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John McNamara, manager of the 1986 Red Sox, dies at 88

John McNamara managed the Red Sox for 3½ seasons, leading the team to the 1986 World Series.
John McNamara managed the Red Sox for 3½ seasons, leading the team to the 1986 World Series.Staff, Globe

John McNamara, manager of the ill-fated 1986 Red Sox, died Tuesday in Tennessee at the age of 88. His death was confirmed to the Globe by his wife, Ellen McNamara of Brentwood, Tenn., and his nephew, Joe McNamara of Sacramento.

McNamara managed 19 seasons in the major leagues with the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, California Angels, Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians. His career mark was 1,160-1,233-2 (.485).

He was hired by Haywood Sullivan to replace Ralph Houk in Boston, and the 1985 Red Sox went 81-81 in McNamara’s first season in the Fenway Park dugout.

A year later, McNamara was American League Manager of the Year as the Red Sox took over first place for good in late May.

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The Red Sox won a dramatic AL Championship Series, recovering from a 3-1 series deficit and beating the Angels in seven games. It was in October of 1986 that McNamara became a household name in New England when a series of questionable decisions doomed the Red Sox in the World Series.

He was second-guessed for pinch-hitting for Roger Clemens with the Sox leading Game 6, 3-2, in the eighth. He also was criticized for leaving a hobbled Bill Buckner on the field when the Sox led in the bottom of the 10th. Buckner’s error on Mookie Wilson’s grounder became the iconic moment of the Sox’ collapse.

“When John got hired in Boston, my dad said, ‘Boston’s a graveyard for managers,‘ ‘’ recalled Joe McNamara. “He was right about that.

“I think that World Series experience changed him. It hardened him a little bit. He was really a funny guy before that. Some of that went away, but I think when he was able to look back at his time there and the people he met, I think overall he enjoyed it.”

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McNamara touched a lot of baseball lives in his lengthy career. Reggie Jackson, who played under McNamara in Birmingham, Ala., as an A’s minor leaguer in 1967, cited McNamara’s social conscience when Jackson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993.

“I learned to understand friendship and sensitivity from a very special friend by the name of John McNamara,‘' Jackson said during his acceptance speech in Cooperstown, N.Y. “He was my manager, and he would not allow the team to eat in a restaurant where I was not allowed to eat. I always wondered why we ate sandwiches on the bus and made only essential pit stops.

“I understood care from that. I’ll always remember you, John, for your dignity and sensitivity and for stepping up at a time when very few did.‘'

McNamara managed the Sox for one and a half more seasons after the 1986 World Series, going 78-84 in 1987, and 43-42 before he was fired at the All-Star break in 1988 and replaced by Joe Morgan.

After spending the 1989 season as a scout for the Seattle Mariners, McNamara returned to the dugout as the manager of the Cleveland Indians for the 1990 season, going 77-85, He was dismissed in the middle of the 1991 season with the Indians struggling to a 25-52 record.

He joined the California Angels as a minor league catching instructor and had a brief stint as the manager in 1996 when Marcel Lachemann resigned in August. He went 5-9 before he had to be hospitalized with a blood clot. He returned to finish the season, going 10-18 in his final stint as manager.

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Before joining the Red Sox, McNamara had reached the postseason once, when he led the Reds to the NL West title in 1979 in his first season after the organization had fired Sparky Anderson. After dropping the first two games of the NLCS at home in extra innings, the Reds were swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who went on to win the World Series.

Andrew Mahoney of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.