To this day I couldn’t recite a single quote from Trevor Hoffman. Honestly, I probably couldn’t pick out his voice if given a blind test. This is because the Trevor that lives in my mind emerges from the bullpen to ACDC’s Hells Bells, makes it to the mound, destroys three non-descript dudes, and walks away. My memory of his greatness gets distilled down to a pure cinematic language that is so much deeper than anything he could’ve said out loud. When Hoffman would come in to save a game for the Padres, he was always really saying, “You don’t have to feel like a San Diego sports fan tonight. I got this.”
All indications through the various channels that follow Baseball Hall of Fame voting say that Hoffman will likely get what he needs to enter Cooperstown. I’m not tracking it directly because I’m not going to do that to myself. However, people I trust feel pretty good about it so I’ve accepted that I should feel pretty good too. This time around the stakes aren’t as high as they could be for the process. If he doesn’t make it, we’ll live to fight for another year and this will continue to be our war. The Hall of Fame is a way for markets to take the great players they love out of their localized eco system and be evaluated on a national stage. If Hoffman gets the call next week we can enjoy the closure that comes with being seen.
The Hall of Fame debate over closers isn’t really about litigating what their value means through statistical analysis. When Padres fans are presented with math against Hoffman, we get upset because we want people to know what we felt twenty years ago without questioning it. Until you’ve had a great closer in your life for a significantly long time, you can’t understand that specific emotional attachment. Shying away from designating someone for this position and paying a premium for it in the game today makes perfect sense. But there should be a spot in the realm of baseball immortality for guys who played the role effectively when managers and front offices thought it was a bigger deal. The Hall of Fame should reflect that trend and celebrate those who held the trust of a fan base for as long as Trevor did here. Keith Law can never block that. Trevor’s career ERA doesn’t matter to us. We don’t want the wins any replacement could’ve given us.
When Jonah Keri ascended to the top of his field in baseball writing, part of the relationship he built with his readers was his ongoing case for Montreal Expos great Tim Raines to be elected into the Hall of Fame. He made all the proper valid arguments, but what really shined through in his writing was his helplessness. He needed people to understand and see what it was like to be an Expos fan, growing up in the 1980s. Of course this ended with Raines getting in and thanking Jonah in his Hall of Fame speech. But while that’s an amazing story, it’s also a position no fan from any market wants to be in. I didn’t really think about Tim Raines as a sure bet Hall of Famer, but after waiting for Trevor to get in, I would never question it because I might have only seen Raines twice a year in his prime. If Edgar Martinez meant something to you growing up in Seattle, I won’t mind if he makes it, even though I’m skeptical. Getting the second greatest Padre in next week will allow us to remove ourselves from the Hall of Fame conversation and exhale. If Hoffman gets into Cooperstown, I won’t need to care about explaining him further and there are no other Padres left to fight this fight for.
Deep down we feel sorry for our Hall of Famers in this city. We know they are champions, but San Diego Sports happened to them. There’s guilt involved that we all carry because of that. Trevor Hoffman was a great pitcher and we spent a significant amount of time being told he was a hall of famer while he was an active player. Living with the threat of that rug being pulled out from under us needs to be over. After all, we deserve to have a good experience with the Hall of Fame for a few years before Bruce Bochy goes in as a Giant.
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