Dave McNally, 60; Pitcher’s Fight Led to Free Agency

Times Staff Writer

Pitcher Dave McNally, whose many victories on the field paled in comparison with his victory in a precedent-setting arbitration case, died Sunday of cancer in Billings, Mont. He was 60.

McNally and fellow pitcher Andy Messersmith tested baseball’s reserve clause in 1975 and received a landmark ruling from arbitrator Peter Seitz that created the era of free agency and raised the average major-league salary from five figures to seven.

Messersmith, then pitching for the Dodgers, was first into the uncharted waters. When the Dodgers refused to put a no-trade clause in his 1975 contract, Messersmith refused to sign, playing instead under a renewed contract. The Major League Baseball Players Assn. filed a grievance.


Union head Marvin Miller then approached McNally, who was pitching for the Montreal Expos without a contract and who sat out more than half the season because of a sore arm.

“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.”

Until that time, a team could hold the rights to a player for his entire career. Messersmith and McNally argued that a player should be allowed to become a free agent one year after his contract expired.

While Messersmith was fighting for his future, McNally knew he was already through with baseball, knew his aching left arm had thrown its last competitive pitch, knew he was challenging the baseball establishment for the next generation.

“What I was seeking was fairness to young players,” he later told United Press International. “My whole objection to the reserve clause was that it wasn’t giving young players a chance.... . I saw so much of this during my time in the big leagues. Good, young players, real dynamite talent, was just sitting on the bench.

“Truthfully, when the arbitrator rendered his decision in my favor, I wasn’t really surprised. In my own mind, I didn’t see any other decision he could make.”


When Seitz announced Dec. 23, 1975, that the reserve clause was illegal, baseball was forever changed.

While McNally’s name will forever be linked with that ruling, his name can also be found in baseball’s record book.

Born in Billings on Oct. 31, 1942, David Arthur McNally attended Billings Central Catholic High School, which did not field a baseball team. So he turned to American Legion ball to demonstrate his pitching potential. And demonstrate it he did. In 1960, McNally was 18-1 with five no-hitters for his American Legion squad.

That impressed the Baltimore Orioles enough to sign McNally for $80,000.

Two years later, he made his major-league debut at 19, pitching a two-hit shutout to beat the Kansas City Athletics.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound McNally went on to pitch 14 seasons in the big leagues, 13 of those with the Orioles. He finished with a 184-119 record, a 3.24 earned run average, 1,512 strikeouts and 33 shutouts.

His most impressive run came from 1968 to 1971, four seasons in which he won 20 games each year.


McNally was an All-Star in 1969, ’70 and ‘72, and was a member of pennant-winning teams in Baltimore in 1966, ‘69, ’70 and ’71. The 1966 and ’70 Oriole teams went on to win the World Series. The 1966 victory against the Dodgers was clinched by McNally with a 1-0 shutout in Game 4.

McNally wasn’t only effective with a ball in his hand. He could produce with a bat as well, hitting 11 home runs in the majors.

He is the only pitcher ever to hit a grand slam in the World Series, doing so in Game 3 in 1970 against the Cincinnati Reds’ Wayne Granger.

Traded to the Montreal Expos on Dec. 4, 1974, McNally quit baseball the following June after starting the season 3-6.

He went on to run a car dealership in Billings, but his greatest effect on baseball was yet to come. The average salary in 1975, the last year before the arbitration ruling, was $44,000. At the start of this past season, it was $2.38 million.

“The difference between winning and losing,” Dick Moss, the lawyer who argued the case for the players’ association, told the Associated Press, “was billions and billions of dollars, maybe tens of billions of dollars.”


McNally, who was diagnosed with lung cancer nearly five years ago, leaves a wife, Jean, and five adult children.