ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Butch Hobson is 68 now, the age where plenty of former ballplayers will happily tell you how much better the game was in their day.
But Hobson was delighted to get the news that Rafael Devers had broken his record for home runs in a season by a Red Sox third baseman.
“That’s awesome,” Hobson said by phone from his home in Alabama. “I’m excited for him. I haven’t seen every game he’s played, but that young man has plenty of opposite-field power and I like that. He’s a heck of a hitter.”
Devers, in fact, homered to left field on Saturday night for his 31st home run, the most by a Sox third baseman since Hobson had 30 in 1977.
“It could have been 32,” Hobson said. “Al Bumbry robbed me of a home run in Baltimore and I had another one at Fenway that hit a bar holding up that net over the wall and they called it a double.
“George Brett told me the next day that it went over. But what can you do?”
Hobson usually batted seventh or eighth that season for a team that included Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, George Scott, and Carl Yastrzemski. The Sox won 97 games but finished tied for second place with the Orioles behind the Yankees, who went on to win the World Series.
There were no wild cards back then and the Sox went home.
“That was a heck of a team, we had so many good hitters,” Hobson said. “But I’m glad Devers broke my record. I like seeing that. He always plays with a smile on his face and I like that. Baseball should be fun.”
Devers and Hobson met at an offseason event last winter. It was a brief conversation but teammate Xander Bogaerts later let Devers know that Hobson was a force at third base.
Devers didn’t know he had broken Hobson’s record but broke out that smile when he was told.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “There are more records I want to continue to break. It’s about trying to stay healthy and moving forward trying to break as many records as I can.”
Devers, who was 1 for 4 with a walk and two runs scored in Sunday’s 7-4 victory against the Rays, is hitting .307 with a .910 OPS and 112 RBIs. But Sox manager Alex Cora is guarding against complacency.
He wants Devers to continue his improvement on defense and work on his strike zone discipline at the plate.
“He has to be on top of it,” Cora said. “Now that everybody knows who you are, they’re going to treat you with a lot of respect. There’s not too many pitches in the middle right now.”
Devers has hit .213 with five extra-base hits this month and has often appeared frustrated.
“The struggles of September, he’ll take home and he’ll understand what they’re trying to do,” Cora said. “He’ll be better because of that.”
Is a 40-home run season possible?
“We’ll see,” Cora said. “I like the fact that he hit 50 doubles, too. Some of those doubles are going to turn into home runs. I don’t want to put a number on it but I know that he’s a force offensively.”
Hobson agrees with Cora.
“It’ll get harder for Raffy,” he said. “He’s proven he can hit a fastball and the pitchers will adjust. His ability to take that fastball to left field is what makes him so dangerous. I like what I’ve seen from him.”
Hobson was traded to the California Angels after the 1980 season. His playing career lasted five more years (two in the majors, three in the minors) and he started managing in 1989, working his way through the minors to manage the Red Sox for three seasons starting in 1992.
Hobson has since managed a series of minor league and independent league teams. His last two seasons were with the Chicago Dogs of the American Association. The team plays at a new stadium close to O’Hare International Airport.
The Dogs were 59-41 this season after winning 45 games in 2018.
“I love it,” Hobson said. “I believe in what the independent leagues are doing and giving some of those players a chance. There are some good stories there. My goal was to win 1,500 games as a manager and I’m over now that now. But I keep plugging away. The game has blessed me over the years.”
When he’s not managing, Hobson lives in the small town of Demopolis in Alabama. He’s close to his daughters and their families and gets to see the University of Alabama football team play from time to time.
Hobson was a backup quarterback for Bear Bryant but was better at baseball. The Sox took him in the 1973 draft and he made his debut with the Sox in 1975.
He treasures those memories but enjoys seeing what a new generation is doing.
“You tell [Devers] I’m happy for him,” Hobson said. “I hope he hits a few more this season. It’s great to see.”