Hall Tour Humbles Hoffman

Written by: Bill Francis

Exactly 10 weeks after he received the telephone call telling him he had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Trevor Hoffman was seated in the Cooperstown institution’s iconic Plaque Gallery on Wednesday. He was asked how his life had changed since receiving the exciting news.

“A lot of it has changed and a lot of it hasn’t. Tracy (Hoffman’s wife) still makes me feed the dogs in the morning, I still have to take the trash out, I have to make my bed, all the same normal stuff. But she calls me a Hall of Famer when I do it,” Hoffman said with a wide grin, during his first trip to the Hall of Fame since his election was announced on Jan. 24.

“To say that it has sunk in, it hasn’t. I’ve come into the Hall of Fame and Museum today and I feel how small I am in relation to so many greats. I’m certainly humbled by the honor.”

Hoffman was in Cooperstown, along with his wife Tracy, for his Orientation Visit on Wednesday, April 4 in advance of his Hall of Fame induction. It is noteworthy that he made his big league debut almost 25 years ago to the day, on April 6, 1993, tossing a scoreless third of an inning for the Florida Marlins against the Dodgers, with the lone batter he faced, Eric Davis, striking out swinging.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will also include fellow Baseball Writers' Association of America electees Jim Thome, Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero, as well as Modern Baseball Era Committee electees Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. The six will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 29, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.

For 16 seasons, the San Diego Padres took comfort in knowing that with Hoffman they had one of the most accomplished closers in big league history in their bullpen. In an 18-year career, which included short stints with the Marlins and Brewers, the former minor league infielder with the tantalizing but deceptive changeup totaled 601 saves, a number that ranks second all time.

“It gives hope for a lot of people out there that might feel if I’m not as great as a hitter as Ken Griffey Jr. or can’t run things down like Willie Mays, maybe there isn’t a place for me in the game,” said Hoffman regarding his transition from infielder to pitcher. “I think my journey might give you hope that in the game of baseball there’s never any guarantees. There’s always a path if you’re willing to work at it. I didn’t set out to ultimately be here one day. It was just to enjoy the game and give the best effort I could. My path was different.”

Trevor Hoffman sits in front of a photo taken of the first four classes of Hall of Famers on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The first pitcher to reach both the 500- and 600-save milestones, the durable righty was a seven-time All-Star who finished in the Top 10 in NL Cy Young Award voting four times. Hoffman, who led the league in saves twice, is tied at the top of the all-time list with Mariano Rivera with their nine seasons with a least 40 saves.

Hoffman was elected in his third year on the BBWAA ballot, having received votes on 79.9 percent of the ballots cast with 75 percent needed. In 2017, he came tantalizingly close with 74.0 percent.

“I needed to get one percent better,” the 50-year-old Hoffman joked upon reflection. “I’m in a specialty role. It’s not like there’s a given number that you can go out and achieve as a relief pitcher. The relief role is ever-changing. To be sitting here as a reliever, as a closer, to understand the parameters around the voting, it’s a constantly changing landscape. I don’t think there’s a magic number of saves … it’s a body of work and how you go about your business.”

Currently in his fourth season as senior advisor to baseball operations for the Padres, Hoffman began the morning taking a two-hour tour of the Hall from Museum Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl.

“I hadn’t really spent time in the Hall of Fame,” said Hoffman, “and so to be able to go at the pace we did, even though it was superfast and at light-speed in terms of going through it, to see some of the artifacts in (collections storage), some of my stuff, some of the greats, like Bob Feller’s cleats, the mitt used by Hoyt Wilhelm’s catchers, Scotty Erickson’s no-hit ball from ’94, and then ultimately to run through some of the game’s greatest hitters bats, to pick them up and hold them. Who gets to do that, right? It’s ridiculous.”

It was in the storage collections area, located in the basement, that many of the 40,000 three-dimensional donated artifacts are kept under climate control conditions. It was here that Hoffman was able to hold bats used by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Gwynn, a cap belonging to Steve Garvey, a Rube Waddell glove, a Christy Mathewson sweater, and a ball from Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter. He also checked out a ball from when he recorded his 400th save, a cap and spikes from when he recorded his 479th save (passing Lee Smith for the career lead), and a jersey from when he recorded his 500th career save.

Trevor Hoffman signs the spot where his Hall of Fame plaque will hang during his Orientation Visit in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“Nolan Ryan, it was just his persona,” said an admiring Hoffman. “He welcomed the competition and was a real man’s man. I just admired the way he went about his business.”

Dressed in blue jeans and a blue University of the Pacific Tigers black pullover (his son Wyatt is a baseball player at the school), Hoffman later talked to a press gathering, surrounded by the bronze plaques of his fellow electees, after autographing the spot where his plaque will reside come this summer.

“These are pillars of the game,” he said. “These are iconic figures that are hard to really wrap your mind around even at the stage of life I am. These are people you hear stories of that are larger than life. And then they become somewhat alive when you come here.”

During the Hall of Fame tour, a curious Hoffman examined exhibits and artifacts, trying to soak up as much of the sport’s history in his limited time on this visit. Whether it was crouching down to read a label pertaining to a Lou Gehrig trophy given to the Iron Horse by his teammates on July 4, 1939, intently watching a video of Rick Monday of the Dodgers saving a United States flag from burning in 1976 and sharing that he attended the game, or checking out the thick-handled bat situated in Honus Wagner’s locker, Hoffman remained entranced.

“I think the best way to share an artifact is to give it to you guys,” said Hoffman after seeing his cap from his 600th save in a Brewers locker and the cap and glove from his 500th save in a Padres locker. “It’s better than sitting in a closet.”

Asked how he would pitch to Ted Williams after passing by an exhibit on Teddy Ballgame, Hoffman joked, “Carefully. But you wouldn’t have to pitch to him anyway. You’d just walk him.”

Hoffman also saw a number of artifacts donated by Tony Gwynn, a Padres teammate from 1993 to 2001. Gwynn passed away in 2014.

“I miss him,” Hoffman said. “I think to have had the opportunity to share this with him would have been a lot of fun. He was Mr. San Diego – not just Mr. Padre. I would have leaned on him, prepping for that weekend would have been helpful. I was in awe of him as a teammate, watching him go about his business and how detail oriented he was, but he’ll be here in spirit.”

Asked about the progress of his induction speech, Hoffman said: “I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to narrow things down, so how am I going to fill the amount of time to speak on behalf of this subject? And now I have so much information or so much that I’d like to say, to narrow it down into a point that I don’t, in the hot sun of July here in Cooperstown, now lose people and not lose the message. I will say that it will probably be pretty short, but it will be impactful.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

To the top
To the top