Trevor Hoffman balked at only one request while signing autographs for nearly an hour Thursday at Parkview Field.
Someone asked him to put “Hall of Fame” next to his name.
Maybe next year.
Hoffman, who spent 16 years as the closer for the San Diego Padres, compiling 601 saves, almost made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame this past election. He had 74 percent of the required 75 percent of the vote, falling five votes short.
It seems inevitable Hoffman will be inducted, but he knows better than anyone that it's all about closing the deal.
“You never want to put the cart in front of the horse and go assuming anything,” Hoffman said after his autograph session. “I learned that in this game a long time ago. It's trending the right way. I was at 60, percentage-wise the first time and a handful of votes away last year. You want to keep getting closer and closer and it'd be a great day to have that opportunity.”
Hoffman, who famously entered games to the first tolling bells of the AC/DC song, “Hells Bells,” clearly embraces his continued association with the Padres in retirement. His role now is Padres senior advisor to baseball operations, which in part leads him to visit affiliates, such as the low Class A TinCaps, and put a watchful eye on the talent.
“It's amazing out there,” he said of Parkview Field. “The facility is incredible. These kids don't know how good they have it, and how lucky they are to play in 1) a good facility and 2) with the great fan support. …The park looks like brand new. They do a great job. It's one of the gems of the game.”
Being around the low Class A players evokes memories of his time playing in the Midwest League, he said. He played for Cedar Rapids and said he remembers fondly going in with three teammates to buy a Caprice Classic for $200.
“I bought out the other three guys and proceeded to drive down to Florida twice in the Instructional League and back up to Chattanooga and Nashville a couple years, then over to the Marlins and made it camp down in South Florida in this vehicle,” he said. “It didn't quite make it past that. But that was the best $200 I ever spent.”
Hoffman said he encourages younger pitchers to keep things simple in their approach, staying consistent in their daily work. The climb can be arduous, but it's attainable.
“Sometimes you feel so far away when you're in A ball, and you're really not,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman made his living as a closer who relied primarily on a killer changeup. He saved at least 40 games in nine seasons and was twice runner-up for the National League Cy Young Award. His 601 saves rank second in Major League Baseball history to former New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera's 652.
“I would have loved to have thrown 90-plus (mph),” he said. “I think it would have been easier to get by. It almost seems ridiculous with every kid coming out of the pen throwing in the high-90s or mid-90s.
“For me, it was about location,” he said. “It was my command of the fastball that allowed me to get to the changeup. That was unique to be a closer and be so heavily reliant on an off-speed pitch, but not throwing as firm and with as much velocity maybe my arm wasn't as taxed as some of the other relievers.”
After retiring from playing, Hoffman worked for the Padres as special assistant to the president and chief executive officer, then was an upper-level pitching coordinator before moving into his current position in 2015.
“I miss that routine (of playing), the ebb and flow of being on the field on a daily basis,” Hoffman said. “But I'm finding my way. Retirement is not too bad, either.”