Trevor Hoffman Finds His Perfect Ending
That Trevor Hoffman is going from retirement to the place where he most belongs -- the San Diego Padres -- is a reminder that prunes can become lemonade, in time.
When the all-time saves leader left the Padres two winters ago, he blasted the club for how it handled his departure. (And not without good reason.) Hoffman and his agent weren't blameless, either. The messy public rift stained both the franchise icon and Padres management, from owner John Moores down to CEO Sandy Alderson and general manager Kevin Towers.
Make no mistake: the decision for Hoffman to move on, so that Heath Bell could assume the closer's job, was the right one. But the club told Hoffman by phone that it was pulling its offer. Later, Hoffman described the club as dysfunctional, and went on about it.
As it should be, the Padres and Hoffman are partners again. Padres CEO and Vice Chairman Jeff Moorad told FanHouse that Hoffman will work as a special assistant who will report to club president Tom Garfinkel.
"Trevor is clearly one of the most important players in our club's history, if not the most important personality," said Moorad, who worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks two winters ago before agreeing to buy the San Diego club. "It seems only appropriate for him to rejoin the Padres' family, and we're thrilled that he was open to doing that."
Hoffman told MLB.com that his pitching career is over because he can't perform up to his expectations. He had a 5.89 ERA this year for the Brewers, one year after giving Milwaukee 37 saves and a 1.83 ERA. The bulk of his spectacular career came with the Padres, who traded for him in 1993.
Moorad said Hoffman, 43, will spend most of the year "familiarizing himself with a variety of departments, including baseball operations," before deciding where to concentrate his efforts.
A few thoughts on Hoffman's career:
• My fellow baseball writers would be wise to elect Hoffman into the Hall of Fame five years hence. While saves tend to be overvalued, Hoffman was a dominant and durable closer for most of his 18-year career. He went nearly a decade without blowing consecutive save chances. His ERA+ of 141, per Baseball-Reference.com, ranks 14th all-time and first among NL relievers. Hoffman was a very good closer on four of the five Padres teams that reached the playoffs.
• Many of my fellow San Diegans overstate Hoffman's excellence when they describe him as the best closer of all-time (he's still introduced as such at Petco Park). Mariano Rivera, as Hoffman has recognized, is the best closer of all-time. Hoffman was great. Rivera was, and is, surreal great. Beyond his gaudy postseason exploits, his 204 ERA+ is the best of all-time.
• With 43 saves, Rivera would pass Hoffman. That seems likely.
• For most of his career, Hoffman could've told hitters that his "Bugs Bunny" changeup was coming and still had good results. An exception was Dante Bichette, a former Rockies slugger who would sit on that pitch and sometimes hit it very far.
• Hoffman was outspoken about perceived steroid use in baseball, at a time when many ballplayers said little about the subject, yet he told me in March that pitching in the year most synonymous with the Steroid Era -- 1998 -- had its advantages.
"It made me concentrate more," he said, implying that his margin for error was less because already good hitters had become better through ill-gotten gains in batspeed and confidence.
Coincidentally or not, Hoffman's best season came in 1998. He had 53 saves and a 1.48 ERA for a 98-victory team that would reach the World Series. All things considered, it was a season for the ages.