The date was June 24, 1993. The San Diego Padres were in the middle of a complete and total fire sale and were selling off players in order to cut costs. This was the day that left-handed pitcher Rich Rodriguez and, more importantly, rising star Gary Sheffield were shipped off to the Florida Marlins for three unknown pitching prospects. One such unknown was a young relief pitcher named Trevor Hoffman, a failed shortstop prospect who had a measly two saves to his name. Padres fans were so irate with the trade that they lashed out at the young pitcher and heavily booed Hoffman every time he was called on to pitch.
Fast forward 18 years. The date is August 21, 2011. The Padres are set to retire the now beloved Trevor Hoffman’s number 51. Over the years, Hoffman accumulated 552 saves, 902 career game appearances and a career ERA of 2.37, all Padres records. He was a leader in the clubhouse and always took younger relievers like Heath Bell under his wing, giving advice and support whenever he could. Hoffman rocked the stadium and intimidated, or sometimes terrified, opposing players with his famous “Hell’s Bells” entrance, which inspired walk-up songs for years to come.
It was a beautiful day. The Padres brought together 40 former teammates and coaches, and even had Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC, speak a few words via video board in tribute to Hoffman in honor of him “rocking the mound”. To remember and honor his late father Ed Hoffman, he was presented with a mint condition 1958 Cadillac convertible, one that his father loved to drive, and used a clip of Ed singing The Star-Spangled Banner for the National Anthem. The day will forever be known as “Trevor Hoffman Day” in San Diego.
It is easy to back up why Hoffman deserved a spot in the Hall of Fame. The save numbers, the All-Star appearances, Padres records, even the award named after him. Baseball voters knew that Trevor was one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time and rewarded him with a spot in the illustrious Hall. But this is only part of the reason why the name Trevor Hoffman is so beloved by the people of San Diego.
This city and its citizens have been through a lot when it comes to the world of sports. They’ve endured year after year of mediocrity and failure. They’ve seen heralded prospects flame out and trades backfire. They’ve watched player after player develop and become great only to trade them off to teams like the Red Sox and the Cardinals, with it becoming so typical for the team to trade away its stars that the Padres were jokingly referred to as “the farm system of the MLB”. This is a city that lost three beloved icons in the span of two years and then saw the football team that they cherished for 56 years pack up and leave to Los Angeles without so much a goodbye.
Throughout all of it, though, Padres fans always had their icons of the Padres. They got to witness the greatness that was Tony Gwynn and his kindhearted nature, they were able to listen to Jerry Coleman call out his signature “Oh, Doctor!” and make jokes with Ted Leitner, and they got to witness Hoffman pitch the lights out of Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park, and to see those men no longer in the booth or on the field signaled the end of an era for Padres baseball.
It is an absolute shame that Hoffman never retired in a San Diego uniform, instead spending his last two years in Milwaukee because then owner John Moores ordered payroll to be slashed and low-balled an offer to the historic closer in an effort to save money, only to retract the contract and end his tenure with the team.
San Diego was just recovering from the passing of Jerry Coleman when they were dealt another blow; lifetime San Diegan Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest, if not the greatest Padre in the teams history, passed away due to cancer. His passing was felt not just by the city, but by the entire country, with millions paying their respects to the Padres and Gwynn’s family.
However, even after all of the painful losses, San Diego still had their closer, who hasn’t stopped giving to the team that acquired him. Hoffman is a regular visitor of children’s hospitals to visit the sick children and will go out of his way to shake hands with fans, sign autographs, and talk baseball. He recently attended the unveiling of the new playground at the Ronald McDonald House, a “home away from home” for families that have children suffering from life-threatening diseases, playing with the young attendees.
Hoffman was the definition of reliability even when the Padres went through some of their worst seasons. Fans knew that if they had a lead, they could look forward to the bells signalling the entrance of their lock-down closer. This is what Trevor Hoffman is to the city of San Diego; a symbol of consistency. Through thick and thin, this man has honorably stuck by San Diego and his relationship with the city has earned him the respect of so many people. He has earned the title as one of the faces of San Diego sports, and the Baseball Writers Association of America voted in not just an elite closer, but an honorable man who keeps on giving to America’s Finest City.