Colleagues salute Hoffman's exploits
Saves King draws praise from teammates and opponents
SAN DIEGO -- It may have been no greater honor to the stature of Trevor Hoffman as a player and person than the way he was treated by his contemporaries -- teammate and opponent alike -- on Sunday after he recorded his record-setting 479th save to pass Lee Smith and move into first place on the all-time list.In the spontaneous and tumultuous celebration at PETCO Park after Hoffman retired the side in order in the ninth inning to save the Padres' 2-1 victory over the Pirates, San Diego players romped around Hoffman on the mound, and their Pittsburgh counterparts remained in the dugout watching in respectful salute. "I haven't been to the playoffs yet, but to be a part of that, I would definitely list it as one of the top moments in my career," said Padres catcher Josh Bard, who was the first one to reach Hoffman after his 43rd save of the season was complete. "There's something to be said about longevity records. The courage it takes just for him to continue to go out there and come after hitters. I think it's really special as a player to see that." Jim Tracy, Hoffman's long-ago Minor League manager the year he was converted from a shortstop to a pitcher in the Cincinnati organization, stood on the dugout's front step. Hoffman tipped his cap toward the Pirates, particularly Tracy. "What he's accomplished is a credit to him, because he's one of the finest people in our game," Tracy said. "It's a tribute to his resiliency. It's a tribute to his work ethic. It's a tribute to his moxie as a person, because not everybody can say, 'Hey, I'm going to pitch the ninth inning.' He accomplished something here that in the history of our game is very, very special." John Moores, the Padres' owner since late 1994, said what sets Hoffman apart from the rest is his work ethic.
"Trevor is obviously a gifted athlete," Moores said. 'His distinguishing characteristic, however, is his extraordinary conditioning program. There are lots of stories about young guys who asked Trevor if they could join him during his daily exercise regimen. They rarely came back for the second day."
The save rule was adopted in 1969 and altered twice before 1975. It has remained the same since then.Smith, with 478, is one of four relievers to have recorded more than 400 saves in his career. Aside from Hoffman, there is John Franco (424) and Mariano Rivera (413). Smith played for eight teams over 18 seasons, beginning in 1980 and ending in 1997. Hoffman said he reached out to Smith this past week and asked him to be present at the historic changing of the relief guard. But Smith said he had a prior commitment. "We talked about maybe trying to be here," Hoffman said on Saturday night after he recorded his 478th save to tie Smith's record. "It was exciting, and he was easy to talk to. I was a bit nervous about calling him up. In my eyes, he's a veteran ballplayer who came before me. I appreciate what he stands for and everything he's done in this game. It was nice to chat with him." Bruce Bochy, the Padres' manager since 1995, said he took a moment on Sunday to reflect on what Hoffman has accomplished in San Diego since the now nearly 39-year-old right-hander was traded to the Padres by the Marlins on June 24, 1993, in the five-player deal that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida. Aside from the end of the 2002 season and almost all of 2003, when Hoffman had surgery to clean up his labrum and repair an impingement in his right shoulder, he has been Bochy's closer, making 817 appearances in his 14-year career, 789 of them for the Padres. "It was a special day," Bochy said. "When you get a big win like this, and Trevor reaches his milestone, it's something. I'll tell you, I caught myself reflecting back on all the times he's been out there, and he's been out there a lot. It was emotional for me. He's such a special guy. Great teammate. We all know about his talent. As a teammate, they don't get any better. We've been around so long together I consider him to be a member of my family. I couldn't have been prouder for him." Hoffman continues to pick up the accolades and improving his personal statistics. His 43 saves gives him eight seasons with 40 saves or more -- a record. Smith, in comparison, had only four. Hoffman's current 1.95 ERA is more than a full run lower than it was last year when he saved 44 of the Padres' 82 victories. It's also his best since 1998, when his career reached its zenith and he saved 53 games in 54 opportunities, including 41 in a row at one point. His ERA was a career-low 1.48 that season, the last time the Padres went to the World Series. "His consistency -- that's what this game is all about," said Padres veteran starter Woody Williams. "It's not about who has more talent. Half of those guys with all the talent never amount to anything. It's about the ones who go out there, day in and day out, can accept the good with the bad, deal with it and come back the next day ready to do it again. He's just been unbelievable throughout his career." The admiration for Hoffman also comes from his opponents. "I tip my hat to this guy to be able to do what he has done for 14 years," said Salomon Torres, the Pirates closer, who has converted 10 of his 12 opportunities for a team that has lost 91 games this year. "He's a role model for all the closers that want to be like him. He leaves a good legacy, and he's not done yet. He's still going to put up good numbers. "When everything is said and done, the Hall of Fame voters are going to have to do something about it. In my book, this guy is a certain Hall of Famer."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.