- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
After the news broke on Tuesday that Trevor Hoffman is retiring, I e-mailed some folks who know Hoffman well and asked for some anecdotes -- and folks love to tell stories about Hoffman, who is not only the all-time leader in saves but also has long been regarded as one of the great teammates in the majors.
Catcher Brad Ausmus knows this firsthand. He and Hoffman both joined the Padres in what will forever be known as the Fire Sale of 1993 -- Hoffman arrived in the Gary Sheffield trade, Ausmus in the Bruce Hurst deal -- and became very good friends.
Ausmus e-mailed on Tuesday evening with these stories:
- "No. 1: Early in his closing career, after every save opportunity, whether he converted it or blew it, Trevor would sit in the dugout for up to five minutes after his teammates had cleared out. The only reason I noticed was because I would be taking my catching gear off, and I'd be the only other player there. Finally, I asked him why he was sitting there after every appearance. He said he was getting the emotion and adrenaline out, whether it was the high from success or the anger of failure. He told me he sat there, in essence, to put that outing behind him. Once he left the dugout, he had moved on. That is mental toughness, and a huge reason why he has more saves than anyone in the history of the game."
"No. 2: When I played for Houston -- I think it was in 1998 -- Trevor was set to tie or break (can't remember) the consecutive-save mark when we came to San Diego. In the bottom of the ninth, the Padres had a slim lead, and here comes Hoffy out of the bullpen to slam the door. And, out of the stadium sound system, at a deafening level, blares 'Hells Bells.' The first time they played 'Hells Bells' for Trevor as he entered the game. But it wasn't in the cards -- Moises Alou tied the game with a home run, Trevor blew the save, streak was over.
"I imagine there is no other closer that would have allowed 'Hells Bells' to be played again as they came into a game after what happened that day. It didn't faze Trevor. They continued to play 'Hells Bells' every time he entered a game in a save situation. It became a ritual in San Diego, so that even brought San Diego Charger fans to their feet when they played that song during Charger home games. Today, almost every closer has their signature entry song playing at their home stadium.
"No. 3: Everybody around baseball has seen how hard Trevor works and prepares on a daily basis. What isn't as evident is how important his teammates are to him. He took young players under his wing, especially relief pitchers. He regularly organized team dinners on the road, or had team family gatherings at his home in San Diego. He always wanted his teams to have a family feel. And, if he didn't do his job on a particular night, he felt like he let his family down.
"No. 4: He is nicer to fans off the field than any other player I have been around. Trevor goes out of his way to engage his fans and baseball fans, in general, and I don't mean just shaking hands or signing autographs. I have watched him carry on extended conversations with fans who want to talk baseball. He was always respectful of even the most casual fan's questions, and went to great lengths to talk about the game he played with those fans."
From Warren Miller, the media relations director for the Padres:
- "When I first got here to San Diego, people always talked about how great Trevor is. I saw how he interacted with his family, with his brother, his teammates, the front office and certainly in all his community endeavors. However, I really didn't understand the kind of person Trevor Hoffman really was until that one-game playoff that we lost in Denver. So, without question, my greatest memory of Trevor is from game No. 163 in 2007. Seeing his passion for the Padres, his love for his teammates, and his devastation over the loss and then handling each reporter's question with the utmost class and professionalism ranks as my greatest sports memory. How he handled that incredible loss says more about him than any save could. Life is about how you handle adversity and what he demonstrated that night was just remarkable."
From Doug Melvin, general manager of the Brewers:
- "When you went in the clubhouse on the morning of a day game to get a cup of coffee, day game donuts were served as a treat. If you opened the box and every doughnut had one bite taken out of them, you knew Trevor was there.
"Trevor gave a clubhouse speech to our players after his 600th save. He talked about preparation, leaving your ego at the door, being a good teammate, accountability etc."
"Someone turned to me and said, 'I just saw John Wayne.'"
Hoffman should be an absolute lock first-ballot Hall of Famer. There will be a lot of discussion over his struggles in the postseason and All-Star Games, but those small samples should be completely obscured by almost two decades of incredible regular-season excellence.
He will always be the first closer to reach 500 saves; he will always be the first closer to reach 600 saves. He retires as the all-time leader in saves. His 88.8 career save percentage ranks sixth all time:
Eric Gagne: 91.7 (187 saves)
John Smoltz: 91.1 (154)
Joakim Soria: 91.0 (132)
Joe Nathan: 89.5 (247)
Mariano Rivera: 89.3 (559)
Trevor Hoffman: 88.8 (601)
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Among pitchers to debut since 1969, only two are ranked in the top 10 for lowest opponents' batting average against both lefties and righties -- Hoffman and Pedro Martinez (minimum 2,000 batters faced on a given side). Hoffman has a career 1.06 WHIP, while averaging more than a strikeout per inning.
Mariano Rivera will always be remembered as the greatest closer -- and one of the great players of all time. But in this era, Trevor Hoffman has been Ernie Banks to Rivera's Mickey Mantle.
I asked Ausmus to imagine the introduction speech he would make on behalf of Hoffman at Cooperstown, and this was his response:
- "Every boy who grows up dreaming of playing Major League Baseball, has a similar vision of what it would be like, and what they would be like as a player. They would imagine that they were a great player. They would stake claim to being an All-Star, and playing in front of packed stadiums. They would imagine signing autographs, and would always treat the fans well, and that the fans would return the favor.There would be images of teammates that loved them and revered them. And, that when they became superstars, they would always remember that they were just a regular person, like everybody else, no better. They might even dream of making the Hall of Fame one day. Now, I may not have quite lived up to that dream, but I am proud to say I am friends and played with the guy who stayed true to every bit of it ... Trevor Hoffman."
I covered the Padres for the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1993 and '94. The Padres acquired Hoffman during the '93 season, and he was installed as the closer in '94. Here's a long piece I wrote for the magazine a few years ago.
• The memorial service for Christina Green has been scheduled, and a fund has been established in her name.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Grant Balfour has been an excellent reliever over the past three years, posting ERAs of 1.54 and 2.28 in two of those seasons. Opponents had an on-base percentage of .215 against him with runners in scoring position in 2010, and he had a WHIP of 1.08 in 57 appearances.
But his excellence has worked against him, because Balfour is classified as a Type A free agent -- and therefore any team that signs him has to give up a top draft pick. Some teams simply do not want to do that, such as the Yankees; earlier this week, general manager Brian Cashman said that he would not surrender the Yankees' first-round pick for any pitcher currently on the market.
Balfour remains unsigned with little more than a month until spring training, and presumably, the fact that Balfour is tied to draft-pick compensation is impacting the scope of the offers made to him. The right-hander could eventually take a multiyear deal from one of the interested clubs. Or it might make sense for the Rays to offer Balfour a one-year deal for 2011 -- with an assurance that Tampa Bay will not offer him arbitration next fall. What this would mean is that Balfour could get late-inning opportunities for the Rays next summer, and then hit the free-agent market again next fall without being tied to compensation.
And hopefully, the structure that creates an unfair negotiation plane for guys like Balfour will be resolved in the forthcoming round of labor talks.
2. Charlie Manuel is not worried about his next contract, writes Paul Hagen.
5. The Twins are inviting Kyle Gibson to spring training.
8. The Mariners have overhauled their bullpen a whole lot since 2008, Geoff Baker writes.
• Hall of Fame voters don't need an integrity clause, writes Bill Conlin.
• Matt Holliday has put roots down in St. Louis, writes Derrick Goold. The two best ballplayers under 10 years old I've ever seen are Jackson Holliday, Matt's son, and David Weathers' son, Ryan. I have no doubt both will play in the big leagues.
• The Giants' spring training tickets will go on sale Thursday.
• There has been plenty for the Cubs to talk about this winter.
• Chili Davis is anxious to do his work in the Boston farm system. Funny thing about the story that Davis tells within this piece, about getting the only hit -- a home run -- in Pedro Martinez's 17-strikeout game: On the night of the game, it was said that the pitch that Martinez threw on the home run was actually a changeup, not a fastball. Next time I'm at ESPN it'd be fun to dig out a videotape to know for sure, because Chili is a smart guy and certainly went to the plate with a plan. When Martinez pitched this game, he was vintage Pedro, at his best -- great fastball, great changeup, great breaking ball; to this day, that's the best-pitched game I've seen.
By the way: That was the next-to-last home run of Chili's career -- and he prevented a perfect game.
• The Royals are into the social media thing.
• The Orioles' spring training tickets will go on sale in 10 days.
• Red Sox tickets go on sale at the end of the month.
• If you thought "The Decision" was a case of ego out of control, you ain't seen nothing yet: LeBron James apparently thinks the Lord is working against the Cavs on his behalf.
• Vanderbilt is set to face Georgia.
• Off to shovel snow. How many more days until pitchers and catchers again?
And today will be better than yesterday.
A likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, Trevor Hoffman is hanging up his spikes. But Buster has gone ahead and picked up some anecdotes that could be used when the great reliever is set to join Cooperstown.