against baseball's reserve clause, paving the way for players to become free agents. In that time, baseball salaries have risen from $44,000 in 1975 to nearly $2 million in 2001.
Fifteen years earlier, McNally helped put the Billings Legion
baseball program on the map, leading legendary coach Ed Bayne's team to a
second-place finish in the 1960 American Legion World Series. McNally also
played on the 1958 Billings team, which also reached the ALWS.
"He was just a great athlete," said Pete Cochran, who played Legion ball with McNally. "He was a solid guy, a good leader, just outstanding."
During the 1960 Legion season, McNally posted an 18-1 record and once struck out 27 batters in a game, including five in one inning. His only loss came in the national championship game when New Orleans beat Billings 9-3.
One thing that stands out for Cochran and others who knew McNally, was his determination and competitiveness.
"He was a tough, hard competitor," Cochran said. "He was bull-headed in some ways, but a great guy. It's a sad deal."
Cochran said McNally battled cancer the same way.
"He fought the whole thing for five-plus years. He was a good friend. I spent about 45 minutes with him eight to 10 days ago. He was telling stories and it was fun to be there."
Jeff Ballard, who played with McNally's son Jeff on the Billings Scarlets in the early 1980s and went on to pitch in the major leagues for the Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates, remembers him "as one of the best people I've ever been around.
"He always confronted things in life head-on. The doctors marveled that he fought as long as he did. He was very honest with people and he was compassionate. He was fun to be around."
Bob Fry, who also played Legion ball with McNally, recalled his humble attitude and upbeat personality.
"He's probably one of the greatest athletes in Montana, but was one of the most unassuming people for as great as he was. You actually had to pull it out of him. He never wore it on his sleeve. He'd let his actions speak rather than his mouth."
Fry said McNally "was an asset to Billings. He was always upbeat and positive. He built a new house last year with terminal cancer. That says a lot about how long he thought he'd be around."
McNally, who was also a basketball standout in high school at Billings Central, signed a contract with the Orioles after his Legion career and made it to the big leagues two years later.
His major league debut gave a hint of what was to come. On Sept. 26, 1962, McNally threw a two-hit shutout in beating the Kansas City Athletics 3-0. He retired the last 17 batters he faced.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, McNally established himself a solid major league starter on one of the most effective pitching staffs in baseball history.
In 1966, he completed the Orioles' four-game World Series sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 1-0 victory. He went on post records of 22-10 in 1968, 20-7 in '69, 24-9 in '70 and 21-5 in '71.
McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson all won at least 20 games in 1971, the first foursome on the same team to do so since the 1920 Chicago White Sox.
McNally was selected to the American League All-Star team in 1969, 1970 and 1972.
One of McNally's most notable feats came, ironically, with the bat when he hit a grand slam in Game 3 of the 1970 World Series against Cincinnati. He's the only pitcher in history to hit a World Series grand slam.
"I think the proudest thing I have left from those days is the respect of my teammates," McNally once said. "They knew when I went out there, they got everything. I didn't leave anything on the bench.
"That doesn't mean I didn't have some bad games, because I sure did. I think when that happened they knew it wasn't from a lack of effort or a lack of preparation. They got everything I had to give."
McNally was traded to the Montreal Expos in 1975 and retired in June with a 3-6 record. After returning to Billings, McNally joined his brother, Jim, in running Archie Cochrane Motors.
In December 1999, McNally was honored at a banquet celebrating his selection as Montana's Athlete of the Century.
"That's quite an honor," McNally told The Gazette prior to the ceremony. "Sometimes you forget about the career and then different things come up that bring it all back. It was such a great time. While it was happening, you never think about what you're accomplishing. You're just doing it.
"And down the road, when not too many people have surpassed what you did, I guess that makes what you accomplished sound a little better."
While McNally became a household name, many people will remember him as more than just an athlete.
"It's a loss for the community," Cochran said. "He was generous with his time when people asked."
"I feel very sad," Ballard said. "His son is my best friend. His wife, Jean, is a saint and I have the utmost respect for the rest of his kids. I respected him so much. He was a hero in my eyes."
Gazette sportswriter Bill Bighaus and The Associated Press contributed to this story.