First to 600: Trevor Hoffman’s journey to ‘save’ king

Written by: Alex Coffey

The banner over the left-field bullpen had read “599” since Aug. 29, 2010.

Trevor Hoffman had come a long way from a minor league shortstop playing in the Cincinnati organization to a relief pitcher with the most career saves in baseball history. But the 600 mark had eluded him for months now, and as he jogged onto the field at Miller Park on Sept. 7, 2010 to the sound of his longstanding warm-up song – “Hells Bells” – he was more determined than ever to make “599” a round number.

Hoffman, a 42-year old veteran in the final season of his career, recorded 37 saves in 2009, when he was named to the National League All-Star team. But 2010 had proven to be more difficult, as he entered the season with 591 saves, converting only five of his first 10 save chances and losing his position as the Brewers’ closer to rookie John Axford in the process.

But if Hoffman had learned anything from his 18 years in baseball, it was that hard work pays off. And he didn’t waste any time that final season, working regularly with the Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson, and mentoring Axford as he transitioned to the big leagues. He finished the season strong, posting a 2.63 ERA in his last 29 outings.

“I didn’t go out and get my job done early,” Hoffman told MLB.com. “So it became more of a battle of attrition to get there and have that banner turn over. Some things aren’t easy to get to.”

For Hoffman, the battle was over. With a grounder to short fielded by Craig Counsell and thrown to Prince Fielder for the final out of the Brewers’ 4-2 win over the Cardinals, Hoffman was officially the first relief pitcher to record 600 saves. Fielder barely let the ball hit his glove before sprinting over to the mound, followed by a swarm of Brewers players and staff, celebrating the historic feat.

As fireworks exploded in the sky at Miller Park, the banner above the left-field dugout finally read “600.” The landmark achievement would be his ninth save out of 13 chances that season, and his 600th out of 676 career opportunities.

“He’s taught me a lot of things as far as being a teammate and being a team player and going about the game,” Prince Fielder said to the Associated Press. “Everything he says is good knowledge. His work ethic is through the roof. He works hard every day.”

Hoffman’s teammates proceeded to lift him off the field, as Hoffman waved his cap towards the roaring crowd of 33,149, in appreciation. That same cap, which he wore for the duration of his 600th save, is currently preserved in the Hall of Fame’s collection. Hoffman would finish his career with 601 saves, and today trails only Mariano Rivera on the all-time list.

Trevor Hoffman, pictured here during a Spring Training game in 2009, would record 37 saves and make the NL All-Star team that year. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“It’s hard to describe this moment,” Hoffman told the crowd after the game. “Just…thank you. Thank you to everybody that stuck around. Thanks for enduring a long season. Thank you to my family on the field and the family off the field. What tremendous support I’ve been given by everyone. I appreciate every one of you guys. I hope we all remember this forever.”

But for Hoffman’s teammates, this was the least they could do for a player they saw as the embodiment of a true teammate.

“It was great because of how much admiration we all have for Trevor,” Counsell told MLB.com. “That’s what makes it special. Hopefully, that came out [in the celebration]. The way he does his job is the way we all try to do ours.”


Alex Coffey is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame

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