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New book to chronicle lasting impact of Montana baseball legend, Orioles hall of famer Dave McNally

Dave McNally
Posted at 4:59 PM, Oct 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-27 11:23:52-04

BILLINGS — The photograph, snapped by the Associated Press on a bright October Sunday at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, is iconic in baseball circles.

After Dave McNally completed a four-hit shutout in Game 4 of the 1966 World Series to lift the Orioles to a sweep of the Dodgers, third baseman Brooks Robinson came leaping across the infield to swarm McNally and catcher Andy Etchebarren.

Dave McNally
Third baseman Brooks Robinson (5) leaps toward pitcher Dave McNally (19) and Orioles catcher Andy Etchebarren after the Baltimore Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers with a win in Game 4 of the 1966 World Series.

The look on the face of Robinson, among the greatest third basemen in the history of baseball, is one of exaltation. McNally, who outdueled the great Don Drysdale that day, is bracing for the oncoming mass of humanity.

The photo seems relevant still with the recent passing of Robinson and the success of the Orioles, who won the American League East in 2023. It will always be relevant for those who consider McNally to be Montana's finest athlete.

To that end, Billings author Dennis Gaub is currently working on a book about the late McNally, a Treasure State legend and an Orioles hall of famer, titled “Never give an inch: How Dave McNally helped start a revolution in baseball and professional sports.”

McNally, a Billings native, was named by Sports Illustrated in 1999 as Montana’s greatest athlete of the 20th century, and for obvious reasons.

Following his American Legion career (in which he helped Billings Post 4 to a runner-up finish at the Legion World Series in 1960), the left-handed McNally won 184 big league games, finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three times, captured the 1966 and 1970 World Series with the Orioles and is the only pitcher to hit a grand slam in Series history.

“I think Dave’s place as (Montana’s) greatest athlete of the 20th century is pretty secure,” Gaub, who was a sportswriter at The Billings Gazette in the 1970s and 1980s, told MTN Sports. “I’ll let anybody challenge me and say there was somebody else who was greater.”

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Billings-based author Dennis Gaub, right, is writing a new book about late Montana baseball great Dave McNally, who won 184 big league games and two World Series with the Orioles.

But McNally’s impact went far beyond his mound majesty.

The genesis of the title of Gaub’s book, and what he says will serve as an important part of its narrative, comes out of McNally’s work in helping to undo baseball’s long-held reserve clause while ushering in the era of free agency in the 1970s that would eventually change the landscape of pro sports.

McNally and fellow major league pitcher Andy Messersmith were key figures in what became known as the Seitz decision, a 1975 ruling by arbitrator Peter Seitz that essentially did away with the reserve clause when McNally and Messersmith argued for free agency following the expiration of their respective contracts.

Previously, baseball’s reserve clause held that a player’s rights were retained by his team even after his contract had expired. The Seitz decision changed that, and was the culmination of a free-agency fight first taken up by outfielder Curt Flood three years earlier when he attempted to refuse a trade from the Cardinals to the Phillies and argued it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McNally’s role in the Seitz decision, Gaub says, is what makes his story so unique — and enduing.

“They appealed it in federal court and the judge said, ‘We hereby uphold the ordering of Mr. Seitz’ and the reserve clause gets thrown out and we open the door to free agency,” Gaub said. “McNally helped revolutionize the treatment of pro baseball players and all pro athletes. He helped revolutionize sports.”

At 32, McNally retired from baseball after spending the 1975 campaign with the Expos. In 14 big league seasons he made 396 starts, had a 184-119 record with a 3.24 ERA and appeared in four World Series and five American League Championship Series. His postseason ERA was 2.49 with a WHIP of 1.096.

But the numbers were only part of the story.

Dave McNally
Baltimore pitcher Dave McNally celebrates in the clubhouse after the Orioles defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series in Baltimore, Md., on Oct. 9, 1966.

McNally and his wife Jean returned to Billings following his retirement and he became a co-owner of Archie Cochrane Ford. A longtime smoker, McNally passed away on Dec. 1, 2002, at the age of 60.

The upcoming project about McNally will be Gaub’s fourth in the non-fiction genre, following those he’s written about Laurel High School winning the 1969 “Big 32” boys basketball state championship, a book about Montana’s Jim Muri helping to win the Battle of Midway in June 1942, and a tale of Charles Lindbergh’s time in Montana.

Gaub estimates his McNally book will arrive sometime near the end of 2024.

“Nobody has done a full-scale life of Dave McNally,” Gaub said. “You can find all kinds of books and articles on his role in the labor decision and his grand slam home run and so on, but nobody has traced Dave McNally from his childhood in Billings through his life to his death way too young at age 60.”

Encapsulating the project, Gaub referenced a letter to the editor that appeared in The Baltimore Sun a week after McNally’s death that seemed to summarize it all.

“Mentally and physically tough, McNally never gave an inch to anyone or anything,” the letter reads. “He was quietly but fiercely competitive. Though he hailed from Billings, he was all Baltimore every fourth game.”

With Gaub's upcoming work, McNally's lasting impact will be brought to a much wider audience.