Hall Tour Humbles Hoffman
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.”
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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.”
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.
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