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Billings loved McNally

Baltimore’s capture of the 1970 World Series and McNally’s historic role in beating Cincinnati increased the buzz around him in his hometown.

By early January 1971, word came out that a limited number of autographed Dave McNally gloves would gо оп sale in Billings. The announcement was made by Ed Bayne, McNally’s coach during his American Legion baseball playing days in the Magic City.1

“This is the first time a pitcher’s name has name has appeared оn а glove,” said a representative of the unnamed national sporting goods company making the glove The representative said the McNally glove would be marketed nationally if he had another good year in 1971, a season with twenty or more wins.

“If that’s all they want, hell, we’ll give it to ’em, " was McNally’s response, according to Bayne.

The manufacturer based the McNally glove by on one used his by teammate, Brooks Robinson, with modifications suggested by McNally. Bayne described it as an all-around glove for infielders, outfielders and pitchers.

“How about a Dave McNally bat?” A sportswriter asked, referring to McNally’s grand slam home run against the Reds.

“The man from Cooperstown (home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) was down in the dugout to grab Dave’s bat before the game was over–he never got to see it again, “ Bayne said. Actually, it was a bat that McNally borrowed from Curt Motton as well as the ball it sent over the fence at Memorial Stadium that are enshrined in the Hall.

Billings sports fans got to hear from one of their favorite sons that month. McNally flew into Billings on January 18 to boost the local Easter Seal drive. Two days later, he was the featured guest during a dinner in his honor at the Elks Club. There, he spoke before about 400 people and, according to Billings Gazette sports editor. Norm Clarke, McNally’s “best play of 1971 came without a glove on.”2

An unidentified fan fired a verbal line drive at McNally during a question-and-answer period following the showing of the 1970 World Series highlight film. Here’s the hot one McNally had to handle:

“You wouldn’t have had any trouble with Willie Horton if you would throw him a slider on the inside corner. I saw you throw two fast balls to Horton one day and he hit them both for home wouldn’t have any runs.

"I told you when you were 15 years old that you had a great slider. If you would keep them around his knees on the inside corner, he wouldn’t give you any trouble.”

“All right,“ McNally said, grinning. ”I’ll try it and if it works, I’ll give you a call."

That brought a roar from the crowd, but the questioner wasn’t through.

“If you throw that slider on the inside corner, you won’t have any trouble with him.”

“Right, right,” McNally said.

From the crowd came another familiar voice: “What was the ball you hit for the grand slam homer?”

“It was a low and inside slider,” McNally said of the offering from Reds reliever Wayne Granger that he hit to clear the bases and put him in the record books, possibly for good.

The crowd roared again.

It may have been someone who had already questioned McNally who asked him something else.

“Do you aim it or just throw it?”

“I throw it,” said McNally, summarizing the style that had made him a twenty-game winner for three years running.

On the morning before the Elks Club banquet, McNally held what was billed as a press conference. It was more of a “rap session” with media people, many of whom had known him for a decade or more.3

McNally showed up in a “mod” multicolored striped shirt, a double-breasted sports coat and flared pants to take questions on a wide range of topics, not all baseball- related.

Here are some.

  • On being traded: “If I were traded, I’d like to get out (of) the East. I don’t really think I’d like to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. No reason, really—just don’t think Id like it there.”
  • On his World Series grand slam: “It was a fast ball.”
  • On the arm trouble that jeopardized his career in 1968: “I’ve had arm flare-ups occasionally but nothing serious. Steve Barber always said he was worried when his arm didn’t hurt.”
  • On possible Baltimore trades: “I think the Orioles might deal Frank Robinson when he’s still a player. His age and high salary are against him. They could get some strong minor league pitchers for him."
  • On some of his favorite eateries: “The Pressbox in New York and Oyster Bay in Baltimore.”
  • On the Orioles’ talent-laden farm team organization: “We’ve got nine infielders in our organization who can play anywhere. We’ve loaded.”
  • On the Baltimore Colts’ recent Super Bowl win over Dallas: “I didn’t think they were. going to win." McNally said he was partners with Colts quarter back Johnny Unitas in a four-day golf tournament and he had met other Colts players, too.
  • On Weaver: "I once said: ’The only thing you have to know about Earl is he thinks out loud.’ ”
  • On baseball’s pension plan compared to football’s: “I think we’ve got a better deal than they do. We’ve got the best medical plan. Marvin Miller has really helped us.”
  • On Montana: “It’s great to be back.”

McNally said he wasn’t thrilled with baseball’s decision to switch the world series to a mostly-nightime schedule. That, he said, was due to the higher pay off the major leagues would get in a TV deal. “I’d rather pitch in the daytime. That way you get up and get it over with without worrying all day.”

McNally had recently appeared on the Dick Cavett TV show with Brooks Robinson. He almost walked off the set when Cavett asked which one of his guests was Robinson.

"We had been told he knew something about baseball,” McNally said of the cerebral talk show host.

Before he left Billings for Great Falls to continue his volunteer work for Easter Seals, McNally was given a baseball glove for his son, Jeff; some mens jewelry; a framed full-page Gazette press plate of ad by purchased by Billings businessmen, which welcomed him home; and a standing ovation from the Elks Club crowd.

Another footnote: Norm Clarke, mentioned above, was my first boss in the newspaper business. He hired me as a part-time sportswriter during my senior year at Billings West High School. He, more than anyone else, shaped my career in the field and his influence made me the journalist I became. Thanks, Norm!

  1. Billings Gazette, January 14, 1971 ↩︎
  2. Billings Gazette, January 21, 1971 ↩︎
  3. Billings Gazette, January 21, 1971 ↩︎

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Jamie Larson