Signup for news and special offers!

A blazing debut

Dave McNally was on the verge of turning 20, and his wife, Jean, was 19, when one of the most exciting things in their young life happened: the Orioles called him up towards the end of the 1962 season, and he threw a two-hit shutout to beat the Kansas City Athletics.

After the 3–0 win, McNally sat in the Orioles locker room at Memorial Stadium, probably still in a daze as he pondered what had happened.

Especially since he threw six straight balls to the first two A’s batters he faced as drizzle provided the backdrop for the twilight opener of the doubleheader.

“I was nervous, plenty nervous,” he said.1

“After I threw a couple of strikes, I was all right, though. I feel real happy. I guess that’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever done.”

McNally settled down after throwing the early balls. He gave up a double and a single that caused no damage, struck out four and walked three in the first four innings.

Fellow “bonus baby” Andy Etchebarren, who caught McNally and went on to become one of Dave’s best friends and a regular roommate on road trips, interrupted McNally. The pitcher wasn’t giving himself enough credit, Etchebarren said.

“One of the best? That was the best,” said Etchebarren, who had caught McNally throughout the 1962 season when both played for the Orioles’ farm team in Elmira, New York.

“One hundred pitches and one hour and 32 minutes to shut out one of the hardest hitting teams in the league. How can you pitch any better than that?” the 19-year-old catcher said.

Up in the press box sat one excited spectator, Earl Weaver, McNally and Etchebarren’s manager at Elmira and later to become the Hall of Fame manager of the Orioles.

Weaver was in Baltimore to join the Orioles’ coast-to-coast team of scouts and minor-league managers at the annual season-ending seminar for farm team personnel at the stadium.

Plainly elated and proud, Weaver said, “I’ve got a lot of company.” He nodded towards Jim Wilson and Jim Russo, who teamed up to sign McNally to his Orioles contract in 1960 in Billings after Dave led his Legion Post 4 team into the championship game of the American Legion Little World Series.

“I thought McNally pitched a real smart game–not like a lot of rookies who just try to blow the ball past the hitters,” Weaver said.

McNally had thrown a better fast ball than he showed against Kansas City, according to Weaver, thinking back to the southpaw’s 15–11 record with Elmira.

“One thing I’ve always felt was in his favor–when he didn’t have a real good fast ball, he could get his breaking stuff over.”

Weaver’s final report on the Elmira season said Etchebarren might be a year away from playing in the majors. He finished with a .240 batting average, boosted by the .325 pace he batted at from June 15 on after starting with a .179 average.

McNally also seemed to need at least part of a season playing for AAA club before he would be ready for the big leagues, Weaver said in his report.

But he changed his assessment after seeing both youngsters in action against Kansas City.

“When you see them both play the kind of baseball we just them play, you just don’t know. You’ve got to say, yes, they’ve both got a chance next season.”

McNally had another believer in Harry Brecheen, Baltimore’s veteran pitching coach.

“You’ve got to give McNally a real good chance (of playing in the majors in 1963) (based)on the stuff he showed Kansas City.”

Brecheen pointed out that McNally threw sinking balls and rising ones, too.

“When a nineteen-year-old kid wins 15 games in his second year as a pro and then shuts out a team that hits the ball as hard as Kansas City, you’ve got to like his chances. He’s got all the pitches. All he needs is work.”

Brecheen gave McNally useful pointers that helped him end his early wildness against the A’s.

“My curve and my slider were breaking low the first five innings, and Harry noticed that I was dropping my arm too much to the side,” McNally said.

Brecheen told McNally to throw more overarm pitches, and he started getting the ball over for strikes from then on.

Orioles manager Billy Hitchcock like something else about McNally’s style.

“He keeps the ball down. If you’re going to be wild, that’s the place to be wild,” he said.

Although McNally was nervous, he didn’t show it, Hitchcock said, and after Brecheen gave his a tip, McNally started throwing breaking balls.

“He pitched quite a game,” Hitchcock said.

Sixty-one years later, McNally’s widow, Jean, remembered the game as being “very exciting.”

She, Dave, Etchebarran, and his wife, got a blast of excitement from the game. The couples were staying in a small motel on the outskirts of Baltimore.

“We were just floating high,” she told me.

A “nice restaurant” across the street from the motel beckoned. The McNallys and the Etchebarrens stopped in and ordered steak and champagne to celebrate the triumph.

“We just were like in a daze, like what the heck happened?”

Dave and Jean McNally had just gotten a taste of the excellence Dave would display during his 13-year career with the Orioles, 12 of them full seasons, including four straight in which Dave won twenty or more games plus four World Series appearances.

  1. The Baltimore Sun, September 27, 1962 ↩︎

Subscribe to Imagine when .... stories from our colorful past

Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
Jamie Larson