WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- This is why they are the Boston Red Sox. This is why they are unique in all of sport, in all of the world.
This was supposed to be Tranquility Base. The contract stuff had all been hammered out and the new manager was getting off to a fresh start. Oil Can Boyd and Mike Marshall are long gone, and nobody fell out of a Jeep or got arrested during the offseason. This would be the spring in which Geraldo would never call. There would be no high drama, no hardball soap opera.
And so we came to Chain O' Lakes Park yesterday with the energy of the innocent, expecting to find smiles and goodwill. It would be like the first day of school when everybody likes everybody and we all are full of confidence and optimism.
Silly us. For a minute there, we forgot that these are the Red Sox. They are more than a baseball team. They are a wacky way of life.
We got to the park at around 8:30 a.m. where we learned that:
* 83-year-old team owner Jean Yawkey, suffering from stroke, had taken a turn for the worse at Mass. General;
* First baseman Carlos Quintana had been involved in a bizarre car accident while attempting to take his brothers -- wounded in a shootout -- to a Venezuelan hospital;
* Ace pitcher Roger Clemens was AWOL;
* There had already been a shouting match between a media person and a member of the Red Sox public relations staff.
"It's like the swallows returning to Capistrano," Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal suggested.
Indeed. Baseball is back. The Red Sox are back. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
Imagine for a second that you are Butch Hobson. It's bad enough that a lot of people still think Joe Morgan should be the manager, but now, on your first day on the job, you're fending off a flurry of unexpected bad news.
"It could be a lot worse," the humble skipper said. "I could be home digging ditches or pitching hay. I'm happy to be here. I plan on being around a long time."
Poor Butch. Monday he was put in the position of answering the unanswerable. The news that Quintana might be out for a long while came less than a day after Hobson had announced that Quintana would be his starting first baseman. Mo Vaughn will inherit the job knowing that the Quintana was Butch's man.
Meanwhile, general manager Lou Gorman was putting a positive spin on the Quintana setback, saying, "Lucky I didn't make any of those deals during the offseason. Where would that have left us?"
Clemens' unexplained absence can only be characterized as bizarre. The Red Sox Monday sounded sincerely concerned about the pitcher's situation. How else could they account for his failure to call the team?
"He didn't call me or Butch, but there has to be a reason," Gorman said. "I'm sure it's a legitimate reason. He generally would call."
Hobson also took the high road.
"My gut feeling," the manager said, "is that Roger Clemens is the best pitcher in baseball and a leader on this club, and he has a very good reason for not being here, and there's a good reason he hasn't called anyone. I really feel there's a reason for no phone call. I hope nothing serious has happened."
Hobson didn't say this, but it was clear that Clemens' excuse better be good. Clemens does more to take care of himself than any other member of the ball club and his work habits are above reproach, but the Red Sox don't understand why he did not call to explain his absence.
If Clemens does not have a serious excuse, he has undermined the authority of the new manager. Hobson has been billed as a tough, no-nonsense boss who will not let the players walk over him.
Clemens' absence presented us with two possibilities; neither is pleasant. There exists the possibility that the star pitcher encountered serious problems that kept him from work and a telephone; if not, then the Cy Young pitcher consciously snubbed Hobson's first meeting/practice and made his rookie manager look like a sap. If the latter scenario turns out to be the true one, Hobson is not going to be pleased.
There you have it. The first day of spring training, 1992, the first day of the Butch Hobson regime. There is sorrow, suspicion and controversy. Bet Joe Morgan is glad he's safe and sound in Walpole, Mass.