Anaheim, Calif. — In what has become almost a yearly ritual, owner Gene Autry, his Stadium Club at Anaheim blooming with the flowers of American literature, last week formallly introduced the 10th manager of the California Angels at a press conference.
To nearly everyone in the room John McNamara is at least as well known as the La Brea Tarpits; this pleasant Irishman having previously managed big-league teams in Oakland, San Diego and, until July 21 last, Cincinnati.
McNamara replaces Gene Mauch, who resigned after the Angels, champions of the American League West, failed against Milwaukee in the playoffs to get the one more victory that would have put them into the World Series.
Even though Mauch was asked to reconsider his position by both Autry and California General Manager Buzzie Bavasi, Gene apparently could not get the sound of snipers' bullets out of his head.
McNamara was chosen to lead the Angels, according to Bavasi, because John possesses all the known qualities needed to get the most from an established, veteran ball club. Translation: McNamara will not burden his graybeards with a lot of meaningless instruction, but will allow them to play their own games with a minimum of interference.
For example, the veteran Cincinnati team McNamara inherited from Sparky Anderson had the best won-lost record in baseball during John's first three years with the Reds, including a division title in 1979.
McNamara probably would still be there if, last winter, Cincinnati hadn't lost its entire outfield; traded Ray Knight to Houston; moved Johnny Bench to a new position; and had its pitching (particularly Tom Seaver) go sour. The missing outfielders, of course, were George Foster, Ken Griffey and Dave Collins.
''We just made too many changes and brought too many new people for the Reds to have expected anything different last season than they got,'' John told reporters. Obviously management needed a scapegoat and McNamara was it. Still, that didn't prevent Oakland, Baltimore and Milwaukee, in addition to the Angels, from offering him various jobs (not necessarily manager) in their organizations since his firing.
One of the reasons Mauch was unpopular in Anaheim was his constant reliance on the sacrifice bunt and the hit-and-run with a power club that seemed capable of scoring runs in bunches. And even that strategy wouldn't have been so bad if Gene hadn't often started those kinds of moves as early as the first inning.
Asked if at any time during his managerial career he had consistently bunted in any of the first three innings, McNamara chose not to answer the question directly. Instead he said it would depend on the situation - if the opposing pitcher was Nolan Ryan, he'd probably bunt; if the hitter was Reggie Jackson, he might do something else. John also said he considers pitching the Angels' No. 1 priority in 1983.
Position for position, with the exception of designated hitter Don Baylor, who has become a free agent, and shortstop Rick Burleson, who is back in the picture after missing all of last season following surgery, McNamara's starting lineup will be basically the same as Mauch's.
However, changes are expected in the outfield where two of last year's starters, Reggie Jackson and Brian Downing, will probably share Baylor's designated hitter role with Ron Jackson. Such an arrangement would open at least a part-time outfield spot for rookie switch-hitter Gary Pettis.
''While we would have liked to have kept Baylor, the difference in our thinking was $3 million,'' Bavasi said. ''In fact, the day is over when the California Angels will go to a bank to borrow money to sign a free agent.
''From now on we're going to have to either trade for the players we need or develop them in our farm system,'' Buzzie continued. ''But we definitely plan to add another good pitcher to our staff before spring training and this year I'd like to see us take more advantage of our speed.''
Bavasi also made it sound unlikely that California would sign any of the players it selected in baseball's recent free-agent draft. That would be DH Hal McRae and outfielder Omar Moreno, plus pitchers Terry Forster, Bob McClure and Pete Falcone. However, if Autry suddenly decided that any one of them could be the difference between the Angels finishing first or second next year, Buzzie's previous statement wouldn't mean a thing.
Reggie Jackson, who played for McNamara at Oakland in 1970 and was the only member of the Angels roster present at John's Anaheim coronation, had this to say about his former and now current manager:
''Mac has some rare qualities that his players are going to find very beneficial. For example, he gets along with people. I think he'll do well with this team because he won't get fancy, he'll just let us play. Even though the Angels have been called an old team, I don't think that's bad. One of the advantages of a team with age is that it already knows what it has to do to win.''