When Butch came to shove, the Red Sox shoved back. Clell Lavern (Butch) Hobson Jr., Boston's 40-year-old rookie manager and once the Sox third baseman, certainly knew that the Red Sox, baseball's never-ending news story, would not make it easy on him. But he had no reason to expect this much aggravation.
Upon his arrival at training camp in Winter Haven, Fla., on Feb. 15, the odds, as established by Red Sox watchers, New England's most wary oddsmakers, were already against Hobson. Why the doubt? Because of the team he's running, the manager he's replacing and the commando work ethic he's instituting. So all Hobson wanted was a quiet, orderly opening to spring training. Instead, he got whacked from more angles in the first week than in three years of playing football for Bear Bryant.
Consider the woes of Week 1. On Feb. 20, three days before pitchers and catchers were supposed to report to camp, Jean Yawkey, the Red Sox's majority owner, suffered a stroke. She died six days later, ending the Yawkey family's distinguished 59-year stewardship and initialing speculation about future ownership (page 17). On Feb. 23, Hobson penciled in Carlos Quintana as his starting first baseman. The next day Quintana, still in his native Venezuela, broke his left arm and his right foot in a car crash while rushing two of his brothers to a hospital after both had been shot during a dispute at a party. Quintana is out at least five months. On Feb. 26, left-fielder Mike Greenwell, ending a six-month silence with the media, unloaded on Hobson's predecessor, starting a chain reaction of name-calling back home in the Boston papers.
And through it all, Red Sox pitching ace Roger Clemens, the team leader, spent the beginning of training camp back home in Houston, stretching his arm by doing celebrity bartending at The Velvet Elvis. He finally hit camp on Monday morning, ending his manager's eight-day wait. "There are a lot of eyes on me now," Hobson said. "If this is a test, I'm going to pass."
March 9, 1992
This is a test, make no mistake about it. And so far he has survived quite nicely. Despite the first week's events, workouts have run smoothly. While Hobson would be justified in saying he would like to tear Clemens's head off, which he probably could, he has shown great restraint. And from the outset, he has dealt patiently with the press.
All of which comes as a surprise to some people. Since that stunning day last fall—Oct. 8—when Joe Morgan was fired and Hobson was hired, skeptics have forecast doom for the new manager. With only one year of managing above Double A, Hobson, they said, wasn't ready. He was too strident. His rah-rah, football tough-guy approach would never fly in the major leagues. He might look like Paul Newman, but he was really a redneck from Alabama who would be smothered by the Boston media. And he would never replace the affable Morgan, a Beantown favorite son who was adored by the press—and who also won two American League East titles in his 3½ seasons at the helm.
Managing the Red Sox is the most demanding job in baseball, perhaps in all of professional sports. There are more emotional stockholders in this team than in any other in America. Six states passionately call the Red Sox theirs, and they create enormous pressure to win. The franchise history is as gory as it is gloried; Boston, of course, hasn't won the World Series since 1918. The media coverage is massive and often nasty. The Sox clubhouse, always known for the irascibility of its tenants, might be the toughest room in sports. "If he can pass this test," says Boston reliever Jeff Reardon, "then he'll have a hell of a career."
Hobson has spent a lot of time in that clubhouse, which should work in his favor. He played third base for the Red Sox from 1975 to '80; in '77, he hit 30 homers and knocked in 112 runs while batting ninth. He wasn't a skilled player, but no one played harder, and few got more out of their ability. He played eight years in the big leagues, batted .248, hit 98 homers, devoured second basemen on the pivot and steamrollered catchers at the plate. He played most of the '78 season with bone chips in his right elbow, and made 43 errors. "Between pitches he adjusted the chips," says Don Zimmer, who managed Hobson for 4½ seasons and will coach for him this year. "Sometimes he didn't get them back in time, and he couldn't throw. He was tough."
Some of that toughness comes from his father, the senior Clell Lavern Hobson, who played quarterback for three years at Alabama and was Butch's high school football coach. "A great motivator," says Butch. "Whenever I need to call someone, I call my dad. I need to talk to someone about this [the Clemens situation]. I can't talk to my wife, know what I mean? I'll call my dad."
Some of the toughness came from Butch's college football coach, Alabama's Bear Bryant, for whom he was a backup quarterback in 1972 and later a strong safety. "Bear Bryant was one of the toughest, greatest motivators ever—I loved him," Hobson says. "I was scared of him. I was intimidated by him. But every Saturday he made me want to run over my grandmother. After the game, we were gentlemen. We called our mothers. That's how it's supposed to be."
As a minor league manager, Hobson used his own intimidating style with success: In 1991, at Triple A Pawtucket, he was voted the Minor League Manager of the Year. "He can't stand to see someone who doesn't get the most out of his ability," says Red Sox third baseman Scott Cooper, who played for Hobson last year. "He's the first to let you know when you screw up, but the first to pat you on the back when you do something right. He was hard on me. Real hard."
He was harder on catcher Todd Pratt. "My second year at Double A, in 1989, I was out late one night, and he knew it," says Pratt, now in the Phillie organization. "The next day he had me run 25 poles—corner to corner of the field. Every time I passed him, he cussed me. He dropped some serious F-bombs. He said, 'Do you know how good you are? Do you know how you're wasting your ability?' He said it under his breath; no one heard it but me. That day, he became a father figure to me. He made me more mature. I played three years for him, but he matured me by about six years."
"He has that effect on people," says Cooper. "He'd be so fired up in the dugout, I'd look at him and say to myself, 'Hell, I'm a player, I should be that fired up, too.' "
But will Hobson have that effect on major league millionaires? Will he have a maturing influence on a Clemens? Will he make a Greenwell run 25 poles? Will they respond?
The Red Sox front-office people are counting on it. That's why they promoted him. He's their hired gun, like Newman in Hombre; their tough guy, like Newman in Cool Hand Luke; their emotional leader, like Newman in Slap Shot. "The atmosphere [last year] indicated that we needed a change, a completely fresh look," says Red Sox general partner Haywood Sullivan. "Getting along with the guys, keeping everyone organized and interested, that's the biggest part of managing. He's been in prickly situations already and handled them well. If he gains their respect, they'll behave. They'll test you. Being the manager in Boston, he'll be tested daily."
Morgan, 61, passed most tests but by the end of last year had lost control of the clubhouse and had reportedly been overpowered by some veterans like Clemens, outfielder Tom Brunansky and designated hitter Jack Clark. "I think the game has passed Joe by," says Clark. "That's not a knock. This is the '90s. The game has changed. Salaries are astronomical. If a change had to be made, the right change was made. We get a fired-up manager. You want to play for a guy like him."
Hobson's managing philosophy is simple: "I'm not asking them to do anything I wouldn't do. Just play hard. I don't think today's player has changed much. They want someone to motivate them. They want to know their manager will fight for them. I will. I'm aggressive. If that means I'm a hard-ass, a tough guy, then that's what I am. Does that work as a manager? I think so. We'll be doing things differently here, and I've talked to the players about it. They've told me, 'Hey, you're the manager. It's your decision.' I don't know how I'll react if someone loafs to first base, because I don't think it's going to happen."
Oh, it will. Says Zimmer, "Thirty-five years ago, there were dogs, and there are dogs today. Thirty-five years ago, there were guys who played hard. Today, there are guys who play hard. The game hasn't changed. I think Butch will have discipline, he'll be his own man, he'll be fair. He's going to be a player's manager. He's not coming in here like Hitler."
Hobson's camp looks no different than any other manager's: There are no tackling dummies, no coaching tower, no barbed wire. "He's working us a lot harder than Morgan did, but nobody really minds," Reardon says. Says Pratt, "The first month and a half at Pawtucket last year, some of the older players bitched and complained about all the work. After that, everyone respected him."
Hobson's level of respect here will be measured in part by his ongoing handling of his star pitcher. Clemens has become bigger than the team; his failure to report with everyone else was merely more evidence of that. He then heightened the insult to his new manager by saying from Houston that if he were in camp, he would just "be standing around spitting sunflower seeds." Hobson quietly seethed as he waited: "When Roger gets here, he and I will go in and get our heads together. He's from Texas. I'm from Alabama. I'm tough. I'm gritty. I'm mean."
When Clemens trotted out for wind sprints early Monday morning, Hobson joined him; their chat continued inside. "Butch and I had a pretty good talk," said Clemens afterward, noting to the media that his absence had been blown out of proportion. "Give me the ball, I do the job. You guys make it complicated."
His teammates had made it comic. A red carpet was laid from the door of the clubhouse to Clemens's locker, where a supply of sunflower seeds awaited, along with a sign reading REMEMBER THE GOLDEN RULE: WHOEVER HAS THE GOLD MAKES THE RULES. But not all the Red Sox thought Clemens's absence a laughing matter. "He brings attention on himself that's not needed," said Clark. "Maybe he had things to do back home. Well, so do I. I didn't want to leave my family either. Pitchers and catchers are supposed to be here when everyone else is."
Clemens won't be Hobson's only challenge. Controversy has followed Clark wherever he has played. Brunansky has said that if he's not in Hobson's starting lineup he would rather be traded. Green-well fought with Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn last August in Anaheim and is now blaming Morgan for not backing him; he also took a shot at former hitting coach Richie Hebner, who responded last week by saying in The Boston Globe, "These guys don't need a hitting coach, they need a shrink" and "I hope they've got some pacifiers around that clubhouse."
Of the Greenwell-Morgan episode, Pratt says, "That wouldn't happen with Butch. He'd be all over Greenwell. No one is going to push Butch around. He's going to cast a very loud shadow."
That shadow, noisy or not, will be able to prevail on the sunny fields of Florida. But the proving grounds of Fenway Park will test its durability. "I'm nervous in a lot of ways," Hobson says. "This is a big step for me. I want to be a great manager. But I'm not going to change what I've been doing. If I do change, I won't be managing anymore."