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Time for reflection

Ex-Sox manager McNamara looks back at '86

ANAHEIM, Calif. - "We have four dogs and five cats,'' John McNamara is saying over the telephone. "My wife, as you might suspect, is an animal lover. Anything in the damn street, she picks up and brings home.

"What kind of dogs? Mutts. One was a stray. Another, she pulled off the street, a puppy that was about to get run over. Another one, we got out of the pound. The last one is this little Maltese dog, who was abused by a breeder. Did you read about it? She had about 240 of them. This little thing can't weigh 10 pounds. You know who's got me wrapped around its little finger, don't you?''

John McNamara used to go to Mass in the cathedral in downtown Nashville, about 15 miles from where he lives with his wife, Peggy. He doesn't do that anymore. Oh, there are days he gets around fine with his cane, the one he took to using after doctors discovered the blood clot in his calf and the bone spur in his ankle and the condition in his big toe he called ``hammer toe,'' which affects his balance. But there are days, he said, when it's tough to get out of his chair. ``I get Mass now on television,'' he said.

It's the same way he gets his baseball, and oh yes, he was watching Tuesday night when the Red Sox beat the Angels in Game 1 of their American League Division Series. John McNamara, who turned 72 June 4, managed big league games in four decades, beginning in 1969 with the Oakland A's and ending in 1996 in an interim stint with the Angels. McNamara managed 2,395 games. He won 1,160, more than all but 36 big-league managers. He replaced one Hall of Fame manager, Sparky Anderson, in Cincinnati, and had a chance to replace another, Earl Weaver, in Baltimore, but elected to return home to California to manage the Angels. ``Here's how smart I was,'' he said. ``The Orioles hired Joe Altobelli and won the World Series.''

For 31/2 seasons, McNamara managed the Red Sox, from 1985 until he was replaced by Walpole Joe Morgan in 1988. In 1986, he was named the American League's Manager of the Year.

That was the year McNamara stood in the same dugout as Terry Francona was standing last night, as manager of a Red Sox team on the brink of elimination to an Angels team he'd managed just two years earlier. It was Game 5 of a series the Angels led, 3 games to 1, and the Angels were one strike away from their first World Series.

``You're taxing my memory,'' said McNamara, who was awaiting the arrival of some people from Cincinnati who were dropping by to have him sign an old photograph. ``That's almost 20 years ago.

``I'll tell you, the first thing I remember was in the ninth inning, and looking across the field into the Angels' dugout and there was Reggie [Jackson], with his arm around Gene Mauch,'' McNamara said. ``They had the thing literally wrapped up. Having worked for Mr. Autry [Angels owner Gene Autry], an outstanding man, I remember thinking, `Well, if we can't win it, I'm happy he gets a chance to go to the World Series.' Then things turned around.''

The things that happened that day made for what McNamara still calls the greatest game he's ever seen. Trailing, 5-2, in the ninth inning, the Sox scored four times, Dave Henderson hitting a hanging breaking pitch from Donnie Moore for a two-run home run that gave the Sox a 6-5 lead. ``I stayed focused on the game,'' McNamara said, ``but you look at the film, and you can see the players are going nuts.''

The Angels tied it in the ninth but left the bases loaded. ``[Doug] DeCinces popped out to Dewey [Dwight Evans] in short right and I'm thinking, `No way they score a run,''' McNamara said.

The Sox won it on Henderson's sacrifice fly in the 11th, then boarded a plane to Boston certain that the series was theirs, even though they still trailed, 3 games to 2. The manager believed, too.

``Yes, I did, because we had Bruce Hurst going in Game 6 and [Roger] Clemens in the seventh game. When you lose a ballgame like that, it has to demoralize you, especially because the Angels had been through it before, in Milwaukee [in the 1982 playoff series they lost to the Brewers].''

John McNamara's professional path has never crossed with that of Grady Little. ``I've met him and all socially,'' he said.

Asked about Little's dismissal following Game 7 of the ALCS last year, McNamara said, `That's the nature of managing. Upstairs, they're the ones who dictate the course of a manager's future. It was the same way for me in 1988. We were at the All-Star Game just a few games out of first place, but there was such a cloud over that ball club on us every day. There was a cloud over whether I was going to be here today or not. A Mac watch.''

The sand in McNamara's hourglass began leaking out two years earlier, just two weeks after his greatest triumph in Anaheim, in Game 6 of the World Series in New York against the Mets. It is the game that never goes away, as much as he wishes it would. ``It was 18 years ago, but I still get bombarded with it,'' he said. ``You'd think it would go away, but it doesn't, especially in Boston.''

Just this week, he said, a reporter had called from a big-city daily, wanting to talk about Hendu's home run, sure, but also about Roger Clemens coming out of Game 6 with a blister and Mookie Wilson's ground ball through Bill Buckner's legs.

``Marty Barrett said it best,'' McNamara said, invoking the words of the second baseman on the '86 team. ``What goes around comes around, he said, but I didn't think it would happen this quick.

``I still maintain anybody is going to make an error. That wasn't the biggest play, even though some of the people up there still don't believe it. The biggest play was Bob Stanley's wild pitch, which allowed the tying run to score and moved the winning run to second base. Then the ball went through Buckner's legs.''

McNamara, on the debate whether the errant pitch should have been called a passed ball: ``The biggest thing, and I've seen this on replays, Rich was set up to the outside part of the plate, and the pitch was a ball inside,'' McNamara said. ``He didn't get a good shot at catching the ball. As a former catcher, I'd say there isn't any doubt it was a wild pitch.''

Yesterday afternoon, on McNamara's TV, Clemens, another piece of McNamara's past, was pitching for the Houston Astros in Game 1 of a National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. And what of Clemens's departure from that 1986 game, a lead in hand?

``I'll say it again,'' McNamara said. ``It was true in 1986 and it is true today. He walked off the mound in the seventh inning and said, `That's all I can pitch.' Too many people heard him say it. Bill Fischer, the pitching coach. The trainers, and other people. Some players came up to me and said, `Do you need any help in this? We know what happened.'

``Why he won't admit it, I have no idea. I have a lot of respect for what he's done over the years, but I don't have a lot of respect for him as a person for not admitting what the hell happened. If he wants to go to war over that, I've got a lot of ammunition.''

But McNamara is not interested in war. ``If I could, I'd just put it all away,'' he said.

"Let me clarify this: My time in Boston was very good. The fans were good to me. Hell, I still get letters from people up there, `Why don't you come back?'''

For a brief moment, McNamara's voice catches.

"I can be second-guessed for Buckner, I guess, but I had a Gold Glove fielder. I would take the criticism if the ball had been hit to his right and he couldn't get to it, but the ball was hit directly at him. The ball went through his legs. So be it. If I remember right, a ball went through the legs of the Mets' second baseman, [Tim] Teufel, in Game 2, and we won, 1-0.''

The Sox went home after that Game 6 loss. "Demoralized?'' he said. "No, we weren't demoralized. That ball club was a very tough baseball team, physically and mentally. In that game, they just beat us. When you get beat, the other ball club is better than you and on that given day when you lose, you contribute to getting beat.''

It may be how he is remembered in Boston, but it is not a loss that defines John McNamara's life. This is a man who lost his father when he was 12, one of five children.

"I saw my mother go through that,'' he said, and his voice breaks, tears unmistakable on the other end of the phone. "She told us that God doesn't give you a cross that he doesn't think you can carry.''

There was another October day, eight years ago. John McNamara was on a baseball diamond in Arizona, working with the Angels' kids in instructional league, when he heard words no man should ever hear. The troubled husband of his daughter, Ellen, had turned a gun on the couple's two sons, 6-year-old Tony, and 4-year-old Tyler, shot them to death, then turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

"She is fine,'' McNamara is saying now of his daughter. "You know, she gets better every year. We keep in close contact. She has a very good job. She is a court stenographer.

She's coping with this thing. Have you ever known death first-hand? It's tough to cope with. You've got to go on, but you never forget. It's still devastating, but God bless her, she has picked up her pieces and goes on.''

A dog is barking in the driveway. "My guests have arrived,'' John McNamara says.

"I'll be watching tonight.''

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