Reliving the legendary Trevor Hoffman trade

August 17th, 2018

SAN DIEGO -- Last month, legendary Padres closer Trevor Hoffman took his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. This weekend, he'll be immortalized at Petco Park.

The Padres are set to unveil a statue of Hoffman on Saturday, and they'll spend their entire weekend series against Arizona celebrating the beloved right-hander. Hoffman's No. 51 is already retired, and now he'll join Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield with replica plaques in the Padres Hall of Fame.

But Hoffman would never have been a member of the Padres if not for a perfect confluence of events in June 1993. If the city of San Diego had its way at the time, Hoffman wouldn't have been a Padre at all. If the right teammates hadn't arrived later that year, perhaps Hoffman never would have learned his signature changeup -- arguably the best changeup in baseball history.

The buildup and aftermath of the Hoffman trade have become legend in San Diego. Those closest to the story tell it best:

1. The fire sale

The Padres hired Randy Smith as general manager in June 1993 with one objective: slash payroll. Former GM Joe McIlvaine resigned when it became clear that then-owner Tom Werner was orchestrating a selloff. In '92, Craig Lefferts and Tony Fernandez were traded, and Benito Santiago left in free agency. Darrin Jackson was moved the following spring. When Smith's tenure began, the Padres were 13 1/2 games back in the National League West -- and had two untenable contracts on the books.

Smith: "I took over on June 9, and I was faced with moving payroll. Really, that meant Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff. Surprisingly there wasn't a whole lot of interest in either guy."

Jim Riggleman, Padres manager 1992-94: "Everybody was available. We traded everybody, from Benito Santiago to Randy Myers, Sheffield, McGriff, Jackson, Tony Fernandez, Larry Andersen, the list goes on. None of it was received well. But Gary had almost won the Triple Crown the year before. Gary was about the last one to go."

Josh Stein, then a young Padres fan growing up in San Diego, now assistant GM: "Sheffield was the guy. He was the most young, exciting player. He was the player you wanted to go see every time you went to the ballpark. When you're a young fan, maybe you don't necessarily understand the business side of the game. But you hear the word 'firesale' thrown around, and there's a lot of frustration. It just doesn't make any sense. Why trade this All-Star-caliber young player for a guy you've never heard of?"

Smith: "We wanted to rid ourselves of all the contractual obligations and really take back Major League-minimum players or prospects. There wasn't a ton of interest. We had a few conversations. Boston was one, but that went away quickly. ... I had one conversation, and I actually hung up the phone and laughed. What they were offering was ridiculous. There just wasn't interest in Gary.

"Obviously he was a tremendous player, but he had some makeup issues. I bailed him out of jail the week before I traded him when he got arrested in Houston [for arguing with a police officer]. There were a lot of things that probably went into some teams' lack of interest. But fortunately, Florida was drawing well. They wanted to make an impact and reward their fans."

Riggleman: "I remember [bench coach] Rob Picciolo, who has since passed away, standing there, and we knew we had been talking to the Marlins about a trade. I remember playing the Marlins, and he said: 'Wow, this kid [Hoffman] might be a nice guy to pick up.' He was pitching in middle relief, but he was very impressive."

Hoffman: "I had really grinded through the Minor Leagues in the Reds' system. In two months there with Florida, I was given a shot in the big leagues and a free car to drive around. Life was good."

2. The trade

On June 24, Sheffield was named to the Padres' 25th-anniversary all-time team. He was traded the very same day. Sheffield went to the Marlins, along with left-hander Rich Rodriguez. In their inaugural season, Florida made the splash it hoped to make. In return, the Padres received three unheralded right-handers: Andres Berumen, Jose Martinez and a rookie named Trevor Hoffman, who had been taken by the Marlins in the Expansion Draft the previous offseason.

Smith: "I had just come from the Rockies, so I had done the preparation for an Expansion Draft as well. I was familiar with all the names we were discussing. Hoffy was the guy we asked for right off the get-go. He had to be included. We asked about [Darrell] Whitmore and Carl Everett. Really, we went right after what we thought were the premium names from the Expansion Draft the year before. But my thought was to build with pitching. ... The whole process probably took three, four, five days."

Trevor: "[The Marlins] didn't bring me in. They just kind of waited for me to get into the clubhouse that particular day. They told me at my locker, 'You've been traded.' ... I was a little taken aback by it all."

Tracy Hoffman, Trevor's wife: "He gets traded, and he's crushed because he thought the [Marlins] loved him, and he doesn't understand how it all works. And I don't understand. So I start packing up our apartment. I had no idea that when you get traded, the team actually packs it up. So here I am trying to pack everything, and I was like, 'Gosh, this is not fun, I don't know if I'm cut out for this.'"

Glenn Hoffman, Trevor's brother, nine-year big leaguer and Padres third-base coach: "I remember settling him down, telling him, 'You're going to a great place. They're rebuilding. They want you there. They're going to be patient with you, and you're going to love the city and really be able to blossom into a player there.'"

Trevor: "Glenn came through with some knowledge. He said, 'Hey, you're going to go to a place that they're going to give you a chance to play at the big league level, and they're not going to worry about wins and losses for a little bit. And Mom and Dad [from Orange, Calif.] are going to get a chance to watch you play in person.' He couldn't have been more right."

One of Hoffman's lasting memories of his arrival in San Diego was his first interaction with Tony Gwynn.

Trevor: "I got up enough nerve to go over and shake his hand. He couldn't have been more polite. I remember the big laugh. He was close to the video room. Now looking back at it, he was going on probably the seventh turnover of his club -- maybe even more. Fortunately it worked out, and we get him to the World Series in '98. But I bet you he wasn't overly thrilled with the circumstances. He couldn't have been more cordial -- even though he's losing teammates that were going to give him a chance to win."

3. The aftermath

Hoffman is a Hall of Fame-caliber closer, but he didn't look the part in June 1993. A day after the trade, he surrendered three runs in a game against the Reds. He blew a save in his next appearance two days after that. The fans at Jack Murphy Stadium voiced their displeasure as Hoffman allowed runs in six of his first seven outings -- totaling 12 runs in eight innings during that span.

Ted Leitner, longtime Padres broadcaster: "The response to the trade was basically: 'For who?!' These were not happy people."

Smith: "I will never forget that as long as I live. We're trading a player that had just come off of a great year in '92 and was named to the franchise's all-time team. We got back three no-names, three guys from an expansion team nobody had ever heard of. They were all prospects or rookies, and fans were very, very upset. Probably understandably so. It was a rough time to be a young general manager."

Trevor: "I didn't realize the brunt of the impact from the trade that I was going to get when I got here. I thought I was just going to a different team. ... I didn't know what I was walking into."

Leitner: "Yeah, there were boos. They were taking it out on him because they wanted Gary Sheffield back, which is understandable. They weren't booing Trevor Hoffman. Trevor was a non-entity. You could've made up a name and introduced him, and he would've gotten booed. They were taking it out on the front office for pulling the plug and making the deal."

Smith: "Hoffy took the brunt of it. He was the face of the trade. It wasn't fun going anywhere in San Diego at the time. I watched the games from the pressbox. Walking around town, going to restaurants, going to the grocery store, the airport, it was not fun when anyone recognized you."

Tracy: "The Padres weren't really all that loved. [The fans] were not excited to have this Trevor Hoffman rookie get traded for a Gary Sheffield. We really were nervous about saying what he did for a living. We had to say, 'If you get asked what you do for a living, what are you going to say? Because you can't say you play for the Padres. They can't find out who you are, because they hate you.' We said he'd say he worked in a cookie factory because that would be easy, because no one would ask any questions about it."

Trevor: "I just wanted to disappear. Let me do my job. I was just converted two years ago [from a shortstop] to a pitcher. I had no stress in Florida. Bryan Harvey was their closer. I got a couple opportunities, but mostly I was vanilla. I was in the weeds."

Glenn: "The first month, I had to have a few phone calls with him. He was living in a hotel. I'd see the paper in the morning, and I'd go, 'Oh gosh, I'd better give him a call.'"

Smith: "I remember talking to him, saying, 'Hey, it's going to be a rough period. Don't take any of this personally. Don't you try to justify the trade. That's not on you. You've got to go out and be Trevor Hoffman.' Most guys don't have that inner confidence. It could've buried some people. He got a lot of flak, and he struggled initially. But he fought his way out of that funk, and he's gone on to become one of the most popular Padres of all time. There's a reason he's a Hall of Famer."

4. The transition

It wasn't so obvious at the time, but Smith was putting the right pieces in the right places. The Padres landed Brad Ausmus, Andy Ashby and Doug Bochtler from Colorado for Bruce Hurst and Greg Harris -- one of the more lopsided deals in franchise history. They acquired Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves for McGriff. The year before, Derek Bell arrived in the Fernandez trade -- and Bell would be shipped to the Astros in the deal that landed Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley in San Diego.

Smith: "Florida was really the only team that wanted to talk about Sheffield. … I really don't know [what would've happened if they weren't willing to trade]. Fortunately we didn't have to go down that road. I'm glad it worked out the way it did. We were able to do so well because Florida wanted to reward their fans. And maybe it pushed Colorado to feel the same way. They wanted to reward their fans, too. And [so they] took Harris and Hurst for Ausmus, Ashby and Bochtler."

Bochtler: "That's got to be one of the most lopsided trades ever. Bruce Hurst pitched three games for the Rockies."

Trevor: "I just put the hat down a little bit tighter and tried not to worry about the noise and just try and get through games. ... I took a couple good shots to the nugget, you might say. I had a little bit of a standing eight count before I got my feet wet."

Leitner: "He didn't have the changeup yet, but he threw 95 [mph], and he was very good. That was obvious. And it all connects to the firesale. In the Atlanta trade [for McGriff later that month], the Padres get … Donnie Elliott. And Donnie Elliott, the reliever, teaches Trevor how to throw a changeup. There's the aha moment. ... People forget Donnie Elliott. Donnie Elliott ought to be in the Padres Hall of Fame for teaching Trevor the changeup."

Bochtler: "We were catch partners. The first one of those changeups he ever threw, I missed it. He was going around in 1995 asking people, 'Hey, you have a good changeup, how do you throw your changeup?

"I was like, 'Dude, you throw 97 mph. Why are you looking to throw a changeup?' He goes, 'I'm not always going to throw 97.' So he was fiddling around one day. We were down the third-base line where we played catch at Jack Murphy [Stadium]. He threw me one, and it went right between my legs. I went, 'Whoa, can you do that again?' And he said, 'Yeah, I think so.' He threw me another and it tipped off my glove and landed between my feet. I'm like, 'Dude, whatever that is, you need to throw that.' He slowly started to break it out in games. But I'll never forget it, the first time he threw it, and then to watch it turn into what it turned into."

5. The Hall of Famer

You know the rest. Hoffman saved 601 games, posted a 2.87 ERA and spent the next 16 seasons in San Diego. Twenty-five years later, the trade is looked upon fondly by both franchises. Sheffield helped the Marlins to the 1997 World Series. Hoffman and the Padres reached the Fall Classic a year later. Hoffman was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Sheffield remains on the ballot, having earned 11.1 percent of the vote.

Hoffman, during his Hall induction speech: "I'm reminded of another John Wooden quote: 'Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.'"

Smith: "As a GM you have to always be looking forward. Some trades are going to work out, some aren't. You can't undo them. But I felt pretty comfortable about that trade pretty quickly. I saw what kind of person we had, his makeup, his work ethic, his leadership."

Riggleman: "I can't even tell you now who the other guys were [in the trade]. Hoffman came in and pitched for us, did a nice job. He got a couple closing opportunities. Then the next year, very early in the season we put him in there as the closer. The rest was history."

Bochtler: "[The firesale] gave us a base. You look around the field at the pieces that came from those deals -- behind the plate, center field, third base, shortstop, the rotation, the bullpen -- you can't look back at that and say that was a negative in Padres history. We ended up winning the West in '96 with a lot of those pieces."

Stein: "It probably wasn't until the '96 run [that Hoffman became a beloved figure in San Diego.] The team started contending, and you started seeing him pitch meaningful games and close meaningful games. Obviously, he became as big a part of this franchise as anyone."

Hoffman: "I really don't think it could've turned out any better. Driving down to Petco Park today, I was thinking the same thing: How lucky can one guy get? I get to spend over a decade in one spot, and that spot is San Diego. I'm embraced by the community and the organization. I think about someone else in any other organization. Could they be any happier than I am? It's really hard to think so."