This is the first in a series of four guest blogs on the former baseball stars who will participate in the American Century Golf Championship set for July 14-16 in Lake Tahoe. Josh Benaroya takes a look at Trevor Hoffman and baseball’s greatest relief pitchers.
By Josh Benaroya
There are just five relief pitchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and by 2019 there will likely be seven.
These additions will be the two closers who have recorded the most saves in the history of baseball. Former San Diego Padres star Trevor Hoffman is expected to garner enough votes for Cooperstown when he enters his third year on the HOF ballot in 2018 after he narrowly missed the 75% vote threshold by a mere five votes this past January. The following year, MLB’s greatest closer, the Yankees Mariano Rivera, should soar into Cooperstown his first year on the ballot. It is evident that this two-year stretch is lining up to be an outlier: only five relievers in the HOF demonstrates that the writers undervalue this important role.
“I certainly hope to [get voted in next year]…it was incredible just to garner the amount of votes that I did” said Hoffman on a conference call to discuss the American Century Golf tournament in which he will be participating with Pudge Rodriguez, Mark Mulder, John Smoltz and a bevy of sports stars in Lake Tahoe from July 14-16.
Hoffman was the first closer to reach both the 500 and 600 save milestones, finishing his 18-year career with 601 saves (#2 all time), seven All Star appearances, a pair of Reliever of the Year awards, and 1,133 strikeouts. His numbers speak for themselves, performing as well as one can in his role as a one-inning specialist.
Hoffman received 67% of the vote in 2016, and just missed entry into the HOF in 2017 with 74%. Naturally, the former Padres closer still longs to reach that magical 75% threshold from the voters.
“To have that validation in your career, to ultimately be enshrined, like Pudge (Rodriguez) and John (Smoltz) have been able to do, would be a dream come true,” added Hoffman as he discussed his participation in the upcoming American Century Golf tournament with the two Hall of Famers.
The American Century is a 54-hole tournament, now in its 28th year, is televised nationally by NBC and NBCSN, featuring a celebrity field of 90-plus sports and entertainment stars competing for $600,000 in prize money. The event, which has raised over $4 million for charity, has been held at picturesque Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course since its inception in 1990. Other prominent names at Lake Tahoe include Justin Timberlake, Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, John Elway, Travis Kelce, Steve Young, Emmitt Smith, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith, Marshall Faulk, Brian Kelly, Marvin Lewis, Roger Clemens, Jerry Rice, Charles Woodson, Larry the Cable Guy, Alfonso Ribeiro, Blair O’Neal and Paige Spiranac. (www.americancenturychampionship.com)
While history has shown that players who just miss usually wind up making it to Cooperstown the following year, the writers have shown to be strict and diligent in their voting, which has forced even the all-time closers to wait for that moment of induction. It’s a process.
Rollie Fingers (1992), with 341 career saves, was selected in his second year of eligibility, while it took Goose Gossage (2008) with 310 saves nine tries to make it to Cooperstown, despite a seemingly greater degree of difficulty in their role at the time.
The relievers of the past were asked to do more than they are now as both Fingers and Gossage pitched 1,700-1,800 innings, while Rivera and Hoffman pitched less than 1,300 innings in their careers. In addition, Fingers and Gossage both recorded 90 IP a collective 18 times, whereas Hoffman and Rivera combined to record 90 IP just twice.
In his 17-year career, Fingers was an MVP, a Cy Young award winner, a 7-time All Star, 3-time World Series Champion, World Series MVP and a 4-time Reliever of the Year. With almost 1,300 strikeouts and 341 saves, even Fingers was denied entry into the HOF during his first year. Gossage on the other hand, was forced to wait 9 years despite recording 9 All Star appearances, a World Series Championship, a Reliever of the Year award, 1,500 strikeouts and 310 saves.
While Rivera and Hoffman had the benefit of performing as one-inning specialists during their tenures, they redefined the closer role by putting up over 600 saves each while winning multiple Reliever of the Year awards. As was evident with Fingers and Gossage, the drastic difference in postseason success resulted in Fingers having an easier time being voted into the HOF. Similarly, Rivera’s enormous postseason success as a five-time World Champion should grant him induction in his first year on the ballot. If and when that does indeed happen, Hoffman will likely be waiting in Cooperstown to greet him, just as the two met when the Yankees defeated the Padres in the 1998 World Series.
Hoffman did not enjoy the same playoff proliferation as Rivera, but believes that rings or lack thereof should not define his career. “I loved playing in the city of San Diego. We had a fantastic team in ’98, I wish we would have been able to keep [the team together] for a couple more years. But it’s just part of the preparation of going out and trying to do your job. I certainly enjoyed the work and the process…I didn’t play worrying about regrets.”
Now that Hoffman’s relief pitching days are over, he has much more time to golf as he awaits the 2018 HOF ballot. “I definitely didn’t get enough golf time on the circuit, but it’s definitely a nice place to kind of relieve your mind of stress when you can” said Hoffman while discussing the American Century Golf tournament in which he will be participating with Mark Mulder, Pudge Rodriguez and John Smoltz.