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Accolade from Nixon

In 1972, McNally received recognition from the most highly placed baseball fan in the country, President Richard Nixon. Nixon named McNally to his 1945 to 1970 all-time baseball team. Here’s the story behind that acclaim.

At the end of a June 22, 1972, press conference, Cliff Evans, a reporter for RKO General Broadcasting, asked the president to name his favorite baseball players. Nixon started naming players, but he stopped when he realized he would have to choose between legendary ones.1

“Mr. President, as the nation’s number one baseball fan, would you be willing to name your all-time baseball team?" Evans asked.

“Yes,” said Nixon, an an honorary member of the Baseball Writers Association.

Nixon went to work on the project on the following Sunday while at Camp David, the presidential retreat. He enlisted his son-in-law, David Eisenhower to help him, tapping Eisenhower’s baseball knowledge as a former staffer with the Washington Senators. That team had just moved to Dallas to become the Texas Rangers.

Writing about the effort, Nixon said, "We sat down together and began to study the record books for the purpose of compiling a list of stars which would stand up under the scrutiny such a selection would receive from the sports writers and baseball fans throughout the country.”

Nixon and Eisenhower did most of the work at Camp David. The president continued to revise his selections when he returned to the White House. Once Nixon had finalized his teams, White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler distributed the list, carrying Nixon’s byline, through the Associated Press. Newspapers were allowed to publish the list in their Sunday, July 2, 1972, editions. Shortly before the list was released, Nixon, allowed Evans to conduct a short, exclusive interview with him. In it, Nixon credited Evans for the idea, and an article about that aspect of the project accompanied release of the selections.

Instead of creating a single, all-time list, Nixon selected a pre-war and a post-war team for each league. He said he “found it impossible to limit the team to nine men.” Nixon also decided to select only players active from 1925 on because that was when he started following baseball. He stopped at 1970 to give his evaluations perspective.

And how good was the company McNally was keeping in Nixon’s estimation? He joined four other pitchers, two lefthander and two righthanders, on the 1945–1970 team. All others were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. They were: Bob Lemon, Cleveland southpaw, who won 207 games; Bob Feller, Cleveland right hander, who won 266 games; Early Wynn, a right hander who played for Washington, Cleveland, and the Chicago White Sox and won 300 games; and Dave’s boyhood hero, fellow southpaw, Whitey Ford, who won 236 games for the New York Yankees.

By the end of the 1970 season, McNally had won 114 of the 184 games he would win as a major leaguer.

At the end of the article he wrote, Nixon said, “The list, of course, could go on and on.” He said he regretted having to “leave off some truly great star.”

Still, “if some smart reporter asks me to name an all-star football team, the answer will be a flat–NO!”

McNally thus gained the satisfaction of knowing that he had caught the eye of a second president. Along with his wife, Jean, he met President Lyndon Johnson at the Social Security Administration headquarters after the 1966 World Series. That event recognized children of service members killed in World War II, such as Dave’s father, who were receiving early Social Security survivor benefits.

  1. Billings Gazette, July 2, 1972 ↩︎

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Jamie Larson