One of my favorite, not to mention classiest, sports figures of my lifetime reached a huge milestone this week, as Trevor Hoffman recorded the 600th save of his career.
Too bad the accomplishment did not seem to get a lot of national attention, and the game itself wound up being talked about more for a manager, two players, and a fan being ejected by ‘Balkin’ Bob Davidson.
For his troubles for whatever his motive was to heckle Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina from his seat behind the on-deck circle (reports cited a homophobic slur), the fan was handcuffed and brought to the Miller Park ‘Police Command Post’ (a place that I’ve somehow never visited in the ten years the stadium’s been in existence), and was given a disorderly conduct ticket, while the fan publicly proclaimed his innocence and suggested that Molina get some ‘tougher skin’.
I hope Yadier was worth at least the price of that. Myself, if I was in that seat I would stay quiet, well except I’d yell to Yadier that I can beat his brother with the Rangers in a footrace. And I’m not kidding, never mind that my 40-time these days is measured with a sun-dial…
But I’d like to get back to Trevor, because I was sorry to miss #600.
With the Brewers and Padres being the two teams I personally follow, TH51 had become my icon, and suddenly I was even a fan of AC/DC. The role of a ninth-inning closer in baseball is among the most precarious in sports, along with NHL goaltender and NFL kicker, even the best are just a few bad outings away from being demoted to set-up man, Jonathan Broxton is just the latest who can attest to this.
For 15 years, Trevor did the job mostly at an elite level in San Diego, he had become the Brett Favre of his craft, and eventually baseball’s all-time saves leader. But by 2008 the Padres were in a cost-cutting rebuilding mode, and had it’s heir apparent in Heath Bell waiting in the wings. Management made the highly unpopular move of cutting Hoffman loose, leading to his spending the past two seasons in Milwaukee.
The national feedback I got after Hoffman got #600 was that he was just hanging on to get to that number, and that Hoffman takes a back seat to Mariano Rivera. New York City twitter-er/blogger Amanda Rykoff was among those who expressed that.
And I understand where OCD Chick is coming from: she’s a Yankee gal, and Mariano is her guy. Just like Trevor happens to be mine. But Trevor did not cling on to a major league roster spot to merely reach a milestone.
Just last season Trevor saved 37 of 41 games in one of his best campaigns ever, finishing with a 1.83 ERA with opponents just hitting .183 off him. All expectations were that even at age 42 Hoffman would be a solid closer again this year.
The best laid plans of mice and men didn’t work out that way. Hoffman had a horrible first month of the season, leaving the Brewers with no choice but to at least temporarily go with other option. Out of that situation the organization had the good fortune to find a new closer in John Axford, a diamond in the rough who was drafted in the 42nd round out of high school and not at all out of college.
It was a transition that Hoffman handled with true class, just like everything else in his career, even going as far as serving as a mentor to Axford. As is the case with his older brother, there is a coaching or front office job in Trevor’s future if he so desires.
But there was still that pesky #596 number that was collecting dust above the center field fence at Miller Park. Hoffman had settled down working in a set-up role, the team was out of contention, and Axford could use some rest on some days. Thence, the Brewers did the right thing finding a way to get Hoffman some opportunities, and more importantly reach the milestone in Milwaukee, where he has become nearly as beloved by fans (despite this year’s struggles) as he still is in San Diego.
Hoffman would had been just fine finishing at 596; his career, legacy, and eventual Hall of Fame resume would have remained intact. But those last four saves were not given by charity. In 19 appearances since the All-Star break Hoffman has had a solid 2.60 ERA.
Although he is the all-time saves leader, this isn’t about Trevor Hoffman being considered the best reliever in the history of Major League Baseball. And I don’t think Trevor could be accused of pulling a Rickey Henderson when he humbly took the mic after Tuesday night’s game. This is about someone who is among the all-time greats in his craft, and has been a credit on and off the field among his peers.
If you want my personal vote, Mariano Rivera is the best of modern times, has the best resume, and the good fortune of playing for a contender his entire career. The only blips in clutch situations would be Game 7 of the 2001 World Series along with Games 4 and 5 v. the Red Sox in 2004. Other than that the man has been money and has handled his duties with the same grace as Hoffman.
I don’t even know if Trevor deserves to ranked #2. Bruce Sutter had a split-finger back in the day that I thought should have been deemed illegal. Then there was Rollie Fingers and Mike Marshall with the Dodgers, and also Billy Wagner, who is currently bowing out of his superb career with the Braves.
And Hoffman has had his bad moments, especially in recent years. He was cuffed around that final season in San Diego in 2008. The previous fall he had two chances to nail down a playoff spot for the Padres; the first chance he could not close out was in Miller Park (irony #1), giving up a game-tying triple to Tony Gwynn Jr. (irony #2), before spitting the bit in Colorado in the Wild Card tie-breaker game two nights later.
When Mariano Rivera (currently at 555 saves) chases down Hoffman’s record, I will give it due respect, I will give Rivera his accolades even if he somehow doesn’t get to 600 and change. But right now, I just want to acknowledge and cherish the last call of Trevor Time.