Hoffman gets first crack at Hall of Fame
NEW YORK -- When Trevor Hoffman worked 16 stellar seasons closing for the Padres -- and in the end two for the Brewers -- the thought of his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame was never an issue. Like most players, he was in the present, just trying to find ways to succeed.
Now that the possibility of a Hall call is upon him, Hoffman has had a change of heart.
"I'm nervous, man," he said recently in a one-on-one interview. "I kind of want to know, but I don't want to know."
Hoffman will know where he stands soon enough. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Hoffman and Ken Griffey Jr. top the list of ballot newcomers and join the shortlist of hopefuls for the Class of 2016. Billy Wagner, with 422 saves, is also on the ballot for the first time.
Griffey and his 630 homers seem to be a slam dunk. Hoffman and his National League record 601 saves have a shot at getting the required 75 percent of the vote on the first ballot, but even Hoffman knows he's not a sure thing.
Hoffman will find out with everybody else on Jan. 6, when the results are made public. The induction ceremony is July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y., just 12 days after the Padres host the All-Star Game at Petco Park.
"There's going to be that group [of voters] that won't vote for somebody in their first year," Hoffman said. "Is that going to be indicative of where the vote goes after that? I don't know. Then there's another group that doesn't know how to handle relief pitchers. There are no guarantees."
There's also going to be a group that won't vote for Hoffman until Mariano Rivera gets in by virtue of his MLB record 652 saves and 42 more in the postseason -- all for the Yankees. Those 42 saves are accompanied by a 0.70 ERA in 96 games, as the Yankees went to the playoffs 16 times in Rivera's 19 seasons, winning the World Series five times.
Hoffman had four saves in 12 postseason games, as the Padres went to the postseason during his tenure just four times, losing in a sweep to Rivera's Yankees in the 1998 World Series.
It's a much smaller sample size and a big reason why Rivera -- eligible for the Hall in 2019 -- isn't among the group that doubts Hoffman.
"Everything has its time," Rivera said. "It's his time. I think he has to be there. He held the record for so many years and did a tremendous job and did it with quality and dignity and respect for the game. That's what you think when you see a guy like that, a guy who always tried to bring the best to his team. To do it the way he did every day, day in and day out, he has my vote."
Hoffman broke Lee Smith's MLB record of 478 saves on Sept. 24, 2006, and held it until Rivera passed him on Sept. 20, 2011. Along the way, he became the first to 500 saves with the Padres during the 2007 season and finally notched No. 600 for the Brewers on Sept. 7, 2010. He recorded the last save of his career on Sept. 29, 2010, and then retired that offseason when chances to join the D-backs or rejoin the Padres as a free agent didn't materialize.
Hoffman pitched much of that last season with a sore right arm, and he always said that the hitters would tell him when it was time to go. They said it loudly in 2010, as Hoffman registered a career-worst 5.89 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Hitters batted .268 against him and he blew five of his 15 save opportunities before then Milwaukee manager Ken Macha replaced him as closer with John Axford.
That was a far cry from Hoffman's career-best 1998 season, when he had 53 saves in 54 opportunities and led the Padres to their second NL pennant.
After a tense split up. Hoffman ultimately went back to the Padres in a quasi on-field, front-office role. As his four sons grew older, he decided to return to the field as an organizational pitching coach with the title of senior advisor, baseball operations.
As far as the Hall of Fame is concerned, Hoffman can rest easy about first-ballot electees. In the last two years, voters have selected Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz the first time their names appeared on the ballot and four of the six received in excess of 90 percent of the vote. These are the best and the brightest players of Hoffman's generation.
In contrast, Hoffman is perplexed that Smith has floundered for 13 years in the voting, having amassed 166 out of the 549 votes cast for 30.2 percent on the most recent ballot. Smith has two more years of eligibility remaining.
Analyzing the history of elections for closers, Bruce Sutter, elected in 2006, is the only pure reliever in the Hall, having never started a game. Recent inductees Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Rich "Goose" Gossage and Smoltz all started during their careers. Smoltz and Eckersley spent major portions of their careers as dominant starters. Smoltz, who had Tommy John surgery, embraced the closing role as an alternative, but ended his career where he began: as a starter.
Hoffman never made a start and in fact was a shortstop in the Reds' Minor League system who was converted "when they realized I couldn't hit," he said with a laugh.
He's set apart by the mere fact that none of his Hall of Fame predecessors had anywhere close to 601 saves.
"I think the numbers are what they are," he added. "I think I pitched in an era that was riddled with people's concerns about players doing it fairly. I did it honestly. I felt like I was one of two guys, Mariano and myself, who stood out, not to take anything away from Billy Wagner, who had a great career. Mine was pretty good. So we'll just leave it at that."