Red Sox

McAdam: Former Red Sox manager John McNamara, once close to glory, dies at 88

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

John McNamara, who died Wednesday at the age of 88, may not have been the last "old school'' manager in the game of baseball, but in many ways was the very embodiment of that term.

McNamara, who nearly held an esteemed place in Red Sox lore when he had the team one strike away from winning the 1986 World Series at New York's Shea Stadium, instead was condemned to be remembered by many -- fairly or not -- as the person at least partly responsible for the team allowing what would have been the franchise's first title in 68 years to slip away.

As manager of that team, he made two moves -- one by commission, the other of omission -- which backfired in the worst possible way. First, he pinch-hit for Roger Clemens in the eighth inning of Game 6 with the team leading 3-2. Later, he declined to take first baseman Bill Buckner out of the game with the lead in extra innings in favor of defensive substitute Dave Stapleton.

Instead of being immortalized, McNamara became reviled, turning increasingly bitter and was fired less than 19 months later, unable to disassociate himself from what, at the time, was the most disheartening loss in modern Red Sox history.

In his tenure with the Red Sox -- from the start of 1985 through the All-Star break in 1988 -- and with his other managerial stops in Oakland, San Diego, Cincinnati, and Anaheim beforehand and Cleveland and Anaheim again after Boston, McNamara performed his job the way a major league manager was expected to perform it in the 1970s and 1980s.

He tended to favor veteran players, often had little use -- or time -- for younger ones, made out the same lineup nearly every day and played the percentages by trusting his gut instincts. He could be cantankerous and taciturn, and failed to understand why he owed anyone -- least of all reporters he barely knew -- an explanation for why he stayed with a pitcher or why he chose to bunt or not.

McNamara was hired by former Red Sox president/GM/owner Haywood Sullivan, who tended to embrace baseball lifers like McNamara.

In retrospect, the wonder wasn't that McNamara got two more managerial jobs after being fired the Red Sox. Rather, it's worth asking why the Red Sox hired him in the first place.