McNamara's managerial career spanned three decades and six teams, including two stints with the Angels. He managed the Athletics (1969-70), Padres (1974-77), Reds (1979-82), Angels (1983-84), Red Sox (1985-88), Indians (1990-91), and the Angels again on an interim basis (1996). McNamara also coached in the minors and worked as a scout.
Under McNamara, the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Angels and advance to the World Series in 1986. He was criticized for a series of questionable moves in Game 6 of the World Series, including removing Roger Clemens for a pinch-hitter and leaving a hobbled Billy Buckner at first base.
Beyond baseball, McNamara touched many players and personnel with his kindness and the demand that people be treated fairly. Reggie Jackson thanked McNamara during his Hall of Fame speech in 1967. McNamara managed Jackson in the minors.
"I learned to understand friendship and sensitivity from a very special friend by the name of John McNamara,'' Jackson said. "He was my manager, and he would not allow the team to eat in a restaurant where I was not allowed to eat. I always wondered why we ate sandwiches on the bus and made only essential pit stops. I understood care from that. I'll always remember you, John, for your dignity and sensitivity and for stepping up at a time when very few did.''
McNamara was named AL Manager of the Year in 1986. He retired with a career 1,160-1,233 (.485) record and had his most success with the Reds (279-244) and Red Sox (279-273).