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Social Security helped McNally become a baseball star

A few days after Dave’s triumphant, World Series-clinching win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in October 1966, he and Jean made a short drive from their Baltimore home to suburban Woodlawn. Their destination was the Social Security headquarters.

Both Dave and Jean were far from Social Security age—he turned 24 that month, and she was 23–so the reason for the trip was non-retirement related. Social Security officials had invited the young Montana couple to the facility to join President Lyndon Johnson on a speaker’s platform. Together, Johnson and McNally touted a provision in the federal government-run retirement program that benefited McNally and other young people like him.

If it hadn’t been for Social Security, he might not have been able to help the Orioles reach the pinnacle of major league baseball, Dave said.

Dave, the youngest of four children, and his three older siblings, sister Dee, and brothers Jim and Dan, became entitled to Social Security benefits in 1945. That was the year their father, Jimmy, a Naval officer, was killed at Okinawa in the waning days of World War II.

Each of the McNally youngsters received monthly benefit checks, drawn in their deceased father’s name, until they turned 18. For Dave, that meant getting a check through the fall of 1960; he turned 18 on October 31 that year. That also was the year when Dave’s pitching led the Billings American Legion squad, Post No. 4, to the Legion World Series in Hastings, Nebraska, where the team took second place.

So, on this October 1966 day, Dave expressed thanks for the program to help lift seniors out of poverty that President Franklin Roosevelt pushed through Congress during the Great Depression.

According to an article in his hometown Billings Gazette, Dave conversed with Social Security Commission Robert M. Ball, who quoted the Magic City ace:

“Those Social Security checks coming in every month made it possible for me to play American Legion ball in my hometown of Billings, Montana.

“The year I was 18, Billings reached the finals of the American Legion tournament. We lost to New Orleans, but it brought me to the attention of the Orioles, and I was signed up.

There’s no record of Johnson’s reaction to McNally’s remarks, but the ebullient New Deal president was undoubtedly thankful for them. A wire service picture of the occasion, published in the Gazette, shows Johnson giving McNally a congratulatory handshake. Next to McNally, Wilbur J. Cohen, undersecretary of the Department of Health, makes an imitation pitch. But he gets it wrong. He uses his right arm—McNally was a southpaw.

It was just Johnson, at the highest level of the federal government in nearby Washington, who took notice of the Orioles and McNally. Vice-president Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesotan and presumably thus a Twins fan, did, too.

After McNally bested Dodgers’ ace Don Drysdale with a two-hit shutout in the Series finale, the Dodgers locker room got a visit from Humphrey, who had thrown out the first pitch in the game. He worked his way over to where Drysdale was sitting.

“You pitched a real fine game,” said Humphrey, described as a good baseball fan. “The ball was working good. You had a lot on it.”

“Thank you, sir,” Drysdale said, rising to his feet. “Dave McNally pitched a great game for Baltimore.”

“Yes, he did,” Humphrey said. “I thought it was a well played game for both sides.”

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Jamie Larson