This article was written by Jeff English
Bobby Hofman spent a lifetime in baseball. Over a career roughly divided into three distinct phases, he played major-league baseball for parts of seven seasons, and then managed and coached at various levels, including Oakland, for the next 20. He transitioned from there into a career as a big-league executive until his retirement in 1989 at the age of 64. As a player, he displayed a great deal of determination which endeared him to teammates and fans alike, and he built relationships that served him well once his playing days had ended. As a minor-league manager and big-league coach, he was respected for his knowledge of the game and ability to identify talent. His penchant for organization and his demonstrated loyalty contributed to a successful career at the executive level, from part-time traveling secretary for the Athletics to director of player development for the New York Yankees.
Robert George Hofman was born on October 5, 1925 to Erwin and Sophia Hofman in St. Louis. His father grew up playing baseball with his four brothers, Louis, George, Arthur, and Oscar. They developed their skills under the watchful eye of their father, Louis Sr., who managed the local Mound City and Cold Storage team. All of the Hofman brothers played in the Trolley League, a semipro league with teams in Missouri and Illinois. Bobby’s brother Arthur “Solly” Hofman enjoyed a 14-year big-league career as an infielder, outfielder, and noted utility player, and Oscar played briefly for Columbus in the American Association.
One of Bobby’s teammates in American Legion ball was Lawrence “Yogi” Berra. Over the years, the origin of Berra’s famous moniker has been attributed to Hofman, but it was actually their friend and teammate Jack Maguire who applied the name after the friends saw a movie travelogue about India one summer afternoon. Citing Yogi’s own 1961 autobiography, Allen Barra wrote, “When they walked out of the movie house, Jack (Maguire) said, ‘You know, you look just like a yogi. I’m going to call you Yogi.’”1
Hofman and Maguire both played on the Beaumont High School baseball team. Their teammates included future major leaguers Jim Goodwin, Roy Sievers, and Bob Wiesler, and future Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Initially an outfielder, Hofman switched to second base to accommodate his difficulty making long throws. One of his American Legion coaches was Gordon Maguire, Jack’s father and a part-time scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. Gordon helped to develop Hofman’s skills at second base. In 1944 Maguire became a full-time scout for the New York Giants, and although Hofman had dreamed of playing ball for his hometown Cardinals, he felt he owed Maguire a great deal for the guidance and coaching. One of the first players Maguire signed for the Giants was Hofman.
In 1944 Hofman quit school to join the Springfield Giants of the Class D Ohio State League. In 18 games, he batted .308, but his season was interrupted when in June he enlisted in the US Army at Jefferson Barracks, outside St. Louis. He served two years in the infantry, including 20 months in France and Germany, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Discharged from the Army in June 1946, Hofman joined the Trenton (New Jersey) Giants of the Class B Interstate League, where he posted a .258 average in 59 games. Hofman returned to Trenton in 1947, playing in 130 games and batting a respectable .275. The club finished first in the standings, and in the playoffs Hofman drove in the winning run in the second game of a best-of-seven series against the Allentown Cardinals. (Despite jumping out to a two-game lead, Trenton dropped the next four games.)
For the 1948 season, Hofman was promoted from Class B Trenton to Class A Sioux City of the Western League. He enjoyed his best season yet, batting .319, slugging at a .475 clip, and reaching double digits in home runs for the first time. He missed some time in mid-August to attend to his father, who was seriously ill in St. Louis.2 The following season began with a great deal of promise. After Hofman’s strong showing at Sioux City, he was expected to be the Giants’ starting second baseman in 1949. In spring exhibitions he played more than any other infielder. He swung the bat well. The Giants toured with the Cleveland Indians, playing a series of games in the run-up to the regular season. On April 15 in Richmond, Virginia, Hofman homered in a game won by Cleveland, 16-11. But he injured the middle finger of his throwing hand in the eighth inning, and when the season started, he spent a lot of time on the bench, going hitless in two plate appearances in the first 23 games.
On May 13 Hofman got his first opportunity to start at second base, against the Philadelphia Phillies at the Polo Grounds. He made the most of the opportunity by collecting four hits in five at-bats while driving in a run and scoring one. With five hits in 16 at-bats over the next four games, he was named the everyday second baseman. But Hofman’s hot start did not last very long. He managed only one more hit in his next 25 at-bats while playing below-average defense. A costly error against the Cubs on May 24 contributed to four Chicago runs in the sixth inning of a game the Giants lost, 8-2. His playing time decreased significantly; he failed to get into a game between June 2 and June 12. On June 18 he was sent down to the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate at Minneapolis of the American Association. It was three years before he reached the major leagues again.
Hofman’s arrival with the Minneapolis Millers prompted the club to shift future Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, the team’s first African-American player and leading hitter, from second base to third. Hofman appeared in 92 games for the Millers and posted a .281 batting average with 9 home runs and 38 RBIs.
Hofman hoped to regain a roster spot with the Giants in 1950, but on April 13 he was optioned to the Triple-A Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. By mid-July, the Oaks were the league’s best club, bolstered by an offense that finished the season hitting a league-leading .289 as a team. Hofman displayed a knack for timely hitting and teamed with shortstop Artie Wilson to form one of the best double-play combinations in the league.
On July 6 Hofman hit the first pitch thrown in the tenth inning out of Wrigley Field in Los Angeles to defeat the Los Angeles Angels, 3-2. By August the Oaks enjoyed a sizable lead in the standings. In early August, they hammered Los Angeles, 23-7. A week later, they beat the San Diego Padres, 17-6. Hofman went on a tear in September and finished the season with a .296 average, 15 home runs, and 83 RBIs. (To underscore how dominant the Oaks’ lineup was at the plate, seven of Hofman’s teammates finished ahead of him with averages above .300 as the Oaks claimed their second Pacific Coast League pennant in three years.)
Hofman had every reason to believe his chances to stick with the Giants in 1951 were good. An Associated Press article in January under manager Leo Durocher’s byline said the team’s bench had been “fortified” by players like all-star PCL shortstop Artie Wilson, Hofman, Davey Williams, Bill Jennings, and others.3 Again Hofman hit well all spring, but still displayed some shortcomings defensively. He homered in the club’s first intrasquad game, on March 4, but made an error against the Red Sox that proved decisive in a 2-1 loss two weeks later. On April 18 he was again optioned to the minor leagues, this time to Triple-A Ottawa (International League).
The local newspaper left no doubt that Hofman was highly coveted by Ottawa manager Hugh Poland. As early as April 3, stories began to appear suggesting as much: “Poland’s chief hope, though he won’t — or can’t — say much about it, is that Hofman, who batted .296 for Oakland last year, may be moved to Ottawa. But he’s only surmising this, though hoping would be a better word for it.”4
Hofman did not immediately report to Ottawa, choosing instead to spend some time in St. Louis. This caused speculation in the media that he was not terribly anxious to go to Ottawa, perhaps preferring to return to Oakland, where he had enjoyed so much success the previous season. Poland dismissed the speculation as mere rumor, insisting that Hofman had simply returned home to settle some affairs prior to reporting to the club.5 He arrived on April 26 and immediately made a good impression with some slick defensive plays. In all, Hofman played in 72 games for Ottawa, missing a handful of games in June with an ankle injury. He batted .274 with little of the power he had displayed in previous stops. In July he was moved back to Minneapolis, and the change of scenery improved his offensive output considerably.
The Millers were a good team prevented from possibly being great by the needs of the parent Giants, who indeed won the National League pennant in 1951. Their roster included three future Hall of Famers, Dandridge, pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm, and outfielder Willie Mays, who put up remarkable numbers in just 35 games before debuting in New York. As a team, they led the American Association in home runs, runs scored, and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average). In moving to the Millers, Hofman was replacing Davey Williams, who had been called up to the Giants after appearing in 80 games for the Millers. Hofman supplied slightly better numbers than Williams, managing a .290 average with ten home runs in 67 games.
Hofman’s success at the plate with the Millers left him in a good position to again compete for a major-league roster spot in 1952. In December the Giants traded starting second baseman Eddie Stanky to the Cardinals. Competition to replace Stanky was expected to be fierce, with Davey Williams considered to have the inside track over Hofman and Ronald Samford, an All-Star at Sioux City the previous year. Many saw it as primarily between Williams and Hofman, and while acknowledging that Stanky’s leadership would be missed, conceded confidence that either would perform adequately. In February catcher Wes Westrum suggested that either Williams or Hofman could fill the bill at second base.6 For his part, manager Leo Durocher insisted all spring that the competition was wide open. Williams was clearly better defensively, but Hofman offered a far more potent bat. Ultimately, a consensus evolved that Williams would be the primary second baseman and Hofman his backup, and that their combined strengths would be the equal or better of Stanky.
For the first half of the 1952 season, Hofman was primarily a pinch-hitter and late-inning replacement. He also was knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm’s bullpen catcher. With playing time limited, Hofman never found any consistency, and by the end of July his average was a meager .133 in only 16 plate appearances. On August 23 he was involved in a bizarre double ejection in a game against the Cardinals. In the seventh inning, Giants third baseman Bob Elliott was ejected for arguing a called strike two. Hofman was called upon in the pinch to complete the at-bat, and when plate umpire Augie Donatelli called the next pitch strike three, Hofman launched into a tirade that led to his own ejection.
Even without Willie Mays for all but 34 games, the Giants were in a hotly-contested race for first place with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hofman found considerably more playing time down the stretch. On September 12 he hit his first big-league home run, off Cincinnati pitcher Ken Raffensberger in the second inning of an 8-7 loss. The Giants ultimately fell short in their quest to repeat as pennant winners, finishing with 92 wins but 4½ games in back of Brooklyn. Despite his slow start, Hofman finished his first full season in the big leagues with a.286 batting average and above-average power for a middle infielder. But he appeared in only 32 games, and hoped to find more playing time the following year.
Hofman’s playing career lasted parts of five more seasons, and along the way he proved invaluable as a part-time role player and pinch-hitter. In 1953 he emerged as one of the best pinch-hitters in the game, collecting 13 hits in 35 at-bats, a .371 average. He managed three pinch-hit home runs, tying Grady Hatton of Cincinnati for the National League lead. Of his role as a pinch-hitter, Hofman remarked, “When you come up to hit, your muscles are stiff from sitting on the bench, the pitcher is always bearing down against you and sometimes all you manage to get is one swing at the ball.”7 In 1954 his first two hits of the season were pinch-hit home runs, including a game-winning ninth-inning shot against Cincinnati on May 12. On June 20 against St. Louis, Hofman and Dusty Rhodes became the first teammates to homer as pinch-hitters in the same inning. In August Durocher said, “Every time we go bad, I call upon Rhodes and Hofman. They’re my minutemen.”8 At season’s end, Hofman again led the league with three pinch-hit home runs.
The Giants went on to win the pennant and sweep the Cleveland Indians in a memorable World Series. Unfortunately for Hofman, he never got to play. Durocher favored Rhodes, whose hitting exploits against Cleveland more than justified the decision.
On September 27, the day after the 1954 season ended, Hofman married Ruth Boston, 25, at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Clifton, New Jersey. All of his teammates attended the reception. The newlyweds settled in St. Louis at the end of the season.
In 1954 Hofman played 21 games at first base, ten at second base, and eight at third base. In spring training of 1955 he added catcher to his repertoire. He was brought in as a receiver after the starting catcher was ejected from a B-squad game against the Indians for arguing with the umpire. According to Fred Fitzsimmons, manager of the B-squad, “Sure, he was rough in spots, but nobody scored while he was in there. He blocked balls in the dirt well and he caught one difficult foul in high wind.”9 Hofman’s first opportunity to catch in the regular season came against the Braves on April 27 when Ray Katt left the game with an injured finger. Hofman caught the last four innings, including two thrown by knuckleballer Wilhelm.
Hofman went on to appear in 19 games at catcher in 1955, to go with 24 games at first base, 19 at second base, and five at third base. He finished the season with an improved .266 average, 10 home runs, and 28 RBIs. On May 27 Hofman pinch-hit for Davey Williams and cracked his fourth home run of the season as the Giants beat the Dodgers 3-1 at the Polo Grounds. The home run was Hofman’s third of the year as a pinch-hitter and the ninth of his career. It placed him in a tie with former slugger Cy Williams for the major-league record for career home runs as a pinch-hitter.
Despite his versatility in the field, Hofman was largely forgettable at the plate in 1956 and 1957. By the end of 1957 he had played his last game. His first career in baseball, as a player, was over. But his second career, as a coach and manager, began in earnest the following season.
In 1958 Hofman was appointed manager of the Danville Leafs, a Giants affiliate in the Class B Carolina League. He piloted the club to the pennant with a record of 80-59. In August the team won 13 consecutive games, the third longest winning streak in the league’s history. The following year he was hired by the Kansas City Athletics to manage their Plainview, Texas, club in the short-lived Sophomore League. For the next six seasons, Hofman managed at various locations and levels in the Kansas City organization. In 1965, after beginning the season 18-7 and gaining a 3½-game lead for first place at Lewiston in the Northwest League, Hofman replaced Haywood Sullivan at Triple-A Vancouver when Sullivan succeeded Mel McGaha as Kansas City’s manager.
In November 1965 Hofman was hired by Athletics owner Charlie Finley to replace Whitey Herzog on the Athletics’ coaching staff. A month later Haywood Sullivan resigned as manager and was replaced by Alvin Dark. Hofman stayed on as a member of Dark’s coaching staff and coached at third base until he was shown the door when Dark was fired by Finley in August 1967. Before the year was over, Hofman was hired to coach third base for the Washington Senators. Citing Hofman’s coaching ability, manager Jim Lemon said, “… I watched him closely for two years when he was with the A’s, and I was impressed with his work. I honestly don’t think I saw Bobby make many mistakes.”10 After the season Hofman found himself once again hired by the Athletics organization, now located in Oakland. He joined manager Hank Bauer’s staff and again coached third base. He remained with Oakland until October 1970, when John McNamara, Bauer’s successor, was fired and replaced by Dick Williams.
The following month, the Cleveland Indians announced that Hofman had been hired at a salary of $15,000 to join manager Alvin Dark’s staff as the third-base coach in 1971. He would also split the duties of traveling secretary with trainer Jim Warfield. The announcement was met with criticism that the Indians were trying to cut corners, but team vice president Jim Stouffer responded that it was “a matter of more efficiency,” adding, “Here we have two people who are closely related to the team and living those jobs.”11 Dark nicknamed Hofman Fat Boy and the now shaggy-looking coach performed double duty for the entire season.12 He was relieved of the traveling-secretary duties in November, and returned to coach third base for new manager Ken Aspromonte in 1972.
On June 28, 1972, Cleveland dropped a doubleheader in Milwaukee. After the game Hofman and fellow coach Warren Spahn went to a bar where the latter greeted the bartender by speaking German. As The Sporting News described the incident:
“Unfortunately, an obnoxious intruder, a nationalized German with a thick accent, broke into the conversation and began to relive World War II. Hofman, who was an infantryman in the Europe Theater, finally asked, ‘Were you in the war?’ ‘Yah,’ he replied, ‘in Munich.’ ‘Then you were the one I didn’t shoot,’ Hofman told the fellow. ‘Don’t give me a second chance.’ ”
In 1973 Hofman managed at Triple-A Richmond, an Atlanta Braves affiliate. In June he was ordered by a doctor to step down from managing due to high blood pressure. By March 1974 his health had improved, and he accepted an offer to manage the Athletics’ minor-league club in Lewiston. After just 24 games, he was promoted to the big-league coaching staff under manager Alvin Dark. In July Hofman was deployed full-time to scout the Boston Red Sox, who had taken seven of nine contests with Oakland thus far during the season. He returned to take over in the coach’s box at first base for coach Jerry Adair, who was tasked with scouting the Yankees. Hofman was voted a half-share of the championship earnings money allotted to the A’s who beat the Dodgers in five games in the World Series.
Hofman returned to coach under Dark in 1975. Oakland was swept by the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, whereupon owner Charlie Finley made changes: Manager Dark was fired and replaced by Chuck Tanner. Hofman and several other coaches were replaced by Tanner’s choices for a coaching staff. A year later Hofman was hired again by Finley to serve as the club’s traveling secretary, a post he filled for the next two seasons, with a brief return to coaching in 1978.
Hofman was fired again by the Athletics in January 1980. The New York Yankees, who under George Steinbrenner were shaking up their front office, hired him almost immediately as director of scouting. Of his years working for Finley, Hofman said, “I got a lot of experience in Oakland. I have nothing but good things to say about Charlie Finley. He treated me great. He fired me four times, but he always hired me back.”13 Hofman was the Yankees’ scouting director for five seasons. He went on to hold various positions with the club, including director of minor-league operations and director of player development until he was let go in December 1988. The next month he joined the Cleveland Indians as a scout in the Midwest. After a short stint in that job, he retired.
Hofman died on April 5, 1994, from cancer at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri. He was 68. He was survived by his wife, Ruth; a daughter, Deborah Ake; a brother, Jim Hofman; and a sister, Jane Berkmeyer. He had spent more than 40 years in baseball. In his varied career, he won World Series rings as a player and coach; he played with Willie Mays and for Leo Durocher; he coached alongside Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio in Oakland and Warren Spahn in Cleveland; and he worked as an executive for both Charlie Finley and George Steinbrenner.
1 Allen Barra, Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 17.
2 “Soos Square Set,” Council Bluffs (Iowa) Nonpareil, August 12, 1948.
3 “Lippy Admits He’s Crazy — Over ’51 Nine,” Fitchburg (Massachusetts Sentinel, January 29, 1951.
4 W.G. Westwick, “Second Base Still Hugh Poland’s Problem,” Ottawa (Ontario) Journal, April 3, 1951.
5 W.G. Westwick, “The Sports Realm,” Ottawa (Ontario) Journal, April 25, 1951.
6 “Westrum’s Hands Are A-1,” Tucson Daily Citizen, February 27, 1952.
7 Milton Richman (United Press), “Virgil Trucks Worried About Hitting Batters,” Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News, July 16, 1953.
8 Joe Reichler (Associated Press), “Manager Leo Durocher Up To Old Tricks,” Galesburg (Illinois) Register-Mail, August 19, 1954.
9 “Hofman in Catching Debut When Grapso Is Thumbed,” The Sporting News, March 23, 1955.
10 “Nat Pilot Lemon Picks Aids With Merit Yardstick,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1967.
11 “’Quality, More Than Quantity’ — Goal of Tribe Brass,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1970.
12 “Mini-Hawk Set to Grab Tribe Utility Post,” The Sporting News, March 6, 1971.
13 “Major Changes Sweep Yank Minor System,” The Sporting News, January 19, 1980.