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McNamara Is Back and Has Everything Going His Way

The pizzas and the cheeseburgers were the first to go.

When John McNamara hired on as manager of the Boston Red Sox, he heard rumors that some of the players were in the habit of sending out for pizzas and cheeseburgers, dining in the clubhouse after batting practice and even during games.

McNamara quietly let it be known that anyone eating burgers on company time would have his buns shipped out.

He also instituted a dress code, worked his pitchers overtime in spring training, appointed a team captain (Jim Rice), changed the bullpen, fined his own stars for mental lapses and threatened to punch out an opponent twice his size.

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“He has seized power,” is how one knowledgeable observer put it.

This is the same John McNamara who had power seized from him, in some ways, when he was managing the Angels last season.

He was shorted on manpower, publicly second-guessed by General Manager Buzzie Bavasi and left dangling until October on whether he would be invited back this season.

When the offer came, McNamara said no thanks.

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He figured he’d get a job somewhere. He did. In Boston.

Monday night at Anaheim Stadium, Johnny Mac was back.

He was at the ballpark by 3 p.m., chewing tobacco and digging up memories.

“It’s special, coming back here,” McNamara said. “I managed my first major league game right here in 1969, used this same office.”

McNamara was a coach for Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s. Thirteen games before the end of the season, Finley fired manager Hank Bauer and appointed McNamara.

McNamara got the word early in the morning and was ordered to lie low until that evening. So he spent the afternoon at Disneyland with Joe DiMaggio.

What better way to prepare for managing under Charles Finley than to visit Disneyland?

Asked if DiMaggio gave him any advice, McNamara said, “He just told me to be myself.”

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So he has been, for 11 years as a big league manager and five as a coach, and he has picked up a lot of friends.

Monday, McNamara didn’t have to go to Disneyland. Disneyland came to him. Reggie Jackson phoned McNamara at his hotel in the morning to welcome his old pal back to Anaheim. McNamara is checked into the hotel’s Roy Rogers Suite.

At the ballpark, McNamara was greeted by a long line of reporters, friends, Angel players and employees. His office phone rang non-stop.

He remained cool and relaxed. That’s pretty much the way he was in Anaheim the last two seasons, and some critics, even a few of the players, felt he wasn’t quite fiery enough for the Angels.

He won’t talk much now about why he turned down the Angels’ job at a time he had no other job lined up.

“Buzzie brought me here, he retired and I thought it was beneficial for me to make a change,” McNamara said.

His sometimes un-fiery benchside manner seems to be going over well in baseball-berserk Boston.

“Baseball in Boston is baseball personified,” McNamara said. “It’s baseball like I knew when I was growing up. I really enjoy it. The fans (at Fenway Park) are right up close, and baseball is the number one game in town.

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“Here (Anaheim) there are so many other things to do. I’m the 36th manager the Red Sox have ever had, which has to say a lot about the organization. I know the ownership, I’m very comfortable, and this is a talented ballclub.”

Obscenely talented, some would say. McNamara himself rates the Red Sox’s batting order superior to the Cincinnati team he managed in ’79 (Joe Morgan, George Foster, Dan Driessen, Johnny Bench, etc.), because with Boston, McNamara has a DH.

This wealth of hitting talent, in the Boston baseball environment, could put a lot of pressure on a new manager. On popular New England radio phone-in programs, callers are often viciously critical of Red Sox managers.

They drove then-manager Don Zimmer nuts. McNamara doesn’t even tune in.

Not that he isn’t intense. As a 147-pound minor league catcher, in the days before Nautilus, McNamara got off-season work as a pavement jackhammer jockey, trying to build muscle.

He’s no less serious about the game now. When White Sox pitchers threw at his hitters recently, McNamara verbally assaulted Chicago catcher Carlton Fisk, and had to be restrained from going after Fisk.

McNamara has made it clear: Nobody is going to throw at his hitters, and nobody is going to eat pizza in his clubhouse.

McNamara has the luxury of a two-year contract, his first multiyear contract since the one he got when he was drafted into the Army in 1953.

He likes the challenge, the situation.

“This is my 12th year managing in the majors,” he said. “Not bad for some dumb bleep that never had an at-bat or a minute in the big leagues. . . . I’m very pleased, I’ve got peace of mind, I’m happy.”

The phone was ringing, and his office was filling with visitors.


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