John McNamara (baseball)

John Francis McNamara (June 4, 1932  July 28, 2020) was an American professional baseball player, manager and coach. After spending over 15 years in the minor leagues as a catcher 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.

John McNamara
McNamara managing the Red Sox in 1986
Born: (1932-06-04)June 4, 1932
Sacramento, California, U.S.
Died: July 28, 2020(2020-07-28) (aged 88)
Brentwood, Tennessee, U.S.
Career statistics
Win–loss Record1,160–1,233–2
Winning %.485
As manager

As coach

Career highlights and awards

Early life and playing career

McNamara was born in Sacramento,[1] 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 California Department of Motor Vehicles. McNamara attended Christian Brothers High School, where he was selected as an All-City player in both basketball and baseball.[2] 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.[3][4]

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 who originally signed 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.[2][5]

Managing and coaching career

Minor leagues

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' farm system. After helming the Triple-A Dallas Rangers in 1964, he won Southern League pennants at Mobile (1966) and Birmingham (1967), Kansas City's Double-A affiliates, where he groomed many future members of the Oakland Athletics' early-1970s dynasty (Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Reggie Jackson, as well as Sal Bando, Blue Moon Odom, Joe Rudi and others). 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, credited McNamara with helping him through his time with Birmingham, with the racial tensions that existed in the Deep South at the time.[2]

Oakland Athletics

McNamara served as a coach at the major-league level for Oakland from 1968 through September 18, 1969, when 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 behind 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.[2] Finley replaced him with Dick Williams at season's end,[2][6] 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.[7]

San Diego Padres

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,[8] then signed free agents Fingers and Gene Tenace away from McNamara's old team, the A's.[2] Expected to dramatically improve in 1977, instead the Padres stood at only 20–28 on May 28,[8] 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 Cincinnati Reds in 1979.[2]

Cincinnati Reds

After World Series titles in 1975 and 1976, the Reds finished second to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two consecutive seasons in the National League West Division, and Anderson had been fired amid controversy,[9] reportedly because he refused his front office's order to fire members of his coaching staff.[10]

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 112 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, 312 games 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.[8][2]

California Angels

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.[2] 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[2] – 23 fewer than in 1982 – and finishing 29 games behind the Chicago White Sox.[11] 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.[12] McNamara clashed with pitcher Tommy John that year, not listening to John when the 41-year-old pitcher told him he was tiring in games.[13] Late in the year, he moved John to the bullpen, then forbid him to practice throwing because he wanted to keep the pitcher's arm fresh in case he needed him.[14] Wanting practice to get his problems straightened out, John practiced throwing anyway, much to McNamara's displeasure.[15] Frank Pastore had the same issue with McNamara during the manager's time with the Reds.[16]

Boston Red Sox

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 1812 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East Division.[2]

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.[8] 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.[2]

1986 World Series

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.[17]

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).[17] He later said, "I felt Buckner deserved to be on the field when we won."[18] 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."[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22] The Red Sox would lose the game 8–5, thus losing the series.[2]

Final seasons (1987–88) with Red Sox

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.[2]

Cleveland Indians and interim Angels' pilot

McNamara's managing career was not over, however. He spent 1989 as a Seattle Mariners scout, but on November 3, 1989,[23] 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.[24] But in 1991, Cleveland took a major step backward; they won only 25 of 77 games under McNamara until his firing on July 5,[8] and dropped 105 of 162 games that season.[25]

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.[26] 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.[2] He compiled a 10–18 overall record,[8] and was eventually succeeded by Terry Collins for 1997.[27]

Managerial record

The 1996 assignment concluded McNamara's managerial career. Over all or parts of 19 seasons, he had a record of 1,160–1,233 (.485).[8]

TeamYearRegular seasonPostseason
GamesWonLostWin %FinishWonLostWin %Result
OAK1969 1385.6152nd in AL West
OAK1970 1628973.5492nd in AL West
OAK total1759778.55400
SD1974 16260102.3706th in NL West
SD1975 1627191.4384th in NL West
SD1976 1627389.4515th in NL West
SD1977 482028.417fired
SD total534224310.41900
CIN1979 1619071.5591st in NL West03.000Lost NLCS (PIT)
CIN1980 1628973.5493rd in NL West
CIN1981 563521.6252nd in NL West
523121.5962nd in NL West
CIN1982 923458.370fired
CIN total523279244.53303.000
CAL1983 1627092.4325th in AL West
CAL1984 1628181.5002nd in AL West
CAL1996 281018.357interim
CAL total352161191.45700
BOS1985 1628181.5005th in AL East
BOS1986 1619566.5901st in AL East77.500Lost World Series (NYM)
BOS1987 1627884.4815th in AL East
BOS1988 854342.506fired
BOS total570297273.52177.500
CLE1990 1627785.4754th in AL East
CLE1991 772552.325fired
CLE total239102137.42700

Personal life

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.[2] 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.[28] Tommy John described him as having a "quiet" personality.[29]

McNamara died aged 88 on July 28, 2020, at his home in Tennessee.[30][31]

See also

  • List of Major League Baseball managers by wins


  1. Davidson, Joe (July 31, 2020). "Remembering John McNamara, Sacramento-raised MLB manager". Sacramento Bee. Sacramento, CA. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  2. Armour, Mark. "John McNamara". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  3. "State Championship History". California Community College Athletic Association.
  4. "Hall of Fame: All-Time Inductees". Sacramento City College Panthers.
  5. "John McNamara Minor League Statistics and History". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  6. "Finley sets news conference; Athletic manager not invited". Bend Bulletin. (Oregon). UPI. October 2, 1970. p. 7.
  7. "Oakland Athletics Team History & Encyclopedia Minor League Statistics and History". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  8. "John McNamara Managerial Record". Baseball Reference. Sports Reference. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  9. Boswell, Thomas (November 29, 1978). "Reds Fire Anderson as Manager". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  10. Price, Steve (November 28, 2010). "This Day in Reds' History: Anderson Fired, McNamara Hired". Redleg Nation. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  11. "1983 AL Team Statistics". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  12. "1984 AL Team Statistics". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  13. John and Valenti, pp. 244-45
  14. John and Valenti, pp. 247-48
  15. John and Valenti, pp. 248-49
  16. John and Valenti, p. 248
  17. Fimrite, Ron (November 3, 1986). "Good To The Very Last Out". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on July 30, 2020. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  18. Neyer, Rob. Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders (2006), p. 229.
  19. Sowell, Mike. One Pitch Away (1995).
  20. 1986: A Postseason To Remember, MLB Network, 2011
  21. "Cooperstown Confidential: The sad saga of Oil Can Boyd | The Hardball Times". May 4, 2012.
  22. "October 27, 1986 World Series Game 7, Boston Red Sox at New York Mets Play by Play and Box Score". Sports Reference LLC. May 17, 1977. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  23. "McNamara Named Manager of Indians". The Los Angeles Times. November 3, 1989. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  24. "1990 AL Team Statistics". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  25. "1991 AL Team Statistics". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  26. "Angel Manager is Hospitalized". The New York Times. August 21, 1996. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  27. "1997 Anaheim Angels Statistics". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  28. Sandomir, Richard (July 31, 2020). "John McNamara, Red Sox Skipper in '86 Series Loss, Dies at 88". The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  29. John and Valenti, p. 243
  30. Golen, Jimmy (July 29, 2020). "John McNamara, manager of ill-fated '86 Red Sox, dies at 88". Associated Press. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  31. Shaughnessy, Dan (July 29, 2020). "John McNamara, manager of the 1986 Red Sox, dies at 88". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  • John, Tommy; Valenti, Dan (1991). TJ: My Twenty-Six Years in Baseball. New York: Bantam. ISBN 0-553-07184-X.
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