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Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006 | Trevor Hoffman, standing along the first-base line as he faced an adoring postgame crowd, took hold of a gold trophy cast in the style of an American revolutionary-era bell – the Padres’ Liberty Bell, considering the closer’s 14 seasons of liberating San Diego’s franchise? – made for him by the Padres and presented by club CEO Sandy Alderson.
He hoisted it with two hands high above his head, sharing the moment with the full house of 41,932 fans. His Major League Baseball record-breaking 479th career save came just in time – at the Padres’ final regular-season home game before beginning a road trip that began Monday night in St. Louis.
“I couldn’t have scripted it any better, that’s for sure,” Hoffman told the fans over the public address system. “You people deserved it and my teammates deserved to have it happen at home. It’s something that is tremendous for the city of San Diego.”
Ah, if only it was a National League MVP plaque or Cy Young Award he could hoist for all of he baseball world to see.
Then we could be sure the man who broke the record in Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates will earn his rightful place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. As it is, we have to worry some clueless baseball writer will leave him off his Hall-of-Fame ballot.
Some writers actually did leave Hoffman off the ballot for the 1998 NL MVP award when he might otherwise have won the honor. That was the season when Hoffman saved 53 games in 54 opportunities and won four games to figure in 58 of the Padres’ 98 wins.
His 1998 total tied the National League record and along the way he tied the MLB record for consecutive saves over two seasons with 41. “Trevor Time” and AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” blasting over the PA system became part of Padres’ tradition that year.
Another famed Padres reliever, Goose Gossage, is still waiting for his call to the Hall of Fame despite his tenure as the most feared flame-throwing reliever in the late 1970s and into early 1980s. The importance of a reliable relief to close out games has become more important to winning titles quicker than many baseball writers have been able to accept it in their Hall-of-Fame voting.
One Toronto sportswriter – too young to know the terror batters felt when Gossage took the mound – defended leaving Gossage off his ballot in last year’s Hall-of-Fame voting because he never won a Cy Young Award or American League MVP Award.
Gossage, known primarily for his years with the New York Yankees but also a key to the Padres’ 1984 National League pennant, received 65 percent of the vote last year and 75 percent is required for induction. Who knows what feeble excuse would be offered by other writers who didn’t vote for him.
Assuming Hoffman pitches a couple more years, as his contract calls for with an option in 2008, let’s hope sportswriters with a vote seven years from now spare us the kind of logic for Hoffman’s career that has been applied to Gossage. Hoffman should be the third player to enter the Hall as Padre, following Dave Winfield in 2001 and Tony Gwynn’s certain first-ballot election in 2007.
Some of these writers with Hall-of-Fame votes can be petty. I remember sitting in the media interview room after the Chargers routed the New England Patriots last year in Foxboro, Mass. As we waited for Chargers’ head coach Marty Schottenheimer to appear, idle chatter over Pro Football Hall-of-Fame candidates were mentioned.
One writer admitted he’d never vote for Charles Haley simply because he didn’t like him as a person. Yeah, that kind of stuff really happens in Hall-of-Fame voting. I’m not sure Haley deserves to be in that Hall as an athlete, but that kind of attitude is disturbing.
Hoffman’s record(s) speaks volumes with or without a Cy Young or NL MVP. He holds the record for most seasons with 30 or more saves (11) and most with 40 or more (8). He increased his totals this year at the age of 38, hitting 30 back on Aug. 5 against Washington and reaching 40 on Sept. 19 against Arizona.
His save Sunday was his 43rd of the year and allowed the Padres to maintain their 1 ½- lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. He has been a major factor in the Padres three NL West titles of 1996, 1998 and 2005 will be again if the 2006 Padres become the franchise’s first club to defend its NL West title or advance to the post-season for a second straight year.
Trevor Time’s “Hells Bells” deserve to ring someday in Cooperstown.