Jim Frey of the Chicago Cubs, who took over a team that finished 20 games under .500 in 1983 and led it to the NL East title the next season, was named National League manager of the year yesterday by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Frey, appointed the 41st manager in club history last October, received 16 first-place votes and 101 points from the 24 members of the BBWAA who participated in the balloting, easily outdistancing Dave Johnson of the New York Mets.

Johnson, who led the Mets from last place in 1983 to second place in the NL East in his first season, received four first-place votes and 72 points.

Others receiving votes were Dick Williams of San Diego (41 points) and Bob Lillis of Houston (2) . . .

The Boston Red Sox have called a news conference for this afternoon, presumably to announce former California Angels manager John McNamara as their new manager.

"I'm delighted," McNamara said as he arrived last night at Logan International Airport. Although he declined to confirm his appointment, he said, "You don't know how pleased, how thrilled I am, to come to Boston."

He said he planned to meet with Red Sox co-owner and chief executive officer Haywood Sullivan, an old friend, in the morning and was in Boston because "I want to see Boston College play."

McNamara cleared the way to become Boston manager on Oct. 9 by turning down a contract offer to remain with California. Sullivan and Boston General Manager Lou Gorman conceded that McNamara was their first choice after Ralph Houk, 65, retired . . .

The Sporting News has named Bruce Sutter of the St. Louis Cardinals and Dan Quisenberry of the Kansas City Royals as 1984 firemen of the year in their respective leagues. Sutter tied a major league record this season with 45 saves. Quisenberry finished the season with 44 saves . . .

Ken Singleton of Baltimore, whom the Orioles announced earlier they would not offer a contract to for next season, Sixto Lezcano of the Philadelphia Phillies and Bill Russell of the Los Angeles Dodgers are among the latest players to announce their intention of becoming free agents, bringing the total to 18.