“I was not a good hitter. If you threw me a fastball about belt high on the inside third of the plate I could hit it. Other than that I couldn’t hit anything.”
If the man that said that played third base, odds are he would not end up on our Top 50 Orioles list. It’s no surprise that Dave McNally made his money on the mound, but nationwide the starter may be best known for what he did at the plate.
In Game Three of the 1970 World Series, McNally became the only pitcher to hit a grand slam in the Fall Classic. The left-handed pitcher took the plate from the right side and blasted a line drive into the left field bleachers. The shot propelled McNally and the O’s to a 9-3 victory and placed them just one win from an eventual World Series title.
The blast lives on to this day as a fun fact, but Dave McNally was far more than the answer to a trivia question. He ranks right up there with Jim Palmer and Mike Mussina as the greatest Orioles pitchers of all time. That is, if you’re into ranking them.
McNally was born on Halloween night in Billings, Montana, back in 1942. After a dominant American Legion career, the O’s added McNally to their crop of talented pitching prospects in 1960. The youngster overcame a few growing pains in the minors and earned a September call up for a spot start two years later. McNally took full advantage of the opportunity by delivering a two-hit shutout against the Kansas City Athletics.
The late season win, his only appearance in 1962, showed Baltimore two things. The kid could pitch, and he could pitch under pressure. McNally claimed a roster spot as a swingman in ‘63 but started more as the season went on. He posted a 9-11 record with a 3.67 ERA over 30 games (23 starts) in 1964 before a breakout campaign a year later.
McNally improved his record to 11-6 and posted a sub-three (2.85) in 1965. A year later, he pitched against the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. McNally made the appearance after delivering a 13-6 record and 3.17 ERA for the league leading 97-63 Orioles.
McNally took the mound in Game Four with the title resting on his left shoulder. He outdueled Dodgers stud Don Drysdale in a 1-0 shutout victory that clinched Baltimore’s first title. The Orioles pitching staff dominated Los Angeles allowing only two runs total in the series.
The Orioles had arrived.
McNally took the ball on Opening Day in ‘67 before a calcium deposit in his left elbow derailed his season. The lefty returned the following year and delivered a downright ridiculous season for a starting pitcher.
McNally tallied 22 wins, 202 strikeouts, a 1.95 ERA and a 0.842 WHIP. The 22 victories were good for second best in the league, while his WHIP marked a league low. Even those who like to discount win total must be impressed with a .0842 WHIP over 273 innings. Those numbers delivered him the 1968 Comeback Player of the Year Award and a fifth place finish in the AL MVP vote. Surprisingly, he had to wait another year before being named to his first All Star team.
Snubbing McNally from the All Star game in ‘69 would have been next to impossible after the lefty began the season with 15 consecutive victories. The guy did not lose a game until August 3, and his 17 straight wins (two dating back to the end of ‘68) set a major league record at the time. He finished the year with a 20-7 record and 3.22 ERA
McNally helped carry Baltimore to the then five-game American League Championship Series against the Twins. His nine shutout innings in Game Two were not enough to clinch a pitching duel, so he added two more clean innings for good measure. His 11 scoreless innings remains the longest postseason shutout— a record that appears extremely safe in today’s game.
McNally took a difficult loss in Game Two, and his two-run home run in Game Five could not propel the club to victory. The Birds eventually fell to the Amazing Mets, but would return with a vengeance the following year.
The Billings native led the majors in wins with 24 and made his second consecutive All Star team in 1970. That number, paired with a 3.22 ERA, led him to a second place finish in the AL Cy Young competition. McNally finished in the top four in 1969-1971 but never won the award.
The O’s swept the Twins in the ALCS prior to defeating the Reds 4-1 in the World Series. McNally paired a quality start with the legendary home run that plated Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson and Davey Johnson.
The O’s ultimately faltered in 1971, but McNally etched his name in the history book once again as a member of the last pitching staff to feature four 20-game winners. He joined Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson in the feat.
McNally won at least 20 games in four consecutive seasons (1968-1971). He finished with 184 career victories, 1512 strikeouts and a career 3.24 ERA. At the end of his career, McNally joined a labor grievance with Andy Messersmith that lead to the elimination of the reserve clause and paved the way for modern free agency.
McNally pitched his final 12 games as a member of the Montreal Expos, but he was always an Oriole. He was the first pitcher, and third player after Brooks and Frank Robinson, to be inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame.
The O’s Hall-of-Famer retired and returned to his hometown where he entered the automobile industry. He died in 2002 after battles with lung and prostate cancer.
McNally’s place on this list represent his accomplishments in Baltimore, but he was a legend in Billings. He may be the greatest athlete to ever come from Montana. His legacy can be briefly encompassed in this Billings’ CBS affiliate video below.