It's (Not) So Easy -- Hobson Insists On Dedication From His Players

Breaking in as a rookie manager and doing it with the Boston Red Sox may be the toughest double play in baseball.

This year, with a Boston team that has struggled to hit and win in the early months, it is tougher than ever.

But Butch Hobson, whose response to every question about his team is basically, "We'll get warm when the weather does," found nothing harder in his new job than the unkind words rookie Mo Vaughn had for him two weeks ago after Vaughn was sent to Pawtucket to find his missing power stroke.

Vaughn, with whom Hobson worked every day of the last two years at Bristol and Pawtucket, said bitterly that Hobson had changed since being named Boston manager last November. "Butch Hobson is not the same manager he was," Vaughn said.

Vaughn, of course, missed the point that Hobson has more concerns now than developing one young player's individual abilities.

"That hurt to hear Mo say that," Hobson said, with the same soft drawl and eye-to-eye directness he had as a player. "When we were sending him down, I talked with him for half an hour . . . because I care about him and I know he can be back if he wants to work at it."

Hobson recalled a similar situation when he came to the Red Sox from Class AA Bristol in September, 1975, the first time he was a rookie in Boston.

"My dad came all the way up from Alabama to see me play that last month," said Hobson, who played third base for the Red Sox, 1976-1980. "I played one game with him here and they sent me to Pawtucket the next spring. But not for an instant did I feel I wouldn't be back. I'm sorry Mo didn't feel the same way."

Hobson seemed amazed that a player with Vaughn's promise would show a lack of determination, then panic, strike out at the organization and suggest he'd like to be traded.

But Hobson's determination to play and dedication to the game was equaled by few when he played, and by even fewer today.

Writers who covered the Boston team at that time still use Hobson as the classic example of a man who came to play. His style was in-your-face before there was in-your-face.

He suffered for years with elbow chips earned from the pounding he took as the quarterback for Bear Bryant at Alabama.

At times during his baseball days, Hobson's elbow would lock and between pitches you would see him fiddling with the elbow, trying to get the chips to move so he could straighten the arm.

And he politely insists that his own players give no less.

"They are as dedicated as I was," he said last week in Boston, before a game with Seattle. "I think they come to play, prepare well. I tell them every day I love every one of them."

There's been some sentiment around town that Hobson, 40, lacked experience to handle the Boston job or that he might be too close to his players. Whatever toughness Hobson has brought to the job so far remains behind the closed doors of the clubhouse.

Hobson, always a private person, knows better than to open up too much, too soon.

"I'm really having fun," he said. "But a number of things have gone on that people don't know about. I've said a few things to people, gotten some things off my chest, that are not public knowledge."

Don Zimmer, Hobson's third-base coach and his manager in Hobson's playing days in Boston, was asked if Hobson was being direct as usual or diplomatic when he insisted his players were as dedicated as Hobson was.

Zimmer said nothing, but gave a sideways look of incredulity.

"Let me tell you a little story about something my daddy once told me," said Zimmer, a Mark Twain in doubleknit as a storyteller. "Never once as a player did he ever try to tell me anything. Not once, high school, Legion or pro. And he was a pretty good infielder in his day.

"But when I started managing after my playing days were done, I had a bad Knoxville team my first year. We had six wins in six weeks when I got a phone call. It was my father. He reminded me he had never bothered me with suggestions or advice or any kind of interference all that time.

"What he said was, `Don't expect your players to play the same way you did.'

"It was good advice," said Zimmer, who refutes any suggestion that he is back in Boston to help Hobson get started as a major-league field boss. "So this spring I spoke with Butch one day and I told him I had only one piece of advice for him . . . and I told him what my daddy told me."

If that tale did not stand as an answer, Zimmer recalled that Hobson made up what he lacked in finesse with a white-hot fire.

"Hobby gave you all he had every inning of every day," he said. "Infielders hated to see him get on base. Not that he was fast, but if he could, he was going to go after them. And don't think fielders don't have that going through their mind during a game."

It is not so much that today's players are not as determined or dedicated.

"I played in the 1950s with some great Dodgers teams against some great Reds, Cardinals, Giants teams," he said. "And there were dogs back then, too. There are always some guys" who don't go all out, "although maybe not as many back then as today."

Zimmer waved a hand toward the batting cage where Wade Boggs was ringing line drives to every part of Fenway Park.

"Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) was tough to get out of the lineup, Pete Rose, Andre Dawson," Zimmer said. "And so is this guy. He's as dedicated to the game as any you'll ever see."

Zimmer knows this firsthand because he's the one who now hits Boggs his daily 100 ground balls.

"Before anyone shows up," Zimmer said. "So a lot of guys don't even know how hard he works at being a complete player."

Boggs is a throwback in more ways than one. His records read like a Hall of Fame plaque: first since 1900 with seven straight 200-hit years; second (with Ducky Medwick) to have seven straight 40-double years, etc. etc.

Boggs refers to researching his achievements as "fossil hunting." "I haven't done anything that hasn't been done before," he said.

His work ethic is also old-time. "The day I don't feel like taking extra swings or extra ground balls," he says, "is the day I'll hang 'em up."

Last week at Fenway, Boggs was at third and the rest of the infield was covered by the grounds crew. As they watered and fixed the grass and dirt around him, he took ground ball after ground ball from Zimmer's fungo. Right, left. Skidders and choppers. Every conceivable test.

Every day.

Seattle's Tino Martinez, one of the few Mariners who sits and studies the other team as it takes pregame work, asked about the routine.

Told how driven Boggs is to excel, Martinez said, "I can see why he's a great player."

In one instance for sure, Hobson, the man who came to play, does see a kindred soul.