COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – He began with a tribute to San Diego and by quoting another Padres icon. He closed with words of wisdom.
From start to finish, it was vintage Trevor Hoffman.
The San Diego great, whose stature is such that next month he will have a 15-foot-high statue of bronze erected at Petco Park, on Sunday was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hoffman is just the 226th player to make the Hall and the third to do so with his plaque depicting him in a Padres cap.
“Hello, Cooperstown,” Hoffman said, donning reading glasses as he took the dais in front of family, friends, former teammates and about 53,000 others spread out across the grassy field between the Clark Sports Center and a hilltop forest. “I hope you’re enjoying a little bit of San Diego weather today.”
Hoffman’s briskly delivered 10-minute speech featured the usual thank-yous and two moments in which he briefly choked up while speaking of his brothers and his wife. It was also part motivational speech and very much a tribute to where he played the vast majority of his career.
“Allow me to drop an ‘Oh Doctor’ on you!” Hoffman shouted near the outset.
He quickly explained, “You San Diego fans that made the long journey and those back at Petco Park, you get it – Jerry Coleman’s signature call.”
That prompted cheers from Padres fans in attendance, numbering a thousand or more and among the largest contingent of any fan base celebrating an inductee on Sunday. The group was possibly the most vociferous in its cheers, too, rivaling the droves from the Dominican Republic on hand to celebrate Vladimir Guerrero’s induction.
Former Braves slugger Chipper Jones, the first enshrinee to speak, paid tribute with brief remarks about each of his fellow inductees. Jones demonstrated an understanding of Hoffman’s importance in the city where he played.
“I hated facing you, bro,” Jones said. “Hated it. You had the most devastating change-up I’ve ever seen in my life. You’ve been a great ambassador for the city of San Diego and the game of baseball.”
Hoffman was among six inductees – along with San Diegan Alan Trammell, Guerrero, Jones, Jack Morris and Jim Thome – who spoke Sunday, with 51 Hall of Famers sitting behind them.
It was the largest gathering of Hall of Famers and the second-largest crowd to witness an induction ceremony, after the 82,000 who attended the enshrinement of Padres great Tony Gwynn and Orioles ironman Cal Ripken Jr. in 2007.
Hoffman compared the “butterflies” he felt to pitching in the World Series.
“It was a moment I would never forget,” he said afterward. “It’s hard to describe what it looks like from that perspective. … You’re pretty out there on an island.”
Hoffman’s bronze plaque was unveiled at a ceremony Sunday evening inside the Hall of Fame’s museum. At that time, the players with the interlocking “SD” on their caps in the plaque gallery will include just Dave Winfield, Gwynn and Hoffman.
Many of the Padres fans who attended this weekend said they did so mostly to pay tribute to Hoffman but also because they knew he would be the last Padres player enshrined for the foreseeable future.
After his full name – Trevor William Hoffman – and a listing of the three teams for which he played, his plaque’s inscription begins, “Master of a mystifying change-up. Became the first pitcher to reach the 500- and 600-save milestones.”
It goes on to list the seven All-Star appearances, the record nine times he saved at least 40 games in a season and that he saved at least 30 games in 14 of 15 seasons from 1995 through 2009.
His 601 career saves once were the most in history and today stand second behind Mariano Rivera, and he is one of just five relief pitchers to be enshrined. Three of them – Hoffman, Rich Gossage and Rollie Fingers – played for the Padres for a portion of their lengthy careers.
Hoffman’s time in San Diego was, by far, the longest of those.
His 16 years with the Padres, sandwiched by a half-season at the start with the Florida Marlins and two seasons at the end with the Milwaukee Brewers, make his tenure the second longest in franchise history behind Gwynn’s 20 seasons.
In his speech, which he acknowledged that he sped through to avoid being overcome with emotion, Hoffman paid tribute to “Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn” as well as former third base coach Rob Picciolo, third baseman Ken Caminiti and General Manager Kevin Towers, all deceased.
“We miss you all and lost you all too soon,” Hoffman said.
He recalled “Hells Bells.”
“You, the fans of San Diego, made it what it was,” he said of the AC/DC anthem that accompanied his jog from the bullpen beginning in the middle of the 1998 season and lasting until his career ended in 2010. “The enthusiasm and energy created from the second you heard the first bell as I stepped on the field made every home game amazing. No one could have envisioned an entrance song being so exciting.”
Among his San Diego tributes, Hoffman said: “Fifteen years in one spot, and that spot is San Diego. Jackpot!”
He also praised his many teammates in attendance, singling out Brad Ausmus and Andy Ashby and their wives, as well as former Padres manager Bruce Bochy, who took time off from his job managing the Giants to attend the ceremony.
Hoffman recalled former Padres owner John Moores and his family as treating players like family. He thanked Padres owner Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler for allowing him to remain in baseball, working with the team as an adviser.
“I love San Diego,” he said, “and I love being a Padre for life.”
Hoffman mentioned the Padres’ tradition of honoring the military, and the son of a Marine said, “Freedom isn’t free.”
He thanked his late father, Ed, who he said was smiling and smoking a cigar looking down, for instilling humility. To his mother, Mikki, who was in attendance, he attributed the lesson of anything worth doing being worth doing well.
Near the end, Hoffman thanked his wife, Tracy, and offered encouragement to their three sons, Brody, Quinn and Wyatt.
He closed with the words: “To achieve true success, there are no shortcuts.”
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