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."
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."