Before Curt Schilling and the bloody sock in 2004, one player who personified toughness in a Boston Red Sox uniform was Butch Hobson. Hobson's legacy is that of a power-hitting third baseman who brought a football mentality to the diamond in the way he played through pain and gave every ounce of effort on the field that his body could muster.
Clell Lavern (Butch) Hobson Jr. was born on August 17, 1951, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. An American Legion and Bessemer (Alabama) High School Most Valuable Player, he followed in his father's footsteps to play football and baseball at the University of Alabama. His dad, a three-year letterman at quarterback for Alabama, was Hobson's football coach at Bessemer High where Butch was named to the All-Jefferson County team as a quarterback. Hobson was a safety and backup quarterback at Alabama playing on the gridiron for legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. In the 1972 Orange Bowl national championship game won by Nebraska over Alabama by a 38-6 score, Hobson ran the "wishbone" offense for the Crimson Tide after starting quarterback Terry Davis was injured in the fourth quarter. Alabama's most successful offensive options in that game were the option running and draw plays executed by their quarterback tandem. According to Herb Crehan in Red Sox Heroes of Yesteryear, Hobson carried the ball 15 times, rushing for 59 yards in the Orange Bowl.
Entering his senior year at Alabama, Hobson decided to concentrate solely on baseball. As reported to Baseball Digest's Kevin Glew, "I told Coach Bryant my decision and he told me, 'Well, Butch from what I've seen of you on the baseball field, you'll be playing football for me next year'" Hobson's choice proved to be a wise one. In 1973, he was the team leader in hits (38), home runs (13), and RBI (37), and tied for the team lead in runs (20). He set a new Southeastern Conference home run record. He was named to the ABCA All-South Region Team and was a First Team All-SEC selection. Hobson lettered in baseball at Alabama in 1970, 1972 and 1973, playing for coaches Joe Sewell and Hayden Riley. He hit .250 for his collegiate career (80-for-320) with 18 homers and 54 RBI. In 1993, Hobson was named to Alabama's All-Century baseball team in commemoration of the school's 100th anniversary of baseball.
Hobson was selected by the Red Sox in the eighth round (185th overall) of the 1973 amateur draft and was signed to a contract by Red Sox scout Milt Bolling on August 1, 1973. He was assigned to Winston-Salem where he hit a mere .179 in seventeen games. His numbers improved over a full season at Winston-Salem as he hit .284 with 14 homers and 74 RBI in 1974 and they earned him a promotion to Eastern League Bristol. His 15 homers, 73 RBI and.265 batting average at Bristol in 1975 helped secure him a call-up to Boston in September.
Hobson made his major league debut on September 7, 1975 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Brewers at Milwaukee's County Stadium, pinch-running for Cecil Cooper in the fifth inning. In his only other 1975 appearance in the Red Sox line-up, he started at third base at Fenway on September 28 in an 11-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Hitting eighth in the order, he struck out twice and flied out to center field before getting his first MLB hit, a single off lefthander Jim Strickland in the eighth inning.
After beginning the 1976 season at Triple-A Pawtucket (in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, the club was briefly named the Rhose Island Red Sox, but changed back to the Pawtucket Red Sox in 1977), Hobson made his 1976 debut at Fenway on June 28 in a 12-8 victory over the Orioles. Getting the start at third base in the two spot in the batting order, Hobson went 2-for-5, doubling off Jim Palmer and hitting his first major league homer in the sixth off Rudy May. Centerfielder Paul Blair missed catching Hobson's drive to center, allowing Hobson to circle the bases with Cecil Cooper ahead of him for the inside-the-park home run.
Hobson would play 76 games at third base in 1976 for the Red Sox as the successor at the hot corner to Rico Petrocelli. Petrocelli was winding down a 13-year career with the Red Sox, hitting only .213 in 85 games in his final season. Hobson, made the new everyday third baseman by new manager Don Zimmer (who replaced Darrell Johnson after the All-Star break), hit .234 in 1976, contributing eight homers and 34 RBI.
1977 was both Hobson's breakout year and also his finest as a major leaguer. Hobson smashed 30 round-trippers, establishing a Red Sox record for third basemen. It has often been printed that Hobson set his standard for Red Sox third basemen while hitting in the ninth spot in the batting order. In fact, Hobson, in 159 games in 1977, hit third in five games, sixth in 12 games, seventh in 47 games, eighth in 89 games and ninth in only six games. He hit no homers in the nine spot. Twenty-eight of his 30 homers were hit in the seventh or eighth spots in the batting order. The 1977 Red Sox offensive juggernaut, affectionately known as the "Crunch Bunch", hit a then team-record 213 home runs, 21 more homers than the White Sox, who were second in the major leagues. Five Red Sox hit more than 25 homers apiece, with Jim Rice leading the American League with 39.
The club hit five or more homers in eight games. They slugged 33 home runs in one 10-game stretch from June 14 through June 24 (establishing a major league record) and 16 in three games against the Yankees from June 17 through June 19 (also a major league record). On July 4, the Red Sox hit a then-record eight home runs (still a Red Sox team game high), including seven solo shots (still a single game record) in a 9-6 pounding of the Blue Jays in Boston. Hobson's free-swinging ways combined to produce a career-best .265 batting average, 30 homers, 33 doubles, 112 RBIs and 162 strikeouts (still a Red Sox record for a right-handed batter) in 159 games at third base. Hobson put together an 18-game hitting streak. Hobson was named the BoSox Club Man of the Year for 1977 for his contributions to the success of the team and for his cooperation in community projects.
Old football injuries sustained on the artificial turf at Alabama contributed to a nightmarish 1978 season defensively for Hobson. Bone chips floating around in his right elbow made every throw from third base an adventure. His impairment would often cause his arm to lock up, thereby disrupting his throws. A familiar sight in 1978 was Hobson making a play and then rearranging the bone chips in his elbow. In addition to his sore arm, Hobson was hobbled by cartilage damage in both knees and a torn hamstring muscle. Hobson would play 133 games at third base in 1978 (he would also serve as the DH in 14 games), and he did drive in 21 runs in a 10-game stretch from April 14 through April 23. His 43 errors yielded a fielding percentage of .899, the first time since 1916 a regular player's defensive average registered below .900 for the season.
Manager Zimmer, accurately characterizing Hobson as a "gamer", refused to pull him out of the lineup. While his defense suffered, he would manage to be a productive hitter, hitting 17 homers and driving in 80 runs. He would finally ask out of the line-up on September 22 in preparation for post-season elbow surgery, with Jack Brohamer filling in for him at third and Hobson still serving as a DH. In the heart-breaking 5-4 playoff loss to the Yankees on October 2, Hobson was 1-4 (a single) in the number seven spot in the order while serving as the designated hitter.
Hobson came back in 1979 to play 142 games at third base. He slugged a career--high .496, batting .261 with 28 homers and 93 RBIs. Shoulder problems in 1980 prompted Zimmer to replace Hobson at third with rookie Glenn Hoffman who hit .285 in 110 games, while Hobson's batting average dropped to .228 (with 11 homers and 39 RBIs) in 93 games, 57 of them at third base. On May 31, the Red Sox hit six home runs, including a back-to-back-to-back trio of homers by Tony Perez, Carlton Fisk, and Hobson in a 19-8 loss to the Brewers. On June 12, 1980, Hobson had the only multi-homer game of his career, swatting a pair of home runs in a 13-2 win over the Angels in Anaheim.
On December 10, 1980, Hobson was traded with Rick Burleson to the California Angels in exchange for future 1981 batting champion Carney Lansford, Rick Miller and Mark Clear. He was limited to 85 games with the Angels in the strike-shortened 1981 season as a result of elbow injuries and a separated shoulder, hitting .235 with four homers and 36 RBIs. On March 24, 1982, Hobson was traded to the Yankees for Bill Castro. He hit only .172 in 30 games with New York, his final major league stop as a player. In eight years as a player in the majors, Hobson had a career average of .248 with 98 home runs and 397 RBIs. He drove in four runs in a game seven times in his career with Boston and once with Anaheim. Among Red Sox third basemen defensively, entering the 2005 season, Hobson was seventh in career games played for the Red Sox, eighth in putouts (473), seventh in assists (1,042), and eighth in double plays (85).
The way Hobson threw his body around on the field for the good of the team contributed to a shortened major league career. It also helped make him a fan favorite. In a 2002 interview with Mike Petraglia of MLB.Com, Hobson explained his popularity: "Boston Red Sox fans are supportive...Whether a guy goes 0-for-20, as long as you are out there and giving 110 percent every day, that's all they care about. They're rooting for that blue-collar guy that runs through walls. They want that guy who will dive into the stands for a ball because they know, in the long run, it's going to be what helps them come out on top. As long as you can continue that when you play [in Boston], you're going to be very well accepted."
After playing one partial and three full seasons in Columbus, the Yankees Triple-A farm club, and finally leaving the game as a player, Hobson returned in a manager's role. In 1987 and 1988, Hobson managed the New York Mets' Single-A team in Columbia in the South Atlantic League. He joined the Red Sox system in 1989, managing Double-A New Britain of the Eastern League. His 1990 squad advanced to the final round of the Eastern League Playoffs. Around this time, Hobson also served a stint as manager of the Winter Haven Super Sox in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball League. In his fifth season as a minor league manager in 1991, Hobson guided the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox to a 79-64 record and a first-place finish in the International League East Division. His PawSox lost in the Governor's Cup Championship, getting swept, ironically, 3-0 by his last minor league team as a player, the Columbus Clippers led by manager Rick Down. Hobson was honored by Baseball America as its Minor League Manager of the Year and by the International League as its Manager of the Year. Hobson was viewed by Red Sox management as a rising star as a manager.
On October 8, 1991, the Red Sox fired manager Joe Morgan and named Hobson as his replacement. "We couldn't risk losing such a talent in our organization," said general manager Lou Gorman. The Sox hoped they would be getting a managerial version of the tough player Hobson had been. Unfortunately, Hobson's toughness as a player was not evident in his performance as a manager as perceived by the media (Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy often referred to manager Hobson as "Daddy Butch"). This did not bode well during a three-year period during which the Red Sox seriously underachieved.
Hobson lost his first two games as manager in 1992 in New York. The season opener on April 7 was lost by a 4-3 score with Roger Clemens on the mound for the Red Sox. His first win was a 19-inning 7-5 decision over the Indians at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on April 11. The Sox would go on to record a 73-89 record good for seventh place in the American League East, their worst finish since 1966 - and their first last place finish since 1932. After Roger Clemens (18-11), Frank Viola (13-12) was the only pitcher with a winning percentage over .500. Offensively, the team hit .246, 13th out of 14 among American League teams. Jack Clark, after hitting 28 homers in 1991, hit only five in 1992 and hit .210 in the final season of his career. Wade Boggs hit a career-low .259 and left for the Yankees after the season. Mike Greenwell hit .233. Tom Brunansky led the team with fifteen homers and 74 RBI.
The 1993 season saw the batting average improve to .264 with the emergence of Mo Vaughn (29 homers, 101 RBI). However, Roger Clemens had his worst season as a professional (11-14, 4.46 ERA, a season in which he had been bitten on the pitching hand by his dog) and the team was again mired in the second division, finishing fifth in the A.L. East with a mediocre 80-82 record.
1994 was the year of the strike-shortened season, and the Red Sox compiled a 54-61 record and finished fourth in the A.L. East. Clemens led the staff with a 9-7 record. The offense, led by Vaughn and John Valentin, hit a combined .263 (twelfth in the A.L.) while the team ERA of 4.93 (ninth in the A.L.) is the only other fact one needs to figure out what happened with this team. New general manager Dan Duquette shipped players in and out all year trying to light a fire under the Sox. Following the season, he decided to ship out his manager as well, firing Hobson and bringing in Kevin Kennedy to manage the team.
Don Zimmer served as Hobson's bench coach in 1992 and theorizes in his book Zim that substance abuse, alcohol in particular, played a role in Hobson's failure as a Red Sox manager. His substance abuse problem would be exposed to all in May 1996. Following his dismissal from the Red Sox, Hobson became the manager of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. On May 4, 1996, his team was in Pawtucket to play the PawSox. Hobson was arrested in his hotel room on a felony charge of cocaine possession. Approximately 2.6 grams of cocaine (approximately $120.00 in value) were alleged to have been found in Hobson's shaving kit, said cocaine having been sent to Hobson in a Federal Express package inside of a magazine from a former friend from Alabama named Jerry Poe. Poe owed Hobson money and sent the supposedly unsolicited drugs in payment of that debt. On August 8, 1996, Hobson was fired by the Philadelphia Phillies, Scranton's parent club. Hobson was able to resolve the drug charge without a guilty finding in exchange for entering a first-offender program and performing approximately 60 hours of community service. He denied ever using cocaine while managing the Red Sox or the Red Barons. He has acknowledged a past history with the drug which began when he was a player. "I came up in an era when that (using drugs) was what you were supposed to do. As a good old boy from Alabama, I thought that was the way to fit in. It probably cost me three or four years of baseball", he told Kevin Glew of Baseball Digest.
Following his termination from the Red Barons, it was the Red Sox who gave Hobson another chance in baseball. In February 1997, he was hired as a special assignment scout. In 1998, he continued his comeback as manager of the Single-A Sarasota Red Sox team in the Florida State League. Finally, on December 2, 1999, Hobson returned to New England as the manager of the independent Atlantic League Nashua (New Hampshire) Pride. As the third manager in the team's history, Hobson would lead the Pride to the Atlantic League title in his first season at the managerial helm in 2000. The championship was New Hampshire's first professional sports title in over 50 years. His 2001 squad was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. In 2003, the Pride returned to the championship series before they lost in five games to the Somerset Patriots, the same team they had swept in three games for the 2000 title. Entering the 2005 season, his sixth with the Pride, Hobson's teams have compiled an overall record of 340-303. His 2005 deal with the team reportedly gives him some ownership interest in the team.
Hobson is married for the second time. He has three grown daughters, Allene, Libby and Polly, from his first marriage to wife Allene and three boys, K.C., Hank and Noah and a daughter Olivia, from his present marriage to wife Krystine.
A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.
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