The Forgotten (Hoff)Man
Yesterday was a special day for the San Diego Padres, Trevor Hoffman, and baseball. Yet, baseball failed to notice. Like missing its own surprise party, ignoring subtle hints, or getting distracted by a new toy, baseball completely forgot what a special day yesterday was. Perception is reality, but that’s not fair or true. Reality is reality. And Trevor Hoffman deserves better from the game he loved and dominated for so long.
Yesterday, in a ceremony that delayed the start of the game by almost an hour, Trevor Hoffman’s number 51 jersey was retired. Enshrined with greats like Dave Winfield, Steve Garvey, Randy Jones, and Tony Gwynn, the number 51 will be forever off-limits to anyone donning the Friars’ colors. The ceremony was both touching, sad, happy, and inspiring. It reminded San Diego of Trevor Time. It reminded the city of the event that was watching Hoffman come jogging to the mound from centerfield, the tolling of Hell’s Bells blasting through the sound system. But baseball across the country failed to notice.
The retirement ceremony was conspicuously missing from the top stories of many major baseball websites. ESPN did not even mention it in their top stories. Sports Illustrated gave it a four-word headline buried under stories of Pujols’ 31st home run, the Tigers win, and A-Rod’s return. Only Yahoo Sports gave the ceremony any sort of top story recognition. And it’s all because Hoffman is perceived as second best if that.
Mariano Rivera has a decent shot at breaking Hoffman’s all-time saves record this season. Rivera has pitched in a career’s worth more play-off games than Hoffman. Rivera has always performed on the biggest stage. Yet Hoffman’s accomplishments should not be forgotten and diminished because of this. Instead, they should be viewed in a different light.
On a team known more for futility than success, Trevor Hoffman managed to rack up 552 saves in 16 seasons. He averaged 34.5 saves per season. He was top-ten is MVP voting twice and top-ten in Cy Young voting 4 times. He was an All-Star 7 times. But most importantly, Trevor Hoffman redefined what it meant to be a closer. The passion and energy he brought to every appearance was unparalleled. When John Smoltz moved to the closer role after years of starting pitching, he adopted a Hoffman-like entrance utilizing Metalica’s Enter Sandman rather than AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells. Since then, the sight of a closer entering the game from the bullpen has become a rock concert-like event.
But atmosphere, surface level success, and records may not be enough. With Rivera as his true competition (and both will likely make the Hall of Fame at some point), a statistical comparison is in order.
ERA: 2.87 for Hoffman, 2.23 for Rivera.
IP: 1,089.1 for Hoffman, 1,198 for Rivera.
SO: 1,133 for Hoffman, 1,095 for Rivera.
K/9: 9.63 for Hoffman, 8.23 for Rivera.
BABIP: .265 for Hoffman, .262 for Rivera.
WAR: 38.0 for Hoffman, 55 for Rivera.
WAR/GM: 0.04 for Hoffman, 0.05 for Rivera.
FIP: 4.13 for Hoffman, 2.77 for Rivera.
As you can see, Rivera is better in almost every category, but Hoffman is very close. The only categories in which Rivera dominates is WAR and FIP. Yet the question lingers, if most people consider Rivera a lock for the Hall of Fame and Hoffman’s numbers aren’t too far off, why doesn’t Hoffman get a little more respect from the baseball community when he receives the highest honor a team can bestow upon a player?
Trevor Hoffman failed to perform when the lights were brightest, a blown save in the World Series, a blown save in the All-Star Game, a blown save to clinch the division, and a blown save in a one-game play-off, but he was also not given many opportunities to redeem himself. Playing for the Padres cost Hoffman the opportunity to consistently perform in the postseason.
But even still, he did what no one before him had ever done. Doesn’t that at very least deserve a little recognition, perhaps even celebration, outside of San Diego when his number is retired?