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Sandra Day O’Connor and Dave McNally

We spent most of the morning (December 19, 2023) watching the very moving funeral service for Sandra Day O’Connor in Washington’s National Cathedral.

Seeing the nation say goodbye to the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court brought to mind a baseball story I heard a couple years ago. That story makes a connection between Sandra, her husband, John, and star Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dave McNally, which was created through Dave’s sister, Dee Nobles.

Dee, about six years older than Dave, became a legal secretary in downtown Billings after graduating from high school and attending college in the 1950s. She and her mother, Beth McNally, regularly watched Dave play Little League baseball at Lissa Field in Billings.

At one point, Dee told me, she moved to Phoenix to get better pay. She landed a job at the high-powered firm where Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, John, was a principal.

Sandra Day O’Connor, meanwhile, who had earned a law degree at Stanford University, was just starting her rise to the highest ranks of service to the nation. In 1969, then 39, she had been appointed to the Arizona Senate to fill a vacancy in that body. She had already served as assistant attorney general in Arizona, and she rose to become majority leader of the state senate. Then, in 1981, President Ronald Regan appointed her to the Supreme Court; the U.S. Senate approved her nomination on a 99-0 vote.

That was in the future, though, in October 1970 when the Baltimore Orioles and the Cincinnati Reds prepared for the fifth game of the World Series, a home contest for the Birds at Memorial Stadium.

The lawyers at the law firm where Dee worked knew that her brother, Dave, was going to pitch that day. So, in a break with the class system in law firms at that time that precluded socializing between lawyers and legal secretaries, the lawyers invited Dee to join them to watch the game on TV in the boardroom.

The game progressed to the fateful sixth inning when Dave came to the plate with the bases loaded and the Orioles leading, 4-1.

“Is he going to get a hit?” the lawyers asked Dee.

“Oh, no, he can’t hit the broad side of a barn,” she said.

Then Dave sent a pitch from Reds’ reliever Wayne Granger sailing into the left field bleachers. It was the first and still only grand slam home run hit by a pitcher in World Series play.

“I never lived that down around the firm,” Dee said.

I forgot to ask Dee whether she ever told Dave about her remark before he died in Billings in 2002 and, if she did, what his reaction was. Guess I’ll try to get that little detail from her so I can include it in my upcoming biography of Dave, Never Give an Inch, before it goes to print.

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Jamie Larson