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Twenty-five years later, John McNamara opens up

Ex-manager: Roger Clemens asked out of Game 6

John McNamara managed the Red Sox from 1985 to the middle of 1988, when he was fired.Globe Photo/Boston Globe

The former manager, now 79 years old, watched the World Series at his home outside Nashville, Tenn. John McNamara would see the veteran baseball men on the screen and remember them in their athletic primes, when they wore the same uniform as he did.

Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan, the manager and the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, played for McNamara, who later coached for a team that had Nolan Ryan, the president of the Texas Rangers. McNamara had no rooting interest in the outcome, but he could intimately relate to the sting of the Rangers’ loss.

‘‘Good lord, Texas was one strike away from it twice,’’ McNamara said Monday, in a telephone interview. ‘‘That’s tough to conceive.’’


McNamara managed the 1986 Boston Red Sox, the only team before Texas to come within one out — one strike, in fact — of winning the World Series, only to lose it. He managed a few more years, with the Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians and the California (now Los Angeles) Angels, but he never returned to the World Series. He has not worked in baseball in a decade.

McNamara wore his American League championship ring briefly, but hated the way it would enter his line of vision when he turned the car steering wheel, constantly reminding him of the agonizing night at Shea Stadium when a championship slipped away. He stuck the ring in a jewelry box and does not wear it anymore.

Like the Rangers, the 1986 Red Sox blew late leads in Game 6 on the road, then took a lead in Game 7 but lost. McNamara thought about that, too, as he watched the Rangers try to recover.

‘‘You do it because that’s your business, and you think you’re ready,’’ McNamara said. ‘‘But there’s that thought in your mind: ‘Oh, what’s going to happen now?’’’


For years, McNamara has mostly kept his thoughts on Game 6 to himself. He said he has been an easy target, and decided long ago that he could not change a well-worn narrative. A 2006 book, ‘‘Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders,’’ includes his picture on the cover.

But McNamara opened up in a retrospective on the 1986 postseason that airs Wednesday night on MLB Network. He explains his rationale for removing Roger Clemens after seven innings, with Boston leading, 3-2, and for leaving a hobbling Bill Buckner on the field for the fateful 10th inning, which ended when Buckner’s error gave the New York Mets a 6-5 victory.

McNamara had used Dave Stapleton at first base at the end of every postseason victory. But Stapleton was not on the field at the end of Game 6, and he never played in the majors again.

‘‘Buckner was the best first baseman I had,’’ McNamara says on the show. “And Dave Stapleton has taken enough shots at me since that he didn’t get in that ballgame, but Dave Stapleton’s nickname was Shakey. And you know what that implies. I didn’t want him playing first base to end that game, and it was not any sentimental thing that I had for Billy Buck.’’

A book by Lou Gorman, the former Red Sox general manager, asserted that McNamara told him he believed Buckner deserved to be on the field when the Red Sox won the championship.


McNamara insisted that was incorrect. He said he did not recall the specifics of using Stapleton in other games, but has never questioned himself for sticking with Buckner, whom he called a Hall of Fame-worthy player.

‘‘If the ball was hit to either side of him and he couldn’t get in front of it, yeah, I would have questioned myself,’’ McNamara said in the telephone interview. ‘‘But he got to the ball.’’

McNamara could have pinch-hit for Buckner with two outs and the bases loaded against the left-handed Jesse Orosco in the eighth. He had the right-handed Don Baylor on the bench and, of course, Stapleton available for defense.

Again, though, McNamara said that Buckner did what he was supposed to do — in this case, he hit the ball hard, but for a flyout. ‘‘I never pinch-hit for him, anyway,’’ McNamara said.

As for Clemens, McNamara says on the show that, after the last out of the bottom of the seventh, Clemens told him as he came off the mound, ‘‘That’s all I can pitch.’’ McNamara said there was never a blister on Clemens’ middle finger, only the start of a paper cut.

Clemens has consistently denied asking out of the game, and he does so again on Wednesday’s show. McNamara was emphatic in his TV interview, saying, ‘‘I don’t lie.’’

In any case, Calvin Schiraldi blew Clemens’ lead in the eighth, and crumbled again with a two-run lead in the bottom of the 10th, after two flyouts to start the inning. Bob Stanley replaced Schiraldi to face Mookie Wilson, throwing a game-tying wild pitch before Wilson’s little roller up along first.


There are other revelations in the show — McNamara confirms the account of pitching coach Bill Fischer that Oil Can Boyd was too drunk for relief work in Game 7 — and Schiraldi, Wilson and Bruce Hurst appear in the studio for interviews.

A quarter-century from now, we could see a similar study of the haunting final innings of this year’s Game 6 at Busch Stadium, analyzing Nelson Cruz’s shaky route to David Freese’s game-tying triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and Ron Washington’s curious bullpen moves in the 10th. McNamara could offer advice to Washington and the Rangers on handling their place in history.

‘‘You put it in the proper perspective, what it means,’’ he said. ‘‘It wasn’t meant to be. You go on the best you can and try to put it behind you and not let it kill you.’’