For a while in college, I was in a band that wanted to sound like AC/DC. Our goal was to play somewhat decently even if the entire band was very drunk. The founding members of AC/DC might have had the same alcohol-fueled idea in mind when they formed their band in the early ‘70s. Easy tunes you can play buzzed, let Angus solo for 20 minutes, everyone grooves, collect your check. (Trust me when I tell you, hugely successful bands are built on these sorts of ideas all the time.) AC/DC songs, aside from the face-melting guitar solos, aren’t awfully hard to play. If you’ve ever played three fuzzy power chords on an electric guitar in any sort of repeating sequence, you’ve probably played an AC/DC song. Even if AC/DC songs are all unpretentious sing-a-longs, they do have a boatload of bangers, including:
Highway to Hell
You Shook Me All Night Long
Back in Black
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
For Those About to Rock
And, of course, Hell’s Bells
You can probably sing the hook to all the above songs in your head; you probably started to at least once or twice while reading the list. But the rub with AC/DC is that no one would pick them as the best band ever. No would even pick them as the best band of their era. AC/DC occupy an interesting spot in rock and roll history: they are one of the most recognizable, best-selling, iconic bands of all time, yet there is also a consensus that they aren’t the best.
If Trevor Hoffman was a band, he’d be AC/DC. He’s not Metallica, or Guns and Roses, or lord help us, Ted Nugent. He’s AC emen effen DC, and you know what? I’ll take that any day of the week. Hoffman racked up 601 saves. That’s the second most right behind Mariano “Enter Sandman” Rivera. Trevor had a few stand-out seasons, but never anything like Eric “Welcome to the Jungle” Gagne. That’s fine. He doesn’t need to be Mariano’s Metallica or Eric Gagne’s Guns and Roses, because he’s AC/DC and AC/DC is awesome. Don’t believe me? Watch Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, introduce AC/DC into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. He’ll convince you.
It’s easy to point at other closers and say, “Well, Hoffman didn’t get as many as Rivera,” or “He never had anything like Gagne’s streak.” It’s also easy to point at AC/DC and say, “They’re not as good as Metallica,” or “They never had an album as good as Appetite for Destruction.” That might be true, but AC/DC is still one of the greatest of all time. Saying, “Metallica is better than AC/DC” doesn’t make AC/DC any less of a great band, it just makes them not Metallica. Likewise, pointing at Rivera say and saying, “Hoffman isn’t as good,” doesn’t diminish Hoffman’s greatness. Both were great closers in their own right. Imagine climbing K2, the world’s second tallest peak, and having people tell you it’s bullshit because it’s not Everest.
The save, as a stat, is much maligned. Today’s Sabermetric world features a Swiss Army bullpen, making closers and the save less valuable. The save isn’t the hardest stat to get; one can pitch poorly and still get a save, and if you’re not doing it in a high leverage post-season play, what does it really matter? I’m not going to defend the save as a stat, but it’s still quite an accomplishment to get 601 of them. Likewise, AC/DC songs aren’t hard to write, not that hard to play, and if you can do a reasonable job playing them in bars, VFW posts, and keggers after drinking 40oz bottles of Steel Reserve, how much skill is really needed to pull them off? But look again at all those songs listed above. Having a hit parade like that is still accomplishment even if the songs are similar and easy.
Hoffman racked up saves the way AC/DC racked up radio hits: consistently and over a long period of time. People complain that they didn’t really matter, that they were easy to accomplish, that they got by on name recognition, and they were never the GOAT. Sure, shout into the wind. But, imagine yourself sipping a cold beer from a bottle at a dusty bar anywhere in the world. Hell’s Bells comes on the juke box. This is AC/DC time. It’s right. It feels right. No one complains when it’s AC/DC time. Now imagine it’s 2006 and the Padres are holding the lead heading into the ninth. Hell’s Bells erupts over Petco Park. It’s Trevor’s time, and no one complained when it was Trevor’s time.