“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1975-1980
 manager 1992-1994
#6   BUTCH HOBSON

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 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 father, a three-year letterman at quarterback for Alabama, was Hobson's football coach at Bessemer High. Butch was named to the All-Jefferson County team as a quarterback. He was a safety and backup quarterback at Alabama under legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. In the 1972 Orange Bowl national championship game, won by Nebraska over Alabama by 38-6, Hobson ran the wishbone offense for the Crimson Tide after starting quarterback Terry Davis was injured in the fourth quarter.

Entering his senior year at Alabama, Hobson decided to concentrate solely on baseball. Hobson's choice proved to be a wise one. In 1973 he was the team leader in hits (38), home runs (13), and RBIs (37), and tied for the team lead in runs (20). The 13 home runs were a Southeastern Conference 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 RBIs. 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 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 17 games. His numbers improved over a full season at Winston-Salem as he hit .284 with 14 homers and 74 RBIs in 1974 and they earned him a promotion to Bristol of the Eastern League. His 15 homers, 73 RBIs, 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 lineup, he started at third base at Fenway Park 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 major-league hit, a single off left-hander Jim Strickland in the eighth inning.

After beginning the 1976 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, Hobson made his 1976 debut at Fenway Park on June 28 in a 12-8 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Getting the start at third base and batting second, he went 2-for-5, doubling off Jim Palmer and hitting his first major-league homer in the sixth off Rudy May. Center fielder 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 played 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 everyday third baseman by new manager Don Zimmer, hit .234, contributing eight homers and 34 RBIs.

The 1977 season was Hobson's breakout year and also his finest as a major leaguer. He 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, in 159 games in 1977, he 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 spot 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 than the White Sox, who were second in the major leagues. Five Red Sox hit more than 25 homers, 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 a 10-game stretch from June 14 through June 24 (establishing a major-league record) and 16 in three games against the New York Yankees June 17-19 (also a major-league record). On July 4 the Red Sox hit a then-record eight home runs (still a Red Sox team high), including seven solo shots (still a single-game record) in a 9-6 pounding of the Toronto 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 (as of 2014 still a Red Sox record for a right-handed batter) in 159 games at third base. Hobson put together an 18-game hitting streak. He 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, 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. He played 133 games at third base in 1978 (he also served as the DH in 14 games), and he drove in 21 runs in a 10-game stretch from April 14 through 23.  Hobson’s 43 errors yielded a fielding percentage of .899, the first time since 1916 that 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, belting 17 homers and driving in 80 runs. He finally asked out of the lineup on September 22 in preparation for postseason elbow surgery, with Jack Brohamer filling in at third and Hobson still serving as a DH.

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 him at third with rookie Glenn Hoffman, who hit .285 in 110 games, while Hobson's batting average dropped to .228 (with 11 home runs 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 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 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 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 the Angels. 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).  

On October 8, 1991, the Red Sox fired manager Joe Morgan and named Hobson as his replacement. The Red Sox hoped they would be getting a managerial version of the tough player Hobson had been. But Hobson's toughness as a player was not evident in his performance as a manager as perceived by the media. This did not bode well during a three-year period in which the Red Sox seriously underachieved.

Don Zimmer served as Hobson's bench coach in 1992 and theorized 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 was exposed to all in May 1996.