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Dave McNally: part of Billings

It didn’t take long after Dave, Jean and their growing family returned to Billings for him to become involved in the community.

By the spring of 1978, Dave and Jean were parents of four children, ranging in age from Jeff (15) to Anne (2–1/2). Their fifth child, Mike, was born about three years later.

That June found Dave taking part in the Muscular Dystrophy Celebrity Tennis Tournament at the Yellowstone Racquet Club. He was one of several local celebrities playing in the benefit event; others included Billings Gazette publisher George Remington, George Selover, owner of the Billings Buick dealership, and Woody Hahn, who preceded McNally as a Billings American Legion pitching star in the 1950s and who had gone on to play for Washington State University, receive a professional baseball contract, play for the hometown Billings Mustangs and then go into business in his hometown.1

National personalities who came to Billings included Bob Hilton of the Truth or Consequences Show; Lyle Waggoner, who appeared for several years on the Carol Burnett Show and had just finished a stint on the Wonder Woman series; and Peter Isacson, who was C.P.O. Sharkey’s “Pruitt.”

Halfway through the tournament, after he and doubles partner Ernie Waters finished their doubles match, McNally relaxed and chatted with me, then a Gazette sportswriter.

The talk turned to baseball.

“I probably get asked 30 times a week if I miss baseball,” McNally said.2

“I don’t. Half the people don’t believe it.”

McNally said many community groups were asking for him to make an appearance at their events. Despite the time it took to run the auto dealership he owned with his brother, Jim, McNally, 35, didn’t consider the requests a burden.

“I just have to explain. I can’t do but half the things I’m asked to do in town. But people are very understanding,” he said.

McNally could do few of the out-of-town engagements he was approached about, although “I really try to do all the things I’m asked. But the auto business is very time-consuming.”

Because business meetings in, say, Idaho or Oregon, could come up on short notice, McNally said had to make his commitments conditional.

When the tennis benefit organizers asked him if he could play several months earlier, McNally replied, “Yes, if I’m town (that) weekend, I’d love to do it.”

He thought back to the June 1975 weekend when left Montreal after pitching for the Expos in the first game of a doubleheader (which he lost), caught a flight back to Baltimore and first told Jean he was retiring from baseball and then let Expos manager Gene Mauch know.

“I think I was really ready to get out of baseball. The last couple years I played, I didn’t enjoy it that much.”

What’s more, his children were growing up, and he wanted to spend more time with them. His pitching arm was hurting, preventing him from satisfaction with his pitching. So, going home “was the right thing at the right time. Someone was looking over me.”

McNally considered himself one of the fortunate professional baseball players who left the game with a promising future.

“It was great to have a job waiting,” he said.

Thinking of his peers, McNally said, “They aren’t all in good shape. But there will be a heckuva lot more in good shape” as the result of the 1975 Seitz ruling and the free agency it started.

“As the salaries have gone sky-high, even more should be better off. But some people can’t stand to save a nickel.”

A major-league career that included playing in four World Series and winning 17 straight games in the 1968 and 1969 seasons prepared him to handle business pressures, McNally said.

“You handle pressures in baseball with preparation. It’s the same in business. You do your homework, learn all you can. That’s all you can do.”

  1. Billings Gazette, June 2, 1978 ↩︎
  2. Billings Gazette, June 4, 1978 ↩︎

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Jamie Larson