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The early days of free agency

Friday, December 6, 2002
McNally won 20 games four straight seasons
Associated Press

Dave McNally, who pitched the Baltimore Orioles to their first World Series championship and later posted the landmark legal win that led to baseball's free-agent era and multimillion-dollar salaries, has died of cancer. He was 60.

Dave McNally
Dave McNally was 184-119 in his major league career.

McNally died late Dec. 1 in his hometown of Billings, Mont., said John Michelotti of Michelotti Sawyers & Nordquist Funeral Home.

A three-time All-Star and four-time 20-game winner, McNally beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 to complete the Orioles' surprise sweep for the 1966 title.

McNally's 1-0, 11-inning win over Minnesota in the 1969 AL championship series still stands as the longest complete-game shutout in postseason history. And he remains the only pitcher to hit a grand slam in the World Series.

Yet McNally's most significant victory came off the field. In 1975, he teamed with Andy Messersmith in the grievance that toppled the sport's century-old reserve clause, giving veteran players the right to choose their team.

''His courage and determination led him, along with Andy Messersmith, to challenge a flawed system, and thus helped pave the way to improved working conditions for all professional athletes,'' players' union Don Fehr said.

With Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar, McNally gave the Orioles one of the most formidable rotations in history during the 1960s and '70s.

''We all understood what the McNally-Messersmith case meant. But let's not forget that Dave was a heck of a pitcher,'' Palmer said Monday.

McNally was 184-119 lifetime with a 3.24 ERA. In his major league debut in 1962, the smooth left-hander pitched a two-hit shutout against the Kansas City Athletics. And in 1968-69, he tied the AL record with 17 straight wins.

''Dave was an unbelievable competitor,'' recalled his former manager, Hall of Famer Earl Weaver. ''He did it with cunning and intelligence. He loved to set you up with a change, fool you with that tremendous curve and then throw the fastball by you.

''Plus, he was 100 percent gentleman. He was the kind of guy you wanted your son to be,'' he said.

Palmer felt the same way. When his youngest daughter was born, he picked McNally and his wife as the godparents.

McNally wore No. 19 during his Orioles' career. Earlier this year, the most famous Baltimore athlete to wear No. 19 also died -- Johnny Unitas.

McNally had been in poor health. Late in his life, he worked at a car dealership in Billings -- never reaping the big-bucks rewards that he helped win for future players.

Two years ago, just after shortstop Alex Rodriguez signed his record $252 million, 10-year contract, McNally commented on the deal on the day he was honored as Montana's athlete of the century.

''My first thought when I saw that was: Did Texas offer him $250 million and he wanted 2 more?'' he told the Billings Gazette. ''How did they get to $252 million?''

McNally won 20 or more games in four straight seasons from 1968 to 1971. After helping the Orioles to their fifth division title in six years, he was traded with outfielder Rich Coggins and minor leaguer Bill Kirkpatrick to the second-division Montreal Expos for Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez on Dec. 4, 1974.

McNally quit baseball the following June after starting the season 3-6 with Montreal.

Even though McNally was retired, Montreal president John McHale traveled to Billings that November, and offered him $125,000 to sign a contract.

At the same, Messersmith had refused to sign his contract with Los Angeles and the union filed a grievance, claiming the teams couldn't renew his rights in perpetuity.

The Dodgers later agreed to Messersmith's salary demand but wouldn't give him a no-trade clause, and union head Marvin Miller went to McNally, whose contract also had been unilaterally renewed, asking him to join the case.

''He was a really bright guy,'' Miller recalled Monday. ''He said, 'You want insurance and I'll be glad to give it to you.' So he joined the grievance. He didn't hesitate for a second. His contribution was a great one.''

McNally refused and arbitrator Peter Seitz agreed with the players, issuing the decision on Dec. 23, 1975, that overturned the reserve clause. Owners and the union then negotiated a labor deal under which players could become free agents after they had played in the major leagues for six seasons.

With teams competing to sign the top stars, the average salary rose from $44,000 in 1975 to $2.38 million at the start of this season.

''Dave will be remembered as one of the aces of those great Baltimore Orioles pitching staffs in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as for his role in the overturning of the reserve clause,'' commissioner Bud Selig said.

An All-Star in 1969, 1970 and 1972, he was also known as a good hitter. On the Orioles' way to the 1970 World Series championship, he hit a grand slam in Game 3 against Cincinnati's Wayne Granger.

At 23, McNally gave the Orioles their greatest victory. His four-hitter defeated Don Drysdale and the Dodgers at old Memorial Stadium to complete a Series sweep.

In the ninth inning, after the Dodgers put runners on first and second, Gold Glove third baseman Brooks Robinson went to the mound to visit McNally.

''Dave was all set to get some sage advice and Brooks says, 'Don't let him hit it to me,''' Palmer remembered Monday.

McNally got Lou Johnson on a fly ball to end it.

''The look of wonderment in his smiling face as Brooks Robinson leaps into his arms after the last out of the 1966 World Series will live forever in the memory of Oriole fans,'' Baltimore owner Peter Angelos said.

''That he was the first pitcher inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame is testament to his place in Orioles history,'' he said. ''His impact on baseball, through his testing of the reserve clause in 1975, left an indelible mark for which all major league baseball players should be indebted to him.''

David Arthur McNally was born in Billings on Oct. 31, 1942, and signed with the Orioles in 1960.

His 17 consecutive wins tied the AL mark set by Cleveland's Johnny Allen in 1936-37. McNally got some breaks along the way, prompting teammates to playfully nickname him ''McLucky.'' Roger Clemens later set the league record with 20 straight victories.

In 1971, McNally joined Palmer, Cuellar and Pat Dobson in becoming the first four teammates to win 20 games in the same season since the 1920 Chicago White Sox.

While with the Orioles, he gave up Al Kaline's 3,000th career hit in 1974.

McNally is survived by his wife, Jean; sons Jeff and Mike; daughters Anne Anderson, Susan Lisi and Pam Murphy; two brothers, a sister and eight grandchildren.

A funeral was scheduled for Thursday at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Billings, with burial to follow at Yellowstone Valley Memorial Park. His family asked that any memorials be sent to the Billings Ronald McDonald House, Billings Boys and Girls Club or the Billings American Legion baseball program.

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