American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, we feature Chicago Dogs Manager Butch Hobson, who will be leading the team in their inaugural season.
Introducing Butch Hobson
Each year, thousands of players take to the field in independent baseball, looking for an opportunity to have their contract purchased so they can either head to a Major League affiliate for the first time, or return to continue their dream. This off-season, the American Association has seen several of its best head for Spring Training in February, as James Needy, Caleb Thielbar, Wes Darvill, Josh Tols, and others have already been spending the first few months of the year looking to stick with an affiliate club.
This has been the goal of these leagues from the start, to help players keep their careers alive and give them an opportunity to return to affiliate ball. Even many managers and coaches hope that these leagues will be a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Not to everyone, however. New Chicago Dogs Manager Butch Hobson has managed at every level of the game, including in the Major Leagues, but for most of the last 17 years he has settled in to become one of the most successful managers in independent baseball history. More importantly, he has found that this level of baseball is truly allowing him to enjoy the game as it was meant to be enjoyed.
A Rising Star for the Red Sox
Butch Hobson grew up in Alabama, where he was not only a star baseball player, but quite successful on the gridiron as well. In fact, he would later go to the University of Alabama, where he played for legendary football coach Bear Bryant. While he was a pretty good player, he was realistic enough to know that baseball was his destiny, and in 1973 Butch was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the eighth round of the MLB amateur draft.
Hobson was sent to Winston-Salem in the Carolina League, where he spent two seasons. In 1975, his third season in professional baseball, the infielder started the season in AA-Bristol, but would appear in two games with the Boston Red Sox. A year later, he started in AAA-Rhode Island, but spent only 90 games there before being called to the Majors, where he would remain for next six seasons.
Butch had shown a great deal of power in the minors, hitting 25 home runs in those 90 games at AAA, and that continued in the Majors. In 1977, the Red Sox third baseman hit .265 with 30 homers and 112 RBI in 159 games.
Butch spent three more seasons in Boston, hitting 94 homers as a Red Sox. However, a shoulder injury limited his season in 1980 and he would be dealt to the California Angels a year later. He spent just one season there before going to the New York Yankees. His last season in the Majors was 1982, but he would remain at AAA-Columbus until 1985 when he decided to hang up his cleats.
Establishing an Impressive Resume
While opting to retire from playing, Butch Hobson did not want to stay far from the sport. The former Major Leaguer had been a true student of the game, and knew that he could make a difference as a coach or manager. The New York Mets agreed.
In 1987, Butch was hired by the club to be their manager at Mid-A Columbia (South Atlantic League). He had solid success in his first two seasons, posting a 138-138 record, including winning 74 games in 1988. However, his understanding of what he needed to do as a manager needed a little adjustment.
“I was never thrown out of the game as a player, not until I became a manager. When I became a manager I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I think I set the South Atlantic League record for ejections because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do,” the Manager explains with a laugh.
His ascent as a manager was much as it had been as a player. Butch was signed by the Red Sox to be their manager at AA-New Britain in 1989, and by 1991 he was at AAA-Pawtucket, where he would lead the AAA team to a first place finish in the International League. In 1992, Hobson became the manager of the Red Sox, a spot he held for three seasons, posting a 207-232 record.
A year later he was with Mobile, an independent team in the Texas-Louisiana League, but the Manager would not stay there long. After one season, Butch returned to affiliate ball, signing to become the Phillies AAA manager, but his season abruptly ended do a personal issue that led to him leaving the team. It would take three years before he would be given another opportunity to manage, which came in 1999, when the Red Sox hired Hobson to take over their High-A Sarasota team.
On a Whole New Level
After spending 22 years in affiliate baseball as a player and manager, Butch Hobson moved onto independent ball. In 2000, he became the manager of the Nashua Pridse in the Atlantic League, a position he would hold for eight seasons, including the final two when the team joined the Cam-Am League. The team had winning campaigns in six of his eight seasons, and it was in Nashua that Butch started a tradition. When he was ejected for arguing a baserunning call, he would remove a base and give it to a fan. This became the inspiration for the movie Stolen Bases, commissioned in 2000.
After eight seasons in Nashua, Butch became the first manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2008. All three seasons his team had winning records, and he finished 235-184 overall.
In 2011, Hobson became the manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers. He served in this position for six seasons, positing winning campaigns in all but one year, and winning the Atlantic League title in 2014.
Time for a Change
After 17 seasons in independent ball, Butch Hobson was offered a managerial position with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in 2017. He took it and was sent to Mid-A Kane County in the Midwest League. The Skipper led the team to a 72-65 record, winning the first half title in the Western Division. However, surprisingly, the organization opted not to retain him at the end of the season.
The move may have been surprising, but there was no doubt that someone would find the 66 year old to be the perfect choice to manage their team. That position became available when Shawn Hunter and Steven Gluckstern started the Chicago Dogs, the new addition to the American Association.
“Independent ball is a really good fit for me. This will be my 19th year in independent ball. I love Chicago. It was one of my favorite cities to travel to when I played for Boston or California or New York.”
Chicago became an ideal spot to continue his managerial career. Not only would he be the first manager of the team, providing the opportunity to build something from scratch, but it was also the chance to be apart of a culture that the two owners had created.
“I see why Sean Hunter and Steve Gluckstern have been so successful, just by the kind of people that they bring in. Their people people, that’s my first impression. It all goes hand-in-hand. The front office is part of the family. The team is part of the front office, the front office as part of the team. All of that goes together to help our fans to feel a part of that family.”
A Team Building Philosophy
Butch Hobson was no stranger to building a baseball team. He had 18 years of experience in independent ball, and that meant the Manager had a large number of contacts available to him. That has afforded him the opportunity to look for Chicago area talent, a big part of the philosophy on how he wants to build teams.
“Every year that I’ve managed I look to bring in local kids that have played, that are from the area. What better opportunity do you have where you can go and you can play in your own backyard. Your mama, and grandmamma, and granddaddy, your brother, your sister or whatever, even your wife can see you play. That is truly something special. We have two guys with Major League service time right now, both from Chicago”
Being the first Chicago Dogs manager has also afforded him the opportunity to bring in his people to help lead the team. Some of who have been with him for years, while others will be a part of his coaching staff for the first time.
“We have a great staff coming in. Stan Cliburn is going to be my bench coach-player procurement guy. He’s been in the game almost as long as I have, and that’s a long, long time. He’s had a lot of years as a manager, he was my hitting coach in 2014 in Lancaster when we won the championship. We played together in the Angels organization for a year, and he’s a very special friend of mine. D.J. Boston, is going to be the hitting coach. He’s been with me before. He played for me back in 2000, 2001. He was my hitting coach in 15 and 16. Reggie Harris, we haven’t worked together yet but he was a first rounder for Boston. Reggie has always been somebody who I’ve wanted to work with, but just never have. He’s just going to add a lot of good things to our staff.”
What It Takes to Be a Dog
Butch Hobson has already added nine players to the Chicago Dogs, and there are others who will be added in the upcoming days. He understands that fans are expecting a winner, and is ready to deliver that, but is bucking the system in a way. In an age where the radar gun and sabermetrics seem to be the only things that scouts are interesting in, the Dogs Manager is continuing with a philosophy based upon two issues: character and performance.
“Managers are always going look for speed. You want speed in your outfield, you want speed on the bases. I like pitchers that throw strikes. They don’t have to be a 90 to 95 mile an hour guy. If they throw strikes and they can get people out, that’s what I want. Whether that’s going to lead to an organization or not, I don’t know. We don’t try to go out and field a team just trying to make money off of players. It’s part of the business to put a quality product on the field in an atmosphere where people want to come out to the ballpark and watch a baseball game.”
Reaching base and getting outs are what helps a team to win ball games, but Butch also understands that the team he builds is one that will create a culture for the club and for fans, maybe for as long as the team is in existence. He wants players who deliver on the field, but also who demonstrate a true respect for the game.
“Your building that team with a lot of things in mind. Number one is this the kind of player that when that game is over that little boy that’s standing there watching that game, and he hits his daddy on leg and says, ‘Dad, I want to play just like that No. 2 for the Chicago Dogs.’ That’s the kind of players that we want representing the Chicago Dogs. To see that happen and to be a part of that, knowing that I put that together and then all of a sudden, the next day, you get a call from the Boston Red Sox and they want to sign that No. 2. It’s an awesome feeling. You take a lot of pride in getting players back.
“I tell my team at the start of the season that we have two jobs. Our number one job is to get you back to an organization or overseas, whatever the case may be and, number two, is to win a championship. Those are our two objectives.”
A Chance to Be a Life Changer
While many players who signed to play independent ball are looking for an opportunity to return to an affiliate club, the reality is that this may be the end of the line for their careers. In an average season, maybe 75 players across independent baseball will sign with an affiliate club, meaning that the vast majority will never reach much higher. This is why Butch Hobson feels that preparing his players for the next stage of their lives is as important as helping them to improve their skills or winning ballgames.
“Independent ball is where I have been and I like having the opportunity to help players to get back to an organization, maybe overseas, so they can make a little money for their lives. In the same breath, I have to kind of teach life after baseball, because a lot of these young men are at that point where if they don’t get signed in the next year or two by an organization it could possibly be that that part of their lives could be over for them.
“I had the honor of playing for Bear Bryant and he taught us life after football because he knew that only one percent of us was going to go to the NFL and I definitely was not in that one percent. So, I had to pursue baseball, which was my first love anyway. I think being able to give something to these men that maybe they haven’t heard before is what my job is.”
That is not an action plan he has instituted just for his players. In fact, the Manager is also preparing himself for the next stage of his career.
“I’m going back to school right now to get my degree. I’ll graduate in December at the age of 67 because, if a college job comes down the road within five years, I would like to finish my life doing that, teaching college kids. Right now, I’ve got a job with the Chicago Dogs and Sean Hunter told me that he wants me in here for the long run and I’m planning on being in it for the long run.”
A Career of Changing Lives
When the 2018 American Association season gets underway, Butch Hobson will be entering his 30th year as a manager. It has been a remarkable career that has seen him overcome personal challenges, win championships, and help countless numbers of young men reach their ultimate dream.
It is really this last piece that drives the Manager. There is nothing that gives him greater satisfaction than knowing that he has helped a young man to be able to continue his career and pursue his dream of being a Major League baseball player one day.
“Bringing in some of these young guys like that and teaching them what I feel the game is about and then you see that guy get signed, it makes my year. That’s what we’re there for.”
Seeing players return to affiliate ball is not the only thing that gives Butch great satisfaction. In fact, it brings him an equal amount of joy to know that the life lessons he has taught to his players have helped them to take their careers to the next stage.
“In the Midwest league last year, there were nine coaches or managers who played for me. That really made me feel special. To know that those guys played for me and hopefully they took something from me that’s going to help them to be a better coach, a better manager. That is really something special to me. I love that.”
Butch Hobson, a Living Legend
You would be hard-pressed to find someone who loves their job as much as Butch Hobson does. While most are driving themselves to become a Major League player, coach or manager, Hobson is right where he wants to be, enjoying the sport that he has loved playing since he was a kid. It’s the opportunity to do the thing he loves in the game that he is unbelievably passionate about it.
“I believe that when you talk to a group of little leaguers you ask them to pick up the ball and smell it. You then ask them if that smells good to you and, if it does, that’s when you know you love this game. That’s what I’ve always been able to do, to respect the game, to teach to respect the game and the love of the game, because that’s the way I feel inside of me. That’s what I feel in independent ball. Not that I wouldn’t feel that way in an organization, but that’s just the way I feel here.”
No one needs to smell Butch Hobson to know he loves baseball (sorry, couldn’t resist). For over 40 years, he has played and managed in the sport that he passionately loves, much in the same way that a man loves his wife and kids. His players and coaches have become a part of his family, as have every fan who has entered the gates to watch him or his team play.
When the 2018 American Association season gets underway on May 18, there will be no doubt that Butch Hobson will be sharing his vast knowledge and love of the game with his players. He will be looking to make the Chicago Dogs a championship club right away, and so no one should be surprised if by season’s end the team is crowned the top dog in the league.
Featured Image Courtesy of Lancaster Online
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA