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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arizona alumnus new king of saves

    Mike RitterStaff writer
    Mike Ritter
    Staff writer

    The bells were tolling in downtown San Diego at around 3:25 p.m. Sunday. It was about that time – “”Trevor Time”” as it is referred to in Southern California – that Trevor Hoffman entered the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in typical fashion.

    AC/DC’s “”Hells Bells”” was blaring throughout downtown San Diego as Hoffman trotted from the bullpen, with all of the Padre fans at PETCO Park on their feet singing along.

    But for Hoffman, who was an Arizona shortstop from 1987-89, the game was unlike any other in his career. With a successful save conversion, Hoffman would set the record for most all-time saves in baseball history, putting him in his own company among MLB relievers.

    After a perfect 1-2-3 ninth, Hoffman did just that, recording save No. 479 in his illustrious career, in the thick of a pennant race for the Padres, who swept the Pirates to keep them 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Hoffman, who usually shows very little emotion on the mound, tried hard to hold back tears after the accomplishment. There have been very few saves throughout Hoffman’s career that have triggered so much emotion for him – Sunday was different.

    After he got Pirates infielder and NL batting leader Freddy Sanchez to ground out to end the game, catcher Josh Bard was the first to congratulate him as he jumped in Hoffman’s arms.

    Soon after, his whole team poured out of the dugout and bullpen, including his older brother, third base coach Glenn Hoffman. When Glenn put his arms around him, the younger Hoffman broke into tears.

    With the exception of the few games that Hoffman was pitching during a clinching game, this one is arguably the biggest of his career and definitely one of the great things to add to the list of incredible Arizona Athletics accomplishments.

    There have been several extremely successful athletes who were products of the UA, but Hoffman may have just set the bar to what is marquee and what is not.

    The Wildcats have had everyone from Kenny Lofton, Jennie Finch, Tedy Bruschi, Gilbert Arenas, Terry Francona, Jim Furyk, and Annika SÇôrenstam – and, with the exception of SÇôrenstam, none of their post-collegiate careers can ever compare to Hoffman’s on an individual level.

    A shortstop recruit from Cypress, Calif., in 1986, the year Arizona last won a College World Series, Hoffman never thought in his wildest dreams he could become a pitcher, let alone one of such dominant caliber.

    After being such a successful college hitter, the success didn’t translate very well in the minor leagues. He posted a .321 batting average with 83 RBIs in his three-year career at Arizona and led the team with a .371 batting average his junior year.

    It usually helps for pitchers to be drafted if they have had a previous history of pitching, but for Hoffman, there was none. He had no pitching record at Arizona, none at his previous community college and none in high school.

    In fact, to find any pitching videos of Hoffman, you would have to find Little League footage of him.

    Trevor’s Times

    • 1987-89: Played for Arizona as a shortstop, hitting .321 with 83 RBI in three seasons
  • June 1989: Drafted in the 11th round (288th overall) by the Cincinnati Reds out of Arizona
  • April 6, 1993: Makes major league debut as a Marlin pitcher
  • July 1993: Traded to San Diego Padres for third baseman Gary Sheffield in a hugely unpopular fire sale move.
  • 1996: Set a career high in saves with 42, helping the Padres clinch the NL West
  • 1998: Set a new high in saves with 53, with a career-low one blown save and 1.48 ERA, leading the Padres to their second World Series appearance.
  • May 6, 2005: Becomes third player in MLB history to reach 400 saves.
  • Sept. 24, 2006: Passes Lee Smith for first all-time on MLB saves list.
  • Noteworthy: A five-time All-Star and 1998 Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. In 535 chances, 479 have been converted, for a conversion rate of 89.5 percent, the
    highest total of all-time.
  • Hoffman was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 11th round (288th overall) in 1989, and he found no success as an infielder. After about three years in the organization, one of his coaches decided to try him on the mound, and for Hoffman, it’s an understatement to say the switch has turned out pretty well.

    It took Hoffman only 14 years to surpass Lee Smith, who needed 18 seasons to record 478 saves.

    At age 38, when most pitchers tend to start wearing down, Hoffman is having one of the best seasons of his career, accumulating 43 saves with a week of baseball to play.

    His 1.95 ERA is also the second lowest of his career.

    Hoffman has only one previous season (1998) in which he had over 43 saves and had a better ERA, and in that season his 53 saves and 1.48 ERA led the Padres to the World Series.

    This season, Hoffman should also stand to receive several votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America for the Cy Young Award. There has been no dominant pitcher in the NL, and without Hoffman, the Padres might be in third place right now.

    When fans usually think of a lights-out reliever, they usually don’t immediately consider Hoffman, especially after he blew a rare save opportunity on national television to lose the All-Star game this season, but his underrated career statistics might finally get some much-needed attention.

    On top of setting the all-time saves record, Hoffman also holds the record for best save percentage in major league history and most 40-save seasons, and his value to Padres fans and baseball fans alike is untouched.

    Not bad for a former Arizona shortstop.

    Mike Ritter is journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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