Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Day the Bell Went Silent

i-con (noun): a person or thing regarded as a symbol of a belief, nation, community, or cultural movement

In San Diego Padres franchise history you can arguably make a case that the word "icon" only applies to two players. Obviously, Tony Gwynn is one.

The other is Trevor Hoffman.

This isn't to say that the Padres have not had players in their history who weren't important to the franchise. Dave Winfield, Nate Colbert, Randy Jones, and *shudder Steve Garvey. And in more recent times their have been two players in particular that, had they stayed Padres for a longer period of time, would no doubt be spoken of in terms of "icon," those players being Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez.

But when it comes right down to it, and you take a long look at the Padres franchise, when the discussion of Padres icons or "franchise players" is brought up, it begins with Gwynn and ends with Hoffman.

On January 11, 2011 Hoffman ended his 18 year career, one that will no doubt lead him to seeing #51 above the batters eye at Petco Park and ultimately end in Cooperstown. He retires with #601 career saves, most ever in baseball history. He retires having represented the National League in the All-Star Game 7 times, 1,133 strikeouts vs only 307 walks and a career upon which almost all closers going forward will be measured.

On Sept. 23, 2006 my wife (then girlfriend) and I went to the second to last Padres game of the season. The Padres were on their way to winning the NL West that year and were in the middle of a pennant race against Los Angeles, so the game had some importance. But I couldn't tell you much about it other than one thing: Trevor Hoffman notched save #478. With only one home game left, Trevor Hoffman had tied Lee Smith for the All-Time Saves record. What happened next involved me sprinting to the nearest ticket window and purchasing whatever ticket they had available. Was it a crapshoot that Hoffman would get a save opportunity the next day? Yes. But I certainly wasn't going to sit at home and watch Hoffman break this record knowing full well I could have and should have been there.

There is nothing stranger then rooting for your team to win, but not by too much. I remember little of Sept. 24th other than a few things. One, when Josh Bard hit the go ahead HR I secretly was hoping the score would just stay 2-1 the rest of the game (spoiler alert, it did). And I remember the final out, a ground ball in the hole against a speedy Freddy Sanchez. Then the place went nuts. It stands today as easily a Top 5 moment for me at a Padres game.

In 16 seasons as a Padres, Trevor Hoffman pitched only 953 innings. Yet his impact on the city and the team extends well beyond those 953 innings. He saved 555 games for the Padres, 9 seasons of over 40 saves, most of this on teams that were, shall we say, God awful. He did all of this after being forced to reinvent himself as a pitcher due to an arm injury, transforming himself from a typical flame-throwing closer to developing one of the most dominating pitches in baseball history in his changeup. Much like Rivera's cut fastball, Hoffman's changeup became the pitch that every hitter knew was coming, yet none of them could hit.

Perhaps there is a debate over whether Hoffman is a Hall of Fame candidate. But that debate is being raged by those who know nothing of baseball or what the Hall of Fame is suppose to be about. The Hall of Fame is for players who were the greatest of their time. And there can be no debate that Trevor Hoffman was one of the greatest of his time.

So here's a tip of the cap to Trevor Hoffman who was consistently great at a position notoriously inconsistent.

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