MILWAUKEE -- His trudge to 600 saves wasn't easy, nor was his path to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But in both instances, Trevor Hoffman eventually closed.Hoffman, who amassed 601 saves during an 18-year Major League career that ended with two seasons in Milwaukee, on Wednesday became the sixth
MILWAUKEE -- His trudge to 600 saves wasn't easy, nor was his path to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But in both instances, Trevor Hoffman eventually closed.
Hoffman, who amassed 601 saves during an 18-year Major League career that ended with two seasons in Milwaukee, on Wednesday became the sixth former Brewers player elected to the Hall of Fame. He will join Hank Aaron, Rollie Fingers, Paul Molitor, Don Sutton and Robin Yount -- plus former Brewers owner Bud Selig -- when he is enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July.
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"Two years went by pretty quick," Hoffman said of his Brewers tenure, which came after 16 seasons with the Padres. "I had a tremendous first year and a not-so-good second year, but that second year gave me an opportunity to really put up or shut up. You talk the talk your whole career, now it's time to walk the walk if you're going to truly be a team guy and want to give back.
"It was a great opportunity to do that, and I had some great teammates around me who allowed me to do that and were willing to listen. It was a lot of fun to be there."
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It was more fun on Wednesday, when Hoffman got the call he had been denied in two previous years of Hall of Fame eligibility. His name was checked on 337 of 422 ballots (79.9 percent) submitted by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, surpassing the 75 percent threshold required for induction. After missing the cut last year by a mere five votes, Hoffman cleared it this time by 20 votes.
Hoffman, a middling Minor League shortstop who converted to pitching as a Reds farmhand and grew into one of the best closers in Major League history thanks to an elite changeup, was baseball's all-time saves leader when he signed a two-year free-agent deal with the Brewers in January 2009. He came to the Brewers having logged nine seasons with 40 or more saves and twice finishing as runner-up in National League Cy Young Award balloting. Hoffman performed as advertised in '09, logging 37 saves with a 1.83 ERA and making the NL All-Star team for the seventh time, leaving him nine saves shy of 600 entering 2010.
The milestone seemed inevitable. It turned out to be one of the great challenges of his career.
Hoffman stumbled early in his second season with the Brewers and was replaced by rookie right-hander John Axford after blowing five of his first 10 save opportunities.
"Over the course of 20 years as a GM, you'll have some tough sit-downs with players. One of the toughest I ever had was when we told Trevor he might not close on an everyday basis anymore," said former Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who signed Hoffman as a free agent ahead of the 2009 season. "But he handled it like a real pro. He was always a true pro.
"He was one of the best clubhouse guys. If there's a Hall of Fame just for being a great clubhouse guy, he's in the Hall of Fame for that, too."
Axford's memory of that time remains clear more than seven years later.
"It was my rookie season, and Trevor was absolutely incredible the entire way," Axford said. "He was my tutor, my mentor, my help the entire season. It was a role I had never pitched in before. It sticks with me what a true professional he was the entire time."
By August 2010, Hoffman was back in rhythm and picking up the occasional save when matchups were right or Axford was unavailable. One at a time, he inched closer to 600.
On Sept. 7, 2010, at Miller Park, Hoffman finally got there. After trotting in from the bullpen while AC/DC's "Hells Bells" rattled the stadium's sound system, Hoffman worked around a leadoff single to save a 4-2 win over the Cardinals, with Craig Counsell converting a ground ball to shortstop for the final out.
Hoffman threw both hands in the air and his teammates enveloped him. "Hells Bells" was cued again, and Hoffman's three young sons and his wife, Tracy, joined the crowd.
"In just two years, Trevor made a big impact on this franchise," Counsell said Wednesday. "He made us all better people and players through laughter and preparation. We were all fortunate to witness his 600th career save on a magical night at Miller Park."
It was the last magical moment of a Hall of Fame career.
"I'm happy he wore a Brewers uniform," Melvin said. "This is well-deserved. I would have been really surprised if he would not have gotten in."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.