For nearly two decades, AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells marked Trevor Hoffman’s procession from park to park, a “world of merriment their melody” foretold for Padres and Brewers fans, but a sinister tune of doom to every other comer.
Hoffman ranks second on major league baseball’s all-time saves list, one of just two men, along with Mariano Rivera to have closed out 600 games, and helped the Friars reach the World Series for just the second time in franchise history in 1998.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hoffman spent a few minutes to chat with us about what it takes to close year after year, picking up his successor in Milwaukee, what he’d do with Aroldis Chapman andÂ what he respected about Carlos Quentin charging Zack Greinke on the mound.
To you, the loyal and learned B&C reader, we proudly present Trevor William Hoffman:
In today’s game, dominant closers seem to have short shelf lives — Eric Gagne shut down 84 consecutive save opportunities and seemed to disappear just as quickly, Jason Motte is about to have Tommy John surgery after just two years as the Cardinals stopper, — which makes what you accomplished, and Mariano continues to accomplish, that much more impressive. How were you able to maintain such spectacular consistency throughout your career?
To me, it’s the biggest thing — health. If you’re able to stay away from catastrophic injury, then you’re going to have the opportunity to go out there and have opportunities, so for me that was the biggest part of building a routine. Trying to stay physically fit, it didn’t keep me from having my share of visits to the doctor, but fortunately I was able to come out of it and still go about my business. I think health is really the biggest thing that derails guys’ careers more than the rigors of pitching in the ninth inning and expectations of performance.
Much of your career paralleled Rivera’s, are you glad that Mo decided to come back for a “farewell” tour?
I think it’s great. One other caveat that he’s doing is meeting with ushers, front office personnel, might even have some fans from that particular city that he’s taking the time to meet and greet , just kind of let them ask questions, have some one-on-one time with him. It’s a pretty nice, pretty genuine way of stepping away from the game. Personally, I think it’s a little bit early, I think he’s having a great year again, I’d like to see him keep going forever. I think, selfishly, as a fan, as a guy that’s outside now looking at it, you kind of want to see someone that’s dominant at what they do keep doing it forever. He’s a guy who’s been very, very good for a long time, I’m very appreciate of that connection (laughs) if you will, with his career, but he’s definitely in a league of his own.
The man who replaced you in Milwaukee, John Axford has had his struggles since helping the Crew reach the NLCS in 2011. Have you reached out to him toÂ impartÂ any words of wisdom to try and pick him up?
A little bit. I had the chance to see him personally when Milwaukee came through San Diego, I live here in San Diego, we passed some texts back and forth. I don’t think a lot of it’s mechanical, some of it’s just bad luck, some of it is pitch selection and some of it is just the competition figuring you out a little bit. So, he’s got his work in front of him, to have lost the role (of closer) is tough, but his confidence is still there, self-esteem’s still high, he knows he’s got good stuff and it’ll translate to success at some point in time, but it’s tough, it’s part of the role. He acquired the role because my situation was not going very well, so he’s very well aware of what it takes to be out there and what it’s going to take to be successful, and he pitches in a tough park. Miller Park is not a big pitcher’s park, the ball can get up and go, and we’re not even in the middle of summer yet. I think he’ll be fine, mechanically he’s figured some things out, he’s got Lee Tunnell (bullpen coach) and Rick Kranitz as his pitching coach. Lee had a big impact on his career getting to the big leagues, and he’s in the bullpen now with him, so I know they’re working hard to find some things that he can be consistent with.
The Reds spent a lot of money on Aroldis Chapman assuming he’d be a starter for them, but it turns out he was on another level as a closer. Then this spring, they toyed with the idea of having him start, again. The Rangers went through that with Neftali Feliz, and though clubs are welcome to handle their investments as they see fit, when you have something that works, don’t you just stick with it?
He’s certainly shown that he’s very successful at the back-end of the pen, but frontline, top starters are really difficult to find, as well. I know the temptation from the organization is to have a guy be able to pitch 200-plus innings versus what you are going to get out of a guy in the back-end of a bullpen. It’s intriguing, although, when you don’t have that lockdown guy at the end, you kind of question why not leave well enough alone? It’s a double-edged sword, it’s something that organizations wrestle with all the time, I personally think he could pitch a long, long time in the back-end of their bullpen and they won’t have to concern themselves with too many decisions regarding (the closer role). It’s something, again, that the Reds made that choice to put him back in the pen and hopefully he stays there for a while.
Speaking of Aroldis. You’re starting your team with a closer and have to pick between Chapman or Craig Kimbrel from the Braves. Who do you pick and why?
That’s a really good question. They both throw extremely hard, however there are different types of deception. You got one left-handed, you got one right-handed, they hide the ball extremely well. I think you’ve already seen velocity come backwards on Aroldis from where he touched 105 mph, I was actually there with the Brewers, to where he’s now pitching at 95, 96 and can touch the upper 90s. I just think there’s a little more deception in Kimbrel’s delivery, his breaking ball tends to change directions where Aroldis’ is a little more of a sweeping breaking ball, but I think you’re splitting hairs on this one (laughs). We may be starting a team, but if I’m the second pick in the draft, I’m going to feel pretty comfortable with either one of these two guys. They’re dominant, they know how to pitch in that role and have been very successful to this point in time. I just hope they can both stay away from injuries.
What is the one blown save that you just couldn’t shake? The one that still stayed with you?
You build up a tolerance to them when you pitch as long as I did, but to have the opportunity to pitch in a World Series, understanding our team situation, down two in the ’98 World Series and to have an opportunity to close out a game and get a game against the Yankees and to have a home run hit off of me by Scott Brosius was tough. (The Padres) had a lot of momentum going into that postseason, so that was one that kind of slipped away that I regret and would have liked to have maybe have that one back, but you can’t look back on some of these things and shoulda, coulda, woulda, it was a lot of fun to pitch in it.
Don Mattingly spoke out pretty strongly that he felt Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin should not play until Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke was able to toe the rubber after his collarbone was broken in a fracas on April 11. Where do you fall on the 3-2 count, one-run game scenario and do you feel that Quentin’s suspension was long enough?
A lot of factors there. I think it happened between two guys that had history, I don’t think Carlos would have continued to the mound had there not been words from Zack after he hit him, he probably would have just taken his base. I think it’s very difficult to think that a suspension of more than eight games would’ve been handed down when precedent had been set before that that’s never been done. I can empathize with Don’s position, he’s losing his ace for a lot greater of a time than the Padres will be losing their left fielder and four-hole hitter, but that’s just part of the game. I’m glad, I think they’ve had a conversationÂ and potentially worked things out, having faced one another in Kansas City and Chicago (White Sox), it just seemed like there had been bad blood that had built up and unfortunately it spilled over at a time when the two teams didn’t really have much of an idea that that was going on. I don’t think the intent from Carlos was to injure Zack to the point where he put him out for months, but I respect the fact that he went out and did it rather than getting angry and expecting one of his pitchers to go retaliate. He took it into his own hands and it’s a moot point at this point in time.
Being in the Padres organization, have you talked to Carlos since? Has he told you what exactly Greinke said?
Nope. Didn’t ask him.
As a member of the Padres front office, do you feel San Diego can sustain a successful run longer than a year or two with the current economic set up in the game?
I think every team has the potential to put those kind of runs together, they just have to understand that it’s going to have to come from within. That in itself lies in your scouting and doing it through the draft. We all understand the economics of the game, that there is disparity,Â the revenues aren’t the same, so in a situation like San Diego, you’ve got to be a little creative. But to maintain winning, I don’t think it’s necessary to have over a $100 million payroll, there’s not a direct correlation that that’s going to get you a world championship, it definitely puts you on the map, but that opportunity isn’t a guarantee. So, I think in San Diego, folks understand that drafting and developing our own talent so we can either plug holes through people leaving via free-agency or using those pieces to obtain people in trades is vitally important to our organization.
Tell us about your involvement with the Pepsi Max and the Field of Dreams promotion.
I’m going to be one of the participants on Saturday, May 18 in Rochester, New York. I’ll be joined by some other former players like Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, Pedro Martinez, Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Mike Schmidt to name more than a few, but I’m excited about the opportunity to play in this event. Two guys are going to join us, one from Rochester, Johnny Perotti and StephenÂ Catchmark from Washington, D.C. will be, I guess you could say our amateurs in this (laughs), and we look forward to them being there and having a good time with it. More than anything, this is going to be an All-Star type situation, I’m looking forward to seeing some of these greats of the game, talking with them, picking their brain a little bit and seeing where they’re at in the game. I haven’t seen Rickey since he was with the San Diego Padres, so I’m looking forward to seeing him, but if people have some questions and want to know more about it they can go to mlb.com/pepsimax. It should be fun, it’s right around the corner, it’s going to be a great time, a lot of great names and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.