Thoughts on Hoffman's trip to Cooperstown

Closer deserves his spot among baseball's greatest

January 26th, 2018

Trevor Hoffman got it ... all of it. And he checked all the boxes.
The numbers alone gained Hoffman entry into the Hall of Fame. But there is -- and always was -- so much to him beyond the numbers. Hoffman even helped change the game.
The first thing I do each year when I receive my Hall of Fame ballot is conduct my "impact test." Did this player impact the game?
Hoffman impacted baseball -- and he impacted it well beyond 601 saves.
There were closers long before Hoffman. And many of those closers worked more than one inning ...
Hall of Famers like onetime Padres Rich "Goose" Gossage and Rollie Fingers.
But the game was changing as Hoffman was coming into his prime. Managers and front-office executives wanted closers who could go out game after game and nail down the win by getting the final three outs. They're still looking for those pitchers.
Thing is, there aren't a lot of closers who have a history of doing that daily task for an extended period of time. Being a closer is physically demanding psychological warfare.
That is example one of what made Hoffman special. Example one of many.
I could go on forever in this piece. I've watched Hoffman -- as well as other closers -- for five decades now. And I've long thought Hoffman was special ... and not just because he closed out 552 wins for the Padres.
He was special for a lot of reasons.

Let me insert a disclaimer here. I thought Hoffman was a Hall of Famer long before he was voted into the Hall of Fame on his third try. I'm a fan of the person as well as the player.
I did not expect that he'd enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot as Tony Gwynn did with near-record backing. I was disappointed that he fell five votes shy last year. And I am elated he went in this year.
There is nothing wrong with being a third-ballot Hall of Famer. As one, Hoffman is in the company of Joe DiMaggio, Mel Ott, Barry Larkin and former Padres Cy Young Award winner Gaylord Perry.
Let's be clear here. Hoffman overcame a lot of resistance.
There is sizeable portion of the electing Baseball Writers' Association of America who staunchly believe specialists -- meaning closers and designated hitters -- do not deserve entry into the Hall of Fame. My guess is that some 10 percent of the electorate share that view. It's why designated hitter Edgar Martinez is still waiting after nine years on the ballot.
There is a portion of the electorate who believe no one from the PED era should ever make the Hall of Fame. There is a smaller corner who believe no one should ever again be elected to Cooperstown. One ballot this year was returned blank. Another listed only two votes for players from the writer's hometown.
Some writers from American League cities openly said the Yankees' Mariano Rivera should be the next closer into the Hall of Fame -- although he isn't eligible for consideration until next December's ballot.

And this fact hurts more than all the others, some members of the East Coast electorate have little knowledge of who Hoffman really is and what he did.
So Hoffman's 79.9 percent score means he had an almost perfect score with writers open to him. Which brings me back to Hoffman and examples of why he is Hall of Fame worthy.
Great performance ... check. He was the first closer to 500 and 600 saves, with a career-long 88.8 percent conversion rate. His 6.99 hits per nine innings and 9.36 strikeouts per nine innings are the best marks ever by a reliever.
Long career ... check. He pitched 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, including 15 1/2 with the Padres. He had 40 or more saves in nine seasons.
Resilience ... check. He began his professional career as a shortstop. When that dream fizzled, Hoffman, with the support of others, rebuilt himself as a pitcher although he hadn't been on the mound since Little League. And when injuries twice robbed him of the top end of his fastball, he developed the changeup that became his signature pitch.
Leadership ... check. It's hard for any reliever to be a clubhouse leader, but ask anyone who passed through the Padres' clubhouse who was in charge. It was Hoffman who set the example with the rare ability to make people laugh as well as perform at times of extreme pressure.
Community ... check. He's done so much for San Diego and charitable programs around the area. And on his biggest day on Wednesday, he pulled all San Diegans in and invited them to share his moment. Greatest thing, that was sincere.
Family ... check. It started with parents Ed and Mikki with brothers Greg and Glenn keeping young Trevor on track. Spend a little time with their three sons and you easily see the influence of Tracy and Trevor.
Those are but a few of thousands of examples I could offer. Which brings me full circle to the top. Hoffman gets it.
Hoffman knows who he is and what he has done. He knows what it has taken and who was there with him along the way, including fans as well as teammates. He sees the big picture. Trevor Hoffman -- Hall of Fame.