COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. >> Rarely rattled on the mound as one of baseball’s great closers, Trevor Hoffman almost seemed as if he was still pitching.
After touring the Baseball Hall of Fame today, Hoffman said he was humbled to think that he’s one of the newest members of a very special fraternity, but as usual he kept his emotions in check.
No tears now, maybe later.
“Today, I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to impact myself emotionally, being here and seeing all the different artifacts and displays,” Hoffman said. “It’s awe-inspiring. These are pillars of the game, iconic figures. It’s hard to really put your mind around. They become somewhat alive when you come here.
“It’s a very moving experience, it’s a very overwhelming time. I feel like a little kid being able to share it with so many people.”
Hoffman was picked in his third year on the ballot. He received 79.9 percent of the vote announced in January after missing by only five votes last year. He will be enshrined July 29 with Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, and Vladimir Guerrero, who also were elected this year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were selected in December by a veterans committee and also will be inducted.
Hoffman became the sixth pitcher who served mostly as a reliever to make the Hall of Fame, joining Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm. No surprise that Hoffman stopped at each of their plaques and read them as he made his way through the alcoves of the Plaque Gallery.
“To see their careers, see stuff jump off the page at you, what they were able to accomplish, their standing in the game, to go in and be part of a small class, an elite class, it’s hard to describe in just a few words to let you know just how special a day this has been,” said Hoffman, who was accompanied by his wife Tracy. “A relief class to be a part of, I’m excited about being a part of it, for sure.”
Hoffman, a right-hander who played the bulk of his career with the San Diego Padres before finishing with the Milwaukee Brewers, relied on a stultifying changeup to record 601 saves over 18 seasons , second to former Yankees star Mariano Rivera’s 652.
Not bad for a guy who started his baseball life as a shortstop.
“I think it gives hope to a lot of people out there that might feel they’re not as great of a hitter as Ken Griffey Jr. or can’t run things down like Willie Mays, maybe there isn’t a place for me in the game,” Hoffman said. “I think my journey might give you hope that in the game of baseball, there’s never any guarantees. There’s always a path if you’re willing to kind of work at it.
“I didn’t set out to ultimately be here one day. It was just — enjoy the game and give it my best effort. My path was a little bit of a different path.”
On every Hall of Fame tour, electees are taken to the so-called dungeon, where they’re allowed to handle artifacts that aren’t on display upstairs. Items such as bats that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig once wielded, or “Big Bertha,” the oversized mitt that Baltimore Orioles catchers used in the early 1960s when the knuckleball-throwing Wilhelm was on the mound.
“Who gets to do that?” Hoffman marveled. “Ridiculous!”
Hoffman’s plaque will hang at the opposite end of the gallery from the bronze likeness of Cy Young, who had 749 complete games in his remarkable Hall of Fame career. Consider it sort of a symbolic testament to the evolution of the game.
“I think if you ask any current managers, managers that have had the opportunity to have a guy that can anchor down the back end of their bullpen and provide continuity and allow them some comfort as they move toward the end of the ballgame, that there’s been a guy that’s been pretty consistent doing his job and role, they’d take that all day long,” Hoffman said. “You’re only going to be able to tweak things so much. Certainly, the closer’s vital to the game.”