MINEAPOLIS — MINNEAPOLIS -- Unlike last season, the Boston Red Sox began the American League Championship Series yesterday with a bang. Though they weren't playing, the Red Sox fired native son manager Joe Morgan and hired Triple A manager Butch Hobson.
The Red Sox maintain they fired Morgan after 3 1/2 seasons so they could hire Hobson, not because they blamed Morgan for the team's disappointing second-place finish (84-78). "No way Joe Morgan is the scapegoat for the season," general manager Lou Gorman said. "We did this because there was so much praise for Hobson and so much interest in Hobson."
No one expected it, not even players who have feuded with Morgan. "I was definitely shocked," pitcher Jeff Reardon said. "Usually when these things are about to happen, guys talk about it. Everybody just assumed he would be coming back."
Hobson only has managed five years in the minors and Morgan, 60, talked freely in the last days of the season about his plans for next season. It all unfolded with blurring speed yesterday. The Red Sox notified the media in the morning of a "major press conference" in the afternoon and the common perception was that it was to announce a coaching shake-up.
Instead, they fired Morgan, who had a major-league managing record of 301-262 and whose contract they extended June 1 through next season. And they hired Hobson, who was Manager of the Year in the International League while leading Pawtucket to a 79-64 record and regular-season division title.
"Sure, I was surprised," Morgan said, adding he thinks he has done "a helluva job."
According to Gorman, Hobson, 40, went to Boston Monday night for his annual evaluation. "The more we talked with him, the more impressed we became," Gorman said.
They called in Morgan at noon yesterday and gave him the news. He was shocked. No one had mentioned the possibility of him getting fired. Asked last night if he thought Morgan stood any chance of being fired when the season ended Sunday, Gorman simply said, "I didn't."
While Gorman wouldn't admit it, there may have been another agenda that led to Morgan's firing. Morgan has enjoyed only divided support from ownership since he became interim manager at the 1988 All-Star break and used "Morgan Magic" to take them to the playoffs against the Oakland A's. Even another trip to the playoffs last season, a second-place finish this season and third-place finish in 1989 never made owner Heywood Sullivan and Gorman fans.
But when the huge disappointment of this season was held up against the backdrop of a $32 million payroll, organization sources said the Red Sox decided they needed more of a motivator and communicator. There also was speculation Morgan angered the front office by resisting mandated changes to his coaching staff. Whatever, Sullivan finally got his way and Hobson got a two-year contract for about $275,000 a year.
A backup quarterback at the University of Alabama, Hobson brought a tenacious style of play with him to baseball. He was known for running over players, walls, fans and seats in pursuit of the ball. He was a third baseman on the late-'70s Red Sox power-hitting teams.
"Butch is a more aggressive manager," said Red Sox pitcher Dana Kiecker, who played for Morgan in the last year-and-a-half and also had a stint with Hobson this season at Pawtucket. Asked the main difference between the two, Kiecker said, "First, there's the big age difference," he said. "They played in different eras and both implemented segments of those eras into their managing. Butch is very good with players. He has a lot of individual meetings."
Morgan has one more year and $375,000 remaining on his contract and the Red Sox have offered him a job as head of major-league scouting.