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After 1970-what for an encore?

The 1970 World Series was behind him. It had been a triumph on a team level, the Orioles having won the fall classic by beating the powerful Cincinnati Reds, and on an individual level, that being the grand slam home run Dave slugged against the Reds. That was then and remains the only grand slam hit by a pitcher in World Series play.

Now, McNally started looking towards 1971. But not before a baseball writer got him to recall the heady days in September 1960 when the Orioles won out against other big league teams seeking his services and signed the highly-touted southpaw pitcher from Billings.

Unlike other sports phenomenons, McNally didn’t become “just another $80,000 dud,” someone who took the bonus money and ran.1 Actually, McNally’s bonus was reported to be $85,000.

“For one thing, it’s almost as if there was no money involved. Half went to my mother; the other half was put away for me and it hasn’t been touched since.”

It didn’t upset McNally to not have his bonus money available to spend on whatever struck his fancy. His money conservatism had to do with his upbringing.

“Coming from a small town, I was never that big on spending dough, anyway.”

McNally thought back to his first day in the Arizona Instructional League in November 1960. There, he met another young player who invited him to go to the dog track after they ate dinner one day.

“I said, ‘Sure,’ and went back to my room to get some money. I had a bunch of $10 and $20 traveler’s checks, and I was undecided which one I should cash for a night at the races. Finally, I eashed a 10. Not a couple of 10s, one.”

When the two got to the track, the other player wagered $30.

"I couldn’t believe it. But it gives you some idea of what me and money were like in those days.

“Kids from the big cities knew what going through money was all about, but maybe we were a little bit behind in this respect in Billings, which was okay with me.”

After playing two years in the minors, McNally made a spectacular major-league debut late in the 1962 season when he shut out the Kansas City Athletics on two hits. He officially made The Show as an Orioles player in 1963. He liked what he saw and was determined to stay.

“Any time I’d get disgusted, I’d look over at guys who were successful and say to myself, ’”Hell, I can throw as well as such-and-such.’ "

It wasn’t as if McNally breezed into the major leagues, especially when he endured his rocky 1961 stint with Victoria of the Texas League. But he prevailed and now was again playing for Earl Weaver, who had been his manager both in Wisconsin at the Fox Cities team and in Elmira, New York, his last farm-club stop before he made the Orioles roster.

Something a baseball writer said in the spring of 1971 triggered a thought for McNally.

“Until you mentioned it, it never really crossed my mind that maybe I wouldn’t make it in baseball and I’d have to find something else to do.”

“You know how you are as a kid. You want something so bad, you just can’t imagine it not happening, Maybe that’s the way it was with me and pitching.”

McNally’s steady progression as a major leaguer saw his win total increate each year from 1963 through 1966, when he was part of an underdog Orioles outfit that swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in their four-game world Series.

Then Dave confronted his first serious setback, a sore elbow that caused his 1967 win total to drop to seven, his lowest number since 1963, Baseball wasn’t a rose garden.

“That year was the first time I even thought about not playing baseball for a living,” he said.

His elbow healed, however, and McNally became a dominant pitcher. He had won twenty-two, twenty and twenty-four games in the three seasons before 1971.

His performance had brought him a salary that exceeded his original bonus by about $5,000. What was he going to do for an encore?

“All I can see is just try to get in shape and go at ’em again,” he said.

He put his words into action, shutting out the New York Yankees for three innings in his first spring exhibition appearance of 1971.

“I was just trying to throw the fast ball down and follow through. I didn’t do either too well.”

Elaborating on what his next act might be, McNally said he didn’t believe in setting goals.

“I try to stay away from them. If a guy does set a certain goal and he’s having trouble getting there, maybe he’ll start to panic–who needs that? Just take what comes.”

Including a hefty bonus that he got for signing with the Birds just before he turned 18?

“They did think a lot of my autograph,” McNally quipped.

What happened in 1970 would have been enough to assure McNally a lasting place in baseball lore and in the sport’s history. What he didn’t know, early in 1971, was that the Orioles would acquire Pat Dobson in a trade with the San Diego Padres. Dobson joined the Orioles’ already standout threesome of pitchers–McNally, Cuellar, and Palmer–to make a rotation of four pitchers, all of whom won twenty games that season. The Birds were the first team with four twenty-game winners since the 1920 Chicago White Sox, and Weaver’s crew would be acclaimed as the greatest pitching rotation in modern baseball history.

  1. The Sporting News, March 20, 1971 ↩︎

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Jamie Larson