OBSERVATIONS: McNamara was the leader of the band

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave while wondering what baseball will do if all 30 teams finish 30-30.

—The passing of former Cincinnati Reds manager John McNamara this week evoked some unforgettable memories about this ruddy-faced Irishman who had a baseball for a heart.

—When he managed in San Diego, they had three old guys touring the stands with a bass drum, a trumpet and one other instrument and they called themselves McNamara’s Band.

For you young folks, ‘McNamara’s Band’ is an old song that began, “Oh, my name is McNamara and I’m the leader of the band.” And those three guys wandered the stands constantly playing that song over and over and over.

—McNamara had the temper of John McEnroe — and the connection was John Mc.

One day in 1982, the team was in St. Louis, about to play a game. McNamara’s lineup card was made out, but general manager Dick Wagner called and told him, “Get Johnny Bench out of the lineup.” Bench was playing third base and admittedly imitating a croquet wicket on defense.

Bench, of course, was angry. McNamara was livid. In a pre-game press conference he set a major league record for f-bombs. And the f-bombs continued when he left his office and paced the clubhouse.

The next day, McNamara called each beat writer into his office and apologized for all the f-bombs, but not for being angry with Wagner.

—Most managers want to be called manager, but some media folks mistakenly call them ‘coach.’ Managers don’t like to be called coach.

WLW’s Seg Dennison, the hardest-working radio man in America, found out the hard way. Shortly after McNamara took over, Seg began an interview with McNamara by saying, “Coach. . .”

McNamara stopped him right there and said, “I am not a coach. I am the manager. If you want to talk to a coach they all dress in a room down the hall.”

Dennison said he told talk show host Bob Trumpy about the incident, “And Trumpy made me go back the next day and apologize to McNamara.”

—McNamara did not have patience for fools. If a writer he didn’t know asked him what he considered a foolish question, he would look at the writer askance and snarl, “Who are you with?”

—The Reds acquired Doug Bair from the Oakland A’s in the off-season. Bair’s wife was a gorgeous professional dancer with a Body Beautiful.

During spring training, McNamara and I were sitting by the swimming pool at the team’s hotel. Connie Bair walked by in an extremely skimpy bathing suit and she said hello to me.

“Who is that?” McNamara asked.

“That’s Doug Bair’s wife,” I said.

“Well,” said McNamara, “He just made the team.”

—Then there was the 1981 incident when the season was interrupted by a strike. MLB decided to split the season in to two halves, with the division winners of each half facing each other in the playoffs.

The team was in Ann Arbor, Mich., preparing to start the second half after the strike ended. When McNamara was told of the plan he was in the lobby of Ramada Inn and he went ballistic. He tipped over a pamphlet stand, strewing booklets everywhere. He turned over a potted plant, scattering dirt all over the carpet. He kicked over a water cooler, adding water to the dirt and the pamphlets on the floor.

And he was right. The Reds finished the year with the best record in baseball, but didn’t win either half and didn’t make the playoffs.

—The man, though, could manage. He won 90 games his first year in 1979 after Wagner tore apart The Big Red Machine, and won the division. He won 89 games in 1980 and then had baseball’s best record in 1981.

—When is a triple play not a triple play but is a triple play? When the umpires miss a call but can’t reverse it — like Wednesday night in a Reds-Cubs game.

The Reds had the base loaded with no outs. Shogo Akiyama lined one at Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. He dove to the ground to snag the ball. He scrambled to his feet to touch third and double off that runner, then threw to first to triple that runner.

Replays showed, though, that Bryant trapped the ball between his glove and the ground. But a trapped ball in the infield cannot be reviewed. A trapped ball in he outfield? Yes, that can be reviewed.

Say what? Why can a trapped ball in the outfield be reviewed but not one in the infield? Just another baseball rules absurdity. If they are going to have reviews, everything should be reviewable. Or do away with all of it.

—QUOTE: From former manager and now MLB executive Joe Torre on replay/review: “No matter how much replays you see, I don’t know why we want everything to be perfect. Life isn’t perfect. And I think this is a game of life.”

—They put in the ‘Little League’ rule of putting a runner on second base to start each inning of a tie game in extra innings. Why? To shorten games.

To show how laughable that is, the Astros and Dodgers played 13 innings Wednesday night, with the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th innings each starting with a runner on second base to start each half inning.

And what did it take for the Dodgers to finally win it? A leadoff home run in the 13th by LA’s Edwin Rios.

—QUOTE: From Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger on the extra-inning rule: “This new extra-inning rule is the whackiest s—t I’ve ever seen. Do you realize how hard it is to get a runner to second base against the back end of a bullpen?” (Has he watched the Reds bullpen this year?)

—With the Covid-19 causing a slew of postponements, especially in Miami and Philadelphia, doubleheaders are on the horizon. With that in mind, MLB and the players are talking about making doubleheaders seven-inning games.

Again, say what? Doesn’t every team have a 30-man roster with enough pitchers to populate a small Vietnam village?

Why don’t they just make all MLB games six-inning games like Little League, because with all that is going on and what they are playing these days in MLB is definitely Little League.

4 thoughts on “OBSERVATIONS: McNamara was the leader of the band”

  1. You know Hal, I’ve always wondered how Mr. Wagner survived all those years under Mr. Howsam (yes, it was Mr. Howsam who traded Tony Perez).

    Mr. McNamara sure accepted a tough assignment replacing Sparky, kind of like General Ridgeway replacing General MacArthur !

  2. Nice recollections of McNamara. Really like that line: “had a baseball for a heart”. Now that’s a baseball guy! Yeah – calling a manager “coach” makes me cringe too.

  3. You mentioned Johnny McNamara, When I was a kid Living in Northern CA, every summer they would have baseball camps. Kids from all over the area would come for three days and we would play baseball and get tips from coaches, scouts and an occasional former MLB players. My last camp I went to before my dad got transferred to Ohio, On the last day of my freshman year, some rat bastard stole my glove out of my locker at school. Getting your baseball glove stolen was worse than getting kicked in the unmentionables. That was in 1974. It still hurts. Anyway baseball camp started on Monday of the next week. My dad’s belief is nothing outside of food and school supplies was necessary. It would have to wait until Christmas. There in the Garage in a box was some gloves that had been Used by Moses when he was a kid. Anyway, Short stop was my position. The first inning of baseball camp, a screamer came at me, I put my glove up to catch the ball and the ball went straight through the webbing. Naturally everyone out there fell down laughing. Johnny Mac let me use his glove. I’ll never forget that.

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