On Deck at the Hall
Padres closer Trevor Hoffman gets his due
Posted on June 29, 2018
This month, four names will be added to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown when the Class of 2018 — Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman — is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For Hoffman fans in San Diego, while it isn’t a surprise (this was his third year of eligibility and results were announced this past January), it will be no less thrilling to see the beloved Padres closer take the stage with his acceptance speech on July 29.
Spend two minutes talking with the record-setting pitcher best known for two numbers — 51 (the number on his jersey, now retired with the Padres), and 601 (his career save record) — and it’s quickly evident that this hometown hero is definitely not an “about the numbers” guy. His family is his greatest accomplishment, and no amount of career accolades have crept in and inflated a non-existent ego. Fortunately, he allowed us more than two minutes to catch up on life after retirement and his thoughts about joining his heroes in New York.
Ranch & Coast: What’s most humbling about joining the ranks in Cooperstown?
Trevor Hoffman: I think when you think of the history of the game, and we’re over 100+ years basically in existence, you think of the names in the first class, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Ty Cobb, and to be sitting here in 2018 and think of your name being said in conjunction with them is almost mind-boggling, to that point that when you’re seven years old and playing little league and you’re aspiring to get to the next level, whether it’s pony ball or to be ready for high school, you don’t ever put yourself in the realm that one day you might be behind the podium in Cooperstown, New York being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
I was a struggling shortstop who hit .240 and had a position change, and that position change turned into an opportunity to be a relief pitcher that got my entrance in there. I think sometimes you can kind of look at a player and be like, “You know what, there’s a chance,” [but] in my case, there was no way anybody what thinking that the ending would be turning out this way.
R&C: What does it mean to be inducted representing the Padres and a town that remains your home?
TH: In all honesty, I’m a member of this community, and so to be able to represent, like I know Tony Gwynn did, like I know Dave Winfield has, there’s a great amount of pride to know that this is where I’m raising my family, this is where I’ll retire and grow old with [my wife] Trace, and have many memories of playing here. Ultimately, to have the SD inscribed and the attention that’s being brought this year upon the Padres is pretty crazy and a lot of fun to be a part of, but it’s almost more than one person deserves.
R&C: Since you have to have retired a minimum five years prior to nomination and you retired in 2011, did the first year of eligibility sneak up on you, or was it impossible not to think about because of your public support?
TH: It kind of sneaks up on you because you don’t realize five years can go that fast after you hang ’em up. You start to realize all of the things that you enjoy throughout the summer that you weren’t able to enjoy prior to retiring, so time speeds up pretty quickly outside of the game, and when you get to that initial vote, in my case, I wasn’t really sure how the writers were going to view a specialty role. While I had high numbers accrued as a closer, I wasn’t really sure of how the writers were going to view my career, so I was super pumped after the first year’s numbers came out and I’d garnered 67 percent of the vote, and I thought, “This is awesome, and I’m going to have a chance. I might need to take next year a little bit more seriously and make sure I’m home in case the phone rings.” And we kind of kept it really close to the vest the second year, just Trace and two of the boys were at home so we hung out at the house. The third year, after we came up a percentage point short [the previous year], we felt very confident that maybe this was going to be the year. My mother wasn’t getting any younger, and so I felt like if it doesn’t happen, I’d hate for my mom to pass and not have had the opportunity to be a part of the celebration or just be told how much she meant to us, so we got together as a family, and one way or the other, we were going to celebrate getting in, and if not, celebrate Mom and life. We were getting so close because of the way she raised us, and so in essence, we made a bigger production in year three than probably I was comfortable with, but it couldn’t have worked out any better.
R&C: There’s a lot said about your character as a teammate, that you are one of the greatest team players the game has seen. Where does that kind of acknowledgment rank for you in your list of accomplishments in such a storied baseball career?
TH: It’s one of the highest compliments I think an athlete can get, to be honest with you. I learned that long ago from my older brothers, and it coincides a little bit with the quote on Andy Green’s whiteboard behind his desk — that you prepare selfishly but unselfishly be a teammate. My older brothers epitomized that. My oldest brother [Greg] asked me one day when I came back from a little league game, “hey, how’d you do?” and I couldn’t wait to spill out all the stats of it, and he locked me up in mid-sentence and said, “When I asked you how you did, the last thing I want to know is how you personally did. It’s about the team.” And then [my other brother] Glenn talked about never leaving yourself with any questions about ‘what if,’ so that’s part of preparing selfishly. So, I think to have that type of comment made about you as an athlete — you have to be selfish. You have to go about your business. You have to want to do well and in essence, it’s helping the team, but there’s nothing greater than celebrating a team victory and knowing that the collective group of people worked toward a common goal and then achieved it.
First and foremost, I think it comes from what your background is. I was pretty fortunate to have great examples growing up. My older brothers were pretty accomplished athletes themselves in the amateur ranks. My middle brother ended up going on and playing professionally for almost ten years and is still our third base coach here with San Diego [Glenn Hoffman], so as a young adolescent, when I started to figure out my brother was going to have a chance to play professional baseball, I paid attention, and then getting a front row seat to his career and how he handled the fans and how important signing every autograph was and engaging people, it makes a difference. Then to watch some of his teammates — he played with Hall of Fame guys, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans — guys who were pillars of their time and era, so really to get a firsthand experience of what that looked like was important. And then, my parents: my mom and dad were at the top of their game as a ballerina for my mom and a lead tenor in a quartet for my father, who traveled around the world singing and dancing. So, I got firsthand experience of being humble and thankful for many blessings and don’t abuse them.
Dad really enjoyed sports but didn’t play. He grew up singing in church choirs and harnessing his gift, and really running with it after he served our country in WWII — he kind of did everything. He did World’s Fairs, sang in New York and Las Vegas, had stints with Martha Rae, Gene Autry, the road shows with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and was really good at what he did and had a chance to probably really blow it up but had some sticking points with what might come with potentially going down a certain road and it wasn’t what he wanted to do. So, he stayed loyal to himself and true to his virtues and it had gotten to the point where when he started raising a family, they plopped down at the end of the 5 Freeway where it ended in Anaheim at the time so he could get back and forth to Hollywood. He came home one day and my brother met him at the front door and said, “Hey Mom, who is this?” and he quit on the spot and applied to the post office and basically didn’t end a dream but just kind of opened up a new chapter.
I’m pretty lucky with the one decision we all have to make very good on, deciding our partner. My choice, coming up on 25 years since marrying Trace, really was a blessing for me for sure.
R&C: In a career of highlights, what is the ultimate highlight for you, personally?
TH: Some of the best times I’ve had on the field obviously were achieving what my job description was. But a couple years ago, I’m retired, I’m watching my two sons play baseball at the high school level, they make it to the playoffs, they’re competing for what’s considered the highest level which is the open division, it’s the final game, and they ended up winning. And to see the two of them, they’re a shortstop and a second baseman, they were a senior and a junior at the time, to see their level of enthusiasm after the final out is made, which the shortstop caught, they immediately bolt to one another and embrace behind second base, and then go and dogpile. I think when you’re in the moment when you’re an athlete performing, you don’t think about how it impacts others, but when you’re powerless and you’re a parent and you’re in the stands and to see the joy that the game can provide in certain moments, that was a highlight for me.
R&C: Do you ever feel a tug that makes you wish you could still be playing, especially with all the amplified attention to your career with the Hall of Fame induction?
TH: The game was letting me know that it was time to move on. The hits were coming back at me a little quicker and the sounds off the bat were getting a little bit louder, so it was harder to do the job that I once did pretty handily. So, pride steps in and you still want to be really good at what you do, and you know that timeframe is slipping away. I was really good at one time but not at the level that I would expect nor at a level that I would need to be to help a team get to the post season and win, so it was kind of easy to hang it up. I was able to look at myself in the mirror and go, “Look, I gave it everything that I had, there was no stone left unturned, no ‘what ifs,’’ and I felt really comfortable about walking away from the game at that time.
R&C: What’s the real story behind your walkout song, “Hell’s Bells?” Do you still feel anything when you hear it now?
TH: It coincided with the release of the movie Major League, when Charlie Sheen came out of the bullpen and they played “Wild Thing,” so I think our entertainment department was kind of looking for similar bounce. I was randomly coming out to loud music, nothing in particular that was of my choosing, so they came down to the clubhouse and said, “Hey, this song by AC/DC, “Hells Bells,” would be pretty cool.” I said, “Sure, I’m open to anything if you think it can be kind of fun for the atmosphere in the ninth inning and the fans.” I don’t think anybody anticipated it would get as big and as fun for those in attendance, but it became larger than life, almost bigger than getting three outs at the end of a ballgame.
When I was playing, I was trying to be cognizant, like if I’m listening to 101.5 KGB and they would randomly play some AC/DC stuff, and if it would come on and I’m driving around town and the windows are down, I knew I would look like an idiot driving around listening to “Hells Bells,” so that wasn’t going to happen. Now that I’m retired, there’s a little softening, I don’t mind the association if I were to be caught listening to AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells,” but when I’m at a football game and it gets to be third down you’ll hear it, I get the goosebumps, I get the immediate zip right back to getting ready to come into a ball game, and so it’s almost like I’m conditioned over time of what to expect at different stages in the song and how it was portrayed and built into the ninth inning in San Diego.
R&C: What has your retirement from the game allowed you to do that you never could when you were playing?
TH: Everybody always says you have to have a purpose for getting up in the morning, and keep your mind stimulated, and I kind of balk at that a little bit. I enjoy not having a lot on my plate. I enjoy living here in San Diego, and the commute between the whole ranch and coast [Hoffman splits his time between a home in Fairbanks Ranch and Del Mar]. There’s not a better place in our country to live, in my opinion. So, to take in all the outdoor activities that you can get involved in, whether it’s surfing, whether it’s golf, whether it’s going to nice restaurants, working out, a little bit of everything, it’s kind of fun to do, and not have to worry about a job, not worry about a commitment. I’m still employed by the Padres, I still get to go out and mix it up with some of our younger kids and our minor league affiliates, answer questions, and bounce ideas off of them, and explain to them some things that were a bit of a hiccup for me coming up in the system, and it’s great for me to be able to give back, but I’m not doing it on an everyday basis, which can be a little daunting, so I still can be around my family. I get to really get the best of both worlds, so I’m pretty happy where I’m at.
R&C: How will you celebrate after the ceremony on July 29?
TH: I’m looking forward to the opportunity of really honoring those who got me to that point, but I’m also looking forward to it being done and just relaxing, and not having the stress of waking up in the middle of the night with an idea and going “how do I incorporate this in eight minutes?” and the idea of maybe leaving somebody off that I’d forgotten to thank. And ultimately, to be known as a Hall of Famer from that point in time forward. So, maybe a little bit of traveling is on the docket, and I’m looking forward to all of the things that are coming throughout the rest of the year, but I’m also looking forward to fading back into the weeds. Deanna Murphy
Photography by Andy Hayt/San Diego Padres