8/31/2014 1:04 A.M. ET
Hoffman's HOF induction seems inevitable
Joining the Padres Hall a step towards Cooperstown for closer
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- Trevor Hoffman was inducted into the Padres' Hall of Fame on Saturday, which was a nice honor for the National League's all-time leader with 601 saves. But this is just Hoffman's appetizer for 2016.
The closer's almost certain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame seems as destined as the tide coming in or a Tony Gwynn base hit through the 5.5 hole.
"Certainly it would be a dream come true," Hoffman said after the Petco Park ceremony, addressing the issue publicly for the first time. "There's no sure ticket for specialty guys like me. I will be watching very interestingly."
The glass ceiling for closers was shattered in 1992 with the induction of Rollie Fingers, and the subsequent elections of Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Rich "Goose" Gossage have paved the path to the Cooperstown, N.Y., for other great relievers.
Eckersley pitched the first half of his career as a starter and the second as a lights-out reliever. John Smoltz, who won 210 games and saved another 154 for the Braves, is on the ballot, along with Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, for the first time at the end of this year. Smoltz will get in, if not in 2015, then soon after.
Hoffman is eligible for the Class of 2016, and Yankees great Mariano Rivera, who saved a record 652 regular-season games and 42 more in the postseason, will complete the cast in 2019.
"I think Mo is a slam dunk for sure," Hoffman said. "We can say our careers paralleled each other a little bit, but when you're talking about the greatest closer of all time, that sets him apart."
Comparatively, though, Hoffman certainly is the greatest closer in NL history.
"I don't know if that's a ticket to Cooperstown. You and I both know that," he said. "But I appreciate it. It's something I didn't allow myself to think about as a player. I remember Tony answering questions about it and him waiting nervously for that phone call. 'Do you realize your place in the game and what you've accomplished?' And still there was that 'not sure' attitude. I get that. I understand that. There are contemporaries I [compare] to as well. So, we'll see. I hope things happen."
Gwynn, who batted .338, amassed 3,141 hits and won a record-tying eight NL batting titles, passed away after a long battle with cancer on June 16 at the age of 54. He was elected on the first ballot just behind Cal Ripken Jr. in 2007 with 97.6 percent of the vote, just 13 of the 545 ballots cast short of unanimous.
Gwynn is one of the 11 men to play or manage at least a part of their careers in San Diego with a plaque in the famed museum in central New York. But he's the only one to spend his entire 20-year career with the Padres.
Among the others are Fingers and Gossage, manager Dick Williams and Dave Winfield. The latter duo are both in Cooperstown and the once seemingly dormant Padres Hall of Fame. Winfield entered the National Hall in 2001 and was the first player to wear a Padres cap.
Locally, Hoffman joins Gwynn, Winfield, Randy Jones and Nate Colbert as the only players in the Padres Hall. Williams was the previous person inducted, in 2009, a year after he and Gossage were elected to Cooperstown.
With the death of Gwynn, Hoffman has certainly inherited the mantle of moving the 46-year-old franchise's legacy forward.
"I certainly appreciate all that Tony represented and will try and -- not necessarily to pick up the torch -- but remember things he stood for and do so as well," Hoffman said.
Hoffman has quite a job ahead of him. The Padres have never won a World Series, had a hurler pitch a no-hitter or had anyone hit for the cycle. The Padres haven't been to the postseason since 2006. During Hoffman's 16-year tenure, which ended when he left for the Brewers as a free agent after the 2008 season, the Padres went to the postseason only four times and to the World Series only once, in 1998, when they were swept by the Yankees.
There are several gaping differences between Hoffman, Gwynn and Rivera. Hoffman's postseason numbers: four saves, a 1-2 record and a 3.46 ERA in 12 appearances. Plus, unlike the two aforementioned players, Hoffman didn't start or end his career with the same team.
Hoffman was drafted by the Reds and played shortstop in the Minors before he was converted to a reliever. He was selected by the Marlins in the expansion draft before the 1993 season and traded to the Padres only months later in the famous fire-sale deal that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida.
Along the way, Hoffman recorded 552 of his saves for the Padres, second all-time (behind Rivera) with a single club. But it was Hoffman's presence in the clubhouse that was the real signature of his forceful personality.
"He was a very special person," said Greg Maddux, who played almost two seasons with Hoffman and was honored by the Padres on Friday night for his recent induction in Cooperstown. "He was a very good teammate, a very good leader. He led by example. I think Tony Gwynn was the face of the Padres forever, and I think Trevor took over for Tony when Tony stopped playing."
For that reason, among so many others, it was strange that Hoffman had a rocky departure from the Padres because of a contract dispute after the 2008 season. He was given a low-ball offer that was ultimately pulled off the table.
"It wasn't the path that it was going to happen," Hoffman said about finishing his career in San Diego. "When we came to the fork in the road, it wasn't, 'Choose one,' it was, 'Take that one.'"
Hoffman's 600th save came at Milwaukee's Miller Park for the Brewers on Sept. 7, 2010. A few months later, he retired. In the end, all was forgiven and Hoffman returned to his old club in a front-office capacity. During the 2011 season, his No. 51 was retired, joining Winfield, Gwynn, Jones and Steve Garvey as the only ones placed by the club forever in mothballs. Like Maddux in Texas, Hoffman is now the upper level Minor League pitching coordinator and is putting his imprint on the young pitchers in the organization.
Hoffman's inevitable election to Cooperstown will simply close the circle.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.