For Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero, Wednesday’s Hall of Fame announcement was a mere formality. Thanks to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker, we’d seen the votes pour in for them over the last few weeks. In the end, all three surpassed the 75 percent needed for induction into the Hall of Fame by a comfortable margin.
For longtime San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, the wait was far more anxious. After falling just five votes short of election in 2017, the National League’s all-time saves leader again found himself in a precarious position. With nearly half the 422 ballots still unaccounted for, Hoffman entered Wednesday knowing that his fate could come down to a handful of votes again.
Then the phone rang, and all the frustration that was felt last year and the anxiety that had undoubtedly built up since, went away. This year, Hoffman was named on 79.8 percent of the ballots cast. This year, his heartbreak turned to triumph.
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) January 24, 2018
The raw emotions that come through on those Hall of Fame phone calls is something we never tire of seeing or hearing. They have an especially strong impact in situations like Hoffman’s, when that call from Hall of Fame representative provides the first confirmation that a player’s dream has come true.
Hoffman says the call caught him off guard. After last year’s disappointment, he didn’t know what this year would bring. With that in mind, he held it together pretty well. Still, his face wore all of the emotions that can only be held back for so long. At the same time, his family’s screams served as a collective sigh of relief and exclamation of pure joy now that he’d received baseball’s highest honor.
Those same screams were undoubtedly heard all throughout San Diego. Hoffman will become only the second Padres player to have a plaque in Cooperstown, along with the great Tony Gwynn. Many believe his induction is long overdue, but in some ways that might actually be fitting for a man who’s path to success in baseball wasn’t always smooth. For Hoffman to make it in baseball, it required a willingness to reinvent on his part. Just as important, it required the support, patience and wisdom of those who believed in him most.
Most have probably forgotten that Hoffman started as an undersized shortstop prospect who had to put on weight before teams would give him a second look. When the Reds finally did, his former minor league manager Jim Lett and pitching coach Mike Griffin eventually pushed him towards the pitcher’s mound.
They knew something Hoffman didn’t. At least not yet. But over the next 20 years he found it, constantly worked at it, and ultimately mastered it. In the process, he became one of the game’s most dominant and decorated relief pitchers, finishing his career with 601 saves.
Hoffman will be remembered most for his changeup, which kept hitters off balance even when they knew it was coming, and for his dramatic “Hell’s Bells” entrance before the ninth inning of games in San Diego. But his perseverance is every bit as impressive. Hoffman could have easily become one of the countless prospects who have faded into obscurity. Instead, he changed his course and made it impossible to be denied.
Like those who scouted him and even Hoffman himself, it took the Hall of Fame voters awhile to realize there was a place for him. Now that they have, Hoffman will make the most dramatic entrance of his career knowing that his legacy of fooling hitters and refusing to be denied will carry on forever.
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