McNamara managing the Red Sox in 1986
|Born: June 4, 1932|
|Died: July 28, 2020 (aged 88)|
|Career highlights and awards|
John Francis McNamara (June 4, 1932 – July 28, 2020) was an American professional baseball manager, coach and player. After spending over 15 years in the minor leagues as a player and player-manager, McNamara helmed six Major League Baseball (MLB) teams for all or parts of 19 seasons between 1969 and 1996. He directed the 1986 Boston Red Sox to the American League pennant, and was named his league's "Manager of the Year" by both the BBWAA and The Sporting News. However, the Red Sox were defeated by the New York Mets in seven games in the 1986 World Series when they failed to hold a two-run, two-out, two-strike lead in Game 6, and a three-run advantage in Game 7.
McNamara was born in Sacramento on June 4, 1932. He was the fourth of five children of John and Josephine McNamara. His father, an Irish immigrant who was a railroad worker, died in 1944; his mother worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles. McNamara attended Christian Brothers High School, where he was selected as an All-City player in both basketball and baseball (playing catcher). At Sacramento City College (SCC), he led his team to the 1951 California Community College Athletic Association state championship and later was inducted to the SCC Athletic Hall of Fame.
A right-handed batter and thrower who stood 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall and weighed 175 pounds (79 kg), in his playing days he was a peripatetic, weak-hitting catcher, originally signing with the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1951. He rose as high as the Open-Classification Pacific Coast League during 1956 as a member of his hometown Solons, but he hit only .171 in 76 games played.
McNamara began his managing career with the Lewis-Clark Broncs in Lewiston, Idaho, of the Class B Northwest League in 1959, and when the club became an affiliate of the Kansas City Athletics in 1960, McNamara joined the Athletics' system. He won Southern League pennants with the Mobile A's (1966) and Birmingham A's (1967), Kansas City's Double-A affiliates, where he groomed many future members of the Oakland Athletics' early-1970s dynasty (Baseball Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Reggie Jackson, as well as Sal Bando, Blue Moon Odom, Joe Rudi and others) during his tenure as the organization's Double-A manager. At the same time, McNamara also mentored future Hall of Fame manager (then an infielder) Tony LaRussa and future pitching coach (then catcher) Dave Duncan. Jackson, in particular, credits McNamara with helping him through his time with Birmingham, with the racial tensions that existed in the Deep South at the time.
McNamara served as a coach at the major-league level for Oakland from 1968 through September 18, 1969. On that day, A's owner Charlie Finley fired manager Hank Bauer and promoted McNamara, then 37, to succeed him. The Athletics were in second place in the American League West Division, nine games in arrears of the Minnesota Twins. They went 8–5 under McNamara for the rest of the campaign, then finished second to the Twins again in 1970 with an 89–73 mark. Finley replaced him with Dick Williams at season's end, and the A's would go on to win five successive division titles and three straight American League pennants and World Series titles under Williams and Alvin Dark.
McNamara returned to the coaching ranks from 1971–73 with the cross-bay San Francisco Giants before he took over the struggling San Diego Padres as their manager in 1974. The Padres improved incrementally, winning 60, 71 and 73 games through 1976, then signed free agents Fingers and Gene Tenace away from McNamara's old team, the A's. Expected to dramatically improve in 1977, instead the Padres stood at only 20–28 on May 28, when McNamara was fired and replaced by Dark. He spent 1978 as a coach for the California Angels, then was hired to succeed Sparky Anderson, also a future Hall of Fame manager, as skipper of the 1979 Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds had finished second to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two consecutive seasons in the National League West Division, and Anderson had been fired amid controversy, reportedly because he refused his front office's order to fire members of his coaching staff.
McNamara's 1979 Reds, minus legend Pete Rose, who had defected to the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent, won 90 games—two fewer than Anderson's 1978 team. But they edged the Houston Astros by 11⁄2 games to win the NL West and became McNamara's first postseason entry. In the 1979 National League Championship Series, however, the Reds dropped the first two games at home in extra innings to the Pittsburgh Pirates, then were swept out of the playoffs in Game 3. Pittsburgh went on to win the 1979 World Series. McNamara's 1980 Reds won 89 games but finished third, 31⁄2 lengths behind Houston. Then came Cincinnati's frustrating 1981 season: the Reds compiled the best overall record in the National League West (66–42, .611), but the split-season format adopted because of the 1981 Major League Baseball strike denied them a place in the playoffs because they finished second (initially to the Dodgers, then to the Astros) in each half-season. The 1981 campaign became all the more distressing because the 1982 Reds unraveled, losing 58 of their first 92 games, falling into the division basement. McNamara was fired on July 20, 1982, with Cincinnati 23 games out of first place.
Buzzie Bavasi had been the president of the Padres when McNamara became their manager in 1974, and had moved to the California Angels after the 1977 season as general manager. Along with then-manager Dave Garcia, he had hired McNamara as an Angels coach in 1978, before the Reds job opened up. After the 1982 season, when the Angels lost a heart-breaking ALCS to the Milwaukee Brewers, their veteran manager, Gene Mauch, retired. Bavasi then hired McNamara a third time, this time as skipper of the 1983 Angels, although that team dropped precipitously in the standings, winning only 70 games – 23 fewer than in 1982 – and finishing 29 games behind the Chicago White Sox. The following year, the 1984 Angels clawed back to .500 at 81–81, but came within three games of the division champion Kansas City Royals, who won only 84 contests all season.
When Ralph Houk, 65, retired as Boston's manager at the close of the 1984 season, the Red Sox approached the Angels about McNamara's availability for the opening; he and Haywood Sullivan, the Red Sox' chief executive officer and co-owner, had managed together in the Athletics' organization in the mid-1960s. With Mauch ready to return to the dugout, the Angels agreed to let McNamara go to Boston, and in 1985, he led the Red Sox to another .500 season; but at 81–81, they finished 181⁄2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East Division.
However, 1986 would be a different story. With fireballing Roger Clemens winning his first 14 decisions en route to the Cy Young Award and American League Most Valuable Player Award, the Red Sox won 95 games and captured the division title, setting the stage for McNamara's second and final postseason appearance as a manager. First, they battled back from a three-games-to-one deficit to defeat Mauch's Angels in the 1986 American League Championship Series, reaching the World Series against the National League champion New York Mets.
McNamara's managerial tactics during the 1986 World Series (especially in the last two games) received much criticism and scrutiny. In the pivotal sixth game, McNamara removed Red Sox ace Roger Clemens in the eighth inning despite the fact that Clemens was still pitching well. Both parties have different stories regarding Clemens's departure. According to Clemens, he did not want to leave the game, but McNamara insisted that Clemens asked to be taken out because he had a blister on his pitching hand. McNamara was also criticized for pinch-hitting Clemens with rookie Mike Greenwell, who struck out on three pitches, when veteran slugger Don Baylor was also available. McNamara's move was further questioned in light of the relatively poor performances of closer Calvin Schiraldi and longtime reliever Bob Stanley, especially considering that he brought Schiraldi into the game for what was supposed to be a two-inning save and left him in the game for the first two outs of the tenth after he blew the save.
Yet, perhaps the decision that McNamara will be most remembered for is his leaving first baseman Bill Buckner in the game in the 10th inning rather than removing him for a defensive substitute. McNamara was ridiculed for years afterward for leaving Buckner on the field instead of replacing him with Dave Stapleton, who had previously been used to replace Buckner in late innings for defensive purposes (including Games 1 and 5 of the World Series). He later said, "I felt Buckner deserved to be on the field when we won."  The Red Sox players also believed that their manager let sentiment overpower his judgement. Stapleton claimed that "[McNamara] damn well knows that he messed up. And he very well could have cost us the World Series that year." McNamara finally responded to Stapleton's attack in 2011 during an interview with Bob Costas for MLB Network, reneging on his original claim that sentiment was what caused him to keep Buckner in the game and saying that Stapleton had the nickname of "Shaky" because of his poor defense.
With Game 7 delayed a day due to rain in New York, McNamara bumped originally-scheduled starting pitcher Oil Can Boyd in favor of starting Bruce Hurst, the winner of Games 1 and 5 and the presumptive MVP of the series if the Red Sox were to win, on three days' rest; the Red Sox had chosen to go with a normal four-man rotation during the series, unlike the Mets who pitched a three-man rotation. The decision upset Boyd so much that he began drinking heavily afterward and drank himself to the point of intoxication, according to accounts given by McNamara and his pitching coach Bill Fischer, thus rendering him unavailable.
Hurst was staked to a 3–0 lead and pitched shutout ball for five innings, but tired in the sixth allowing the Mets to score three runs to tie the game. Since Boyd's actions had left the bullpen short staffed in a situation where every able pitcher would need to be available in case of an emergency, McNamara decided to bring Calvin Schiraldi in despite his struggles in Game 6 and the fact that he was still tired from pitching 2.2 innings that night (something he wasn't used to). Schiraldi gave up a tie-breaking home run to Ray Knight, the first batter he faced, and ended up surrendering three runs while recording only a single out. The Red Sox would lose the game 8–5, thus losing the series.
McNamara's 1987 Red Sox not only failed to repeat as divisional or league champions, they failed to reach .500: at 78 wins, they finished 20 games behind the Detroit Tigers. McNamara was invited to return for 1988, and the Boston bullpen was buttressed by the acquisition of All-Star relief pitcher and future Hall of Famer Lee Smith. However, the Red Sox played well below expectations and were only 43–42, nine games behind the Tigers, by the July 11–14 All-Star break. McNamara was fired during the hiatus, and his interim successor, third-base coach Joe Morgan, promptly won 19 of his first 20 games as skipper to pull the Red Sox into a first-place tie with Tigers by August 3. They went on to win the division championship.
McNamara's managing career was not over, however. He spent 1989 as a Seattle Mariners scout, but on November 3, 1989, the Cleveland Indians hired him as their skipper for 1990. Under McNamara, the 1990 Indians improved by four games compared with the 1989 edition, going 77–85 and finishing fourth in the AL East, only 11 games behind the Red Sox. But in 1991, Cleveland took a major step backward; they won only 25 of 77 games under McNamara until his firing on July 5, and dropped 105 of 162 games that season.
McNamara returned to the Angels' organization as a minor league catching instructor, but was called to manage in the majors a final time in 1996 at age 64. He became interim pilot upon Marcel Lachemann's resignation on August 6, and had directed them to a 5–9 record when he was hospitalized for a blood clot in his leg on August 20. After coach Joe Maddon helmed the Angels for three weeks while he was treated, McNamara was able to return to the Angels and finish the 1996 season. He compiled a 10–18 overall record, and was eventually succeeded by Terry Collins for 1997.
The 1996 assignment concluded McNamara's managerial career. Over all or parts of 19 seasons, he had a record of 1,167–1,242 (.484).
|Team||From||To||Regular season record||Post–season record|
|W||L||Win %||W||L||Win %|
|San Diego Padres||1974||1977||224||310||.419|
|Boston Red Sox||1985||1988||297||273||.521||7||7||.500|
McNamara married his first wife, Kathleen, at the start of his playing career. Together, they raised four children – three daughters (Peggy, Maureen, and Susan) and one son (Mike). He subsequently married Ellen Goode. The two of them moved to her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, when McNamara retired from baseball. Very tragically, as noted in his obituary, in 1996 two of McNamara's young grandsons were killed by his son-in-law--their father---who then killed himself.