BILLINGS – The World Series starts Tuesday with the Los Angeles Dodgers facing off against the Boston Red Sox.
So, for a little warm-up, we’re dipping into our archives for memories of a major league legend that got his start playing American Legion ball right here Montana.
Dave McNally won two World Series titles with the Baltimore Orioles and holds a claim to fame as the only pitcher to ever hit a grand slam in the World Series.
McNally got his baseball start pitching for the American Legion Post 4 team at the old Cobb field, where Dehler Park in Billings sits today.
He pitched for the Baltimore Orioles during a heyday that included World Series victories in 1966 and 1970. He also helped usher in the era of free agency in baseball, making it easier for players to switch teams.
We take a look back at McNally’s reflections he game during a 1999 interview he did with MTN’s Andy Price, just a couple years before his death from cancer in 2002.
Price asked, “When you were standing here on the mound at Cobb Field in those days, did you have visions of Big League baseball?”
“Well sure, I think everybody did,” said McNally who got his start at pitching for the American Legion Post 4 team. In 1960, Billings went all the way to the championship game at the Legion World series and McNally was known — even back then — as a star player.
“When he was playing Legion baseball, it wasn’t a matter of if he was going to win the game. It was a matter of whether it was going to be a one or no-hitter,” recalled Woody Hahn who played on the 1956 Billings Legion team.
“A lot of us that rode around on his coattails. Because of Dave, there’s a lot of us that got scholarships that wouldn’t have gotten any exposure from Billings, Montana,” added Dr. Bob Fry who played on 1960 Legion team.
McNally signed with the Orioles after playing Legion ball. The plan was to start him in Class B, but they thought they’d give him a quick try in Double-A first.
“I pitched about 19 innings in AA. Gave up 19 runs, 19 walks, 19 strike-outs, and they said see you later,” McNally said.
Initial setbacks aside, McNally got to the big leagues in September of 1962 and four years later he and the other Orioles pitchers only gave up two runs in the entire four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the defending champs.
“That was my favorite because we were such underdogs, and playing against Colfax and Drysdale and nobody gave us a chance at all,” McNally said.
The Orioles would win it all again four years later. McNally stepped up to the plate in the 1970 World Series with the bases loaded and became the only pitcher to ever hit a World Series Grand Slam — a record that still holds today.
“I was not a good hitter. If you threw me a fastball about belt-high, on the inside third of the plate, I could hit it. Other than that, I couldn’t hit anything,” McNall.
McNally retired in 1975 but would leave one final legacy on his way out. He joined a famous labor fight against the MLB and won — freeing players from being tied to their teams even after their contracts expired. He helped to usher in the era of free agency. He saw it as a way to help other players.
” When we had those really good teams in Baltimore, we had some really good players in AAA, that were just, like three years in AAA that were hitting .330 and .335 that couldn’t come up, and they couldn’t go elsewhere, so it helped everybody I think,” McNally said.
McNally came back home after retiring and got into the car business. It seemed after years of fame he was ready for the quiet life.
“I can go anywhere in Billings and never get noticed or — and if I go back to Baltimore, I go in any restaurant and they start screaming at me, and it’s a funny situation,” McNally said.
“Why don’t you go back and watch the series? You’re team’s in it and everything,” Steve Jahnke asked in a 1983 interview.
“Well, because there’s too much chaos at those things. It’s absolutely chaotic, and I have a very nice color television set, and the drinks are cheaper at my house,” McNally said in 1983.
McNally’s passed away from cancer in 2002, but his legacy lives on in memory — as well as in a bronze statue of him at Dehler Park that was dedicated in 2008.
-web story compiled by Stan Parker for MTN News