HOF 2018: Thanks to a Change, Trevor Hoffman Pitches His Way to Cooperstown
(Editor's note: Trevor Hoffman will join Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Jack Morris and Alan Trammel will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 29. InsideTheSeams.com will take a look at the career of each of them over the next six days. Today: Trevor Hoffman).
Trevor Hoffman was 12 years old. His Little League season had just ended. And his father Ed, best known around Anaheim Stadium as The Singing Usher for his renditions of the National Anthem, decided it was time to put Trevor’s pitching career on hold.
Trevor was the youngest of the three Hoffman boys, and father Ed was leery of the way coaches at the higher levels used pitchers so he figured Trevor was better off as a shortstop.
The decision served Trevor well. He had a good enough high school career that he was given a chance to continue his baseball career first at the junior college level, and then for the University of Arizona, which led to him being an 11th-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Reds in the 1989 June draft.
And now, 38 years later? Well, after his first full season in the minor leagues, the scatter-armed shortstop who struggled to hit .212 in his first 103 minor-league games, committing 25 errors along the way, finds himself headed to Cooperstown, N.Y., this weekend.
Hoffman is one of six retired players who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Also being inducted are Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.
Hoffman embraced the position change.
“You have to be a good self-evaluator,” said Hoffman. “I felt if I was going to get the opportunity to go to the mound I was going to be prepared, having a fresh arm due to Dad’s wisdom and not pitching after Little League.”
It’s been quite a journey from those Little League fields in Anaheim, Ca., to Cooperstown, where he will join Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Hoyt Wilhelm as the only Hall of Famers who were primarily relievers.
While it wasn’t until his third year on the ballot that the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America gave the support he needed for enshrinement, his name appearing on 79.9 percent of the ballots cast. A player must be listed on at least 75 percent of the ballots to be inducted.
Here is the punch-line.
Jim Lett, the minor-league manager who suggested the move to the mound, figured with an arm that consistently hit 97 miles per hour, Hoffman could be an impact pitcher in the big leagues.
Hoffman’s calling card to the Hall of Fame? A change-up, the pitcher he learned after off-season surgery after his second big-league season, 1994, and taught to him by Padres bullpen partner Donnie Elliott.
And there’s more. Elliott had refined the change-up in his minor-league days because he had trouble with left-handed hitters, particularly a Cleveland prospect named . . . Thome. ... Jim Thome.
Pitching for the Braves Triple-A affiliate in 1993, Elliott learned a lesson the hard way courtesy of Thome, an Indians’ prospect at the time.
“I couldn’t get him out with my fastball or slider,” Elliott has since explained. “I threw him a change-up that drifted into his wheelhouse and he just tattooed it.”
That sent Elliott in search of finding a more effective way to grip a change-up. And it was that grip, the one that makes the change-up tail away from a left-handed hitter, which he taught Hoffman.
Hoffman learned that lesson well, and made some adjustments of his own that led to him having a change-up that had a velocity variation from his fastball of as much as 17 miles per hour.
It became a calling card in a career which saw him retire with the highest strikeouts/nine-innings ratio for a relief pitcher, second highest career save total in MLB history, and fifth lowest career ERA for a reliever. It allowed him to earn seven All-Star Game selections. It led Major League Baseball to declare the annual National League relief award would be the Trevor Hoffman Award.
Not bad for a bad-hit, errant-armed Class A shortstop, who the Reds doubted enough that they exposed him to the expansion draft after the 1992 season, where the Marlins made him the eighth player selected. His good fortune came in the midst of that rookie season of 1993 when he was part of the package the Marlins sent to the Padres to acquire Gary Sheffield.
Hoffman did spend the final two years of his 18-year big-league career in Milwaukee, but it was during those 15 ½ seasons in San Diego that he earned his Hall of Fame moment for both the pitcher he was and the person he still is.
“I don’t think he knows what anything less than 100 per cent is,” said Bruce Bochy, who managed Hoffman in San Diego for 12 seasons (1995-2006). “And that extends to everything he does.”
The Hoffman Files