Nice guy Butch Hobson gets bum's rush

September 21, 1994|By Alan Greenberg | Alan Greenberg,The Hartford Courant

BOSTON -- He thanked the Fenway parking lot attendants. He thanked the ushers and security guards. He thanked the toll collectors on the Massachusetts Pike, who always had a kind word for him, even as the losses mounted.

He thanked the people in the Red Sox offices, affectionately saluting secretaries and assistant publicists whose names some of his players barely knew.

Say this about Butch Hobson. He may have pumped a lot of iron, but he never got too big for his britches. He had brought notes to this, his final Red Sox press conference, and kept referring to them because, he said over and over, he didn't want to forget anybody.

"The Red Sox are honored to have these people," he said about the stadium workers, "even though these people don't have jobs."

And now Butch Hobson didn't have a job either. Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, to the surprise of no one, fired Hobson yesterday after three seasons as manager. Three losing seasons.

It has been nearly 30 years since the Red Sox had three con

secutive losing seasons. Duquette decided he had seen enough. And while Duquette acknowledged that a lot of what ailed the Red Sox was not Hobson's fault, he damned his former manager with faint praise.

"His strength," Duquette said of Hobson, "was he was popular with the players." But later, when pressed, Duquette said, "while it's helpful to be popular with your players, it's more important to have their respect and also to win games."

Soon after, Duquette, wearing a double-breasted brown suit, slipped out a side door. A minute later, Hobson, dressed in

brown leather boots, blue jeans, brown vest, white T-shirt and gold chain, entered the room with his wife, Krystine. As he stood at the podium, she sat silently in a chair behind him, occasionally dabbing at her eyes with a tissue as her husband talked about what the Red Sox meant to him.

"I believe in my heart that I did the best I could," Hobson said. "I don't regret a single thing I did. I made a lot of friends. Hope I didn't make any enemies."

He was serious. And that, of course, was part of the problem. One Boston columnist nicknamed him "Daddy Butch" because Hobson seemed so intent on managing a major league team without hurting anyone's feelings.

"I never embarrassed a player on the field," Hobson said. "I never embarrassed a player in front of his teammates. That's how I managed here, and that's how I managed in the minors. If people are saying different, they don't know me. I knew when I took this job it wouldn't be easy. It didn't change me. I stayed Butch. I did. If I'd have changed, they wouldn't have had to fire me. I'd have resigned."

That Hobson was a good man, nobody doubted. That he was a good manager, many did. Duquette said a team might be involved in 60 one-run games a season, and that the strategy a veteran major league manager brings to the task can make a difference in many of those games.

When the Red Sox fired Joe Morgan and hired Hobson three years ago, Hobson had been a manager only three seasons, all at the minor league level. Two years at Double A New Britain, then a year at Triple A Pawtucket.

Lou Gorman, GM when Hobson was hired, claimed not to be worried by Hobson's lack of major league managerial experience. He said the Red Sox rushed to promote Hobson because they feared losing him to another organization.

Gorman, who became executive vice president of baseball operations last winter when Duquette was brought in to rebuild the Red Sox, sat glumly in the back of the Diamond Club Tuesday as Hobson said his goodbyes.

"I was the manager of the Boston Red Sox," said Hobson, his voice a mixture of pride and awe. "And I got here quick. There are so many managers in the minors who are down there for 20 or 30 years and never got a chance like this."

But what kind of chance, was it? A chance for real success. When Morgan, gracious in a flinty New England way, said the Red Sox players weren't as good as people thought they were, some people scoffed. But Morgan was right. Some teams can prosper with a mediocre manager. The Red Sox could not.

Hobson was in Alabama, visiting his three daughters from his first marriage, when Duquette phoned him and asked him to fly up. Now, as he stood here saying his goodbyes, he said he wanted to make it short, because he hadn't seen his two young sons in five days.

Although the thickness of his southern accent suggests someone out of place in New England, Hobson pointed out that he now makes his home here year-round.

"I love it here," he said. "I wanted to stay here. That's what's hurting me more than anything. I didn't take this job expecting anything in return. I'm a Red Sox through and through, because this is where I grew up."

Someone asked Hobson if he thought the Red Sox had given him a fair shake. At that, Hobson hesitated, grimaced, then rolled his head against his shoulders. The answer was a non-answer.

"I'm not going to burn any bridges," he said.

Maybe the bridges weren't burned, but for now, they are impassable. The Red Sox did not offer Hobson a job in the organization. Hobson said he hoped to stay in baseball, and would consider managing again in the minor leagues. Probably, he'll wind up as somebody's coach. A coach can be buddy-buddy with his players, play big brother to the hilt and be a major asset. A big league manager cannot.

No, Butch Hobson didn't change since the Red Sox hired him three years ago. But maybe, for his own good, he should have. Just a little.

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