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How and why Dave McNally made a lasting mark on baseball and pro sports

Dave McNally was a courageous, principled man who stood up for what was right, risking a career most only dream of. He grew up in Billings, Montana, and became one of the best major league pitchers of his era and the greatest athlete to come out of the Treasure State.

McNally mixed his success on the mound with growing dissatisfaction about how his team, the Baltimore Orioles, was treating him. He expressed his discontent over salaries the Orioles offered him by being a holdout from spring training several times during his thirteen years in the major leagues. Matters came to a head in the winter of 1974. What happened then culminated in 1975 when McNally took part in a landmark labor decision that changed the landscape of baseball and professional sports.

This is Dave McNally’s story.

McNally, a crafty lefthander, put together a career filled with highlights. Among them:

  • When he was traded to Montreal after the 1974 season, he had won the most games, 181, in franchise history.
  • He won 20 or more games in a season four years in a row, from 1968. 1971, and he was part of the greatest four-pitcher rotation in modern baseball history in 1971.
  • He remains the only pitcher to have hit a grand slam home run in World series play, that being his shot over the right field fence in Memorial Stadium during the 1970 series against Cincinnati.
  • He pitched in four World series, and won games in two of them, 1966 and 1970, in which the Orioles triumphed.
  • Furthermore, he tied the then American League record by winning 17 straight games, starting late in the 1968 season and continuing into 1969.

Yet, for all of those on-field heroics, it’s McNally's tenacity, his willingness to stand up for what he thought was right, that makes him a professional athlete famed to this day, more than 20 years after his death.

It was late in his career, the start of the 1974 season, when McNally showed his character in full measure. In February of that year, he signaled to the Orioles that he wasn’t going to relent in the face of pressures that had crushed other players over the decades of organized pro baseball.

McNally had held out from spring training several times before, hoping for a better contract. But it was different this time for the 31-year-old. He enlisted the help of Marvin Miller, a seasoned labor negotiator who had become head of the Major League Players Association in1966. With Miller at the helm, the players union finally began standing up to team owners.

McNally wanted $10,000 more than the Orioles were willing to pay him in 1974. When the team refused, he took his case to arbitration—and won.

The victory, however, was bittersweet.

“It was a helluva experience to go through,” McNally said in late February at the Orioles’ spring training camp after hearing about the ruling. “I learned a lot from it.”

What he apparently learned was that during discussion of a player’s salary, team management could bring up almost anything. McNally said he didn’t mind having Orioles general manager Frank Cashen commenting on his playing ability or his personal opinion of McNally.

“He is entitled to that. But there were some things said during the hearing that I don’t think should have been said. That's all I want to say about it.”

Cashen said he would rather not discuss any of the three salary disputes that went to arbitration. “It's over with. We won two cases and lost one,” he said, the wins involving salary requests from Paul Blair and Bobby Grich.

McNally ended with a salary estimated at $115,000.

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Jamie Larson