SAN DIEGO â€” Well, Hells Bells, Trevor Hoffman didn’t make baseball’s Hall of Fame for the second straight season.
This time, it was agonizingly close.
The former closer with the menacing glare, high leg kick and wicked changeup fell five votes short of enshrinement when balloting was announced Wednesday.
In his second year on the ballot, Hoffman received 327 votes, appearing on 74 per cent of the ballots and just shy of the 75 per cent needed to get a plaque in Cooperstown. Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were voted in.
“You hope that’s not your peak,” Hoffman said in a telephone interview from his home in suburban San Diego. “You hope there’s a little more in the tank, really, from some of the writers that didn’t vote for you. To get so close is tantalizing, but it’s that oh-so-close-but-oh-so-far-away scenario.”
Hoffman, who spent the bulk of his career with the Padres, received 67.3 per cent of the vote in his first year on the ballot, giving him hope that he might get in this year.
He said he’d occasionally check a popular online vote tracker run by Ryan Thibodaux of Oakland and saw that of 274 ballots made public, he gained 30 votes from returning voters but lost eight.
“To lose eight from last year to this year would have been the difference,” he said. “You hope the younger-trending voters don’t hurt you. I don’t think I got huge support from the younger guys. It’s a bit disturbing but, again, I can’t go out and get another save or do anything to change whatever I’ve done. That’s how the ebbs and flows go. You hope it corrects next year.”
Hoffman is pragmatic.
“I’d rather be sitting where I am rather than sitting on 50 per cent wondering which way I’ll go,” he said. “I’m certainly not disgruntled or upset by any means. I’m ecstatic I moved up almost 7 per cent.”
The city of San Diego could have used a shot of good news. The NFL’s Chargers announced six days earlier they are leaving for Los Angeles after 56 seasons in San Diego, leaving a massive hole in the city’s psyche and sports history.
Last year, Hoffman played golf in the hours prior to the announcement. This year he got a haircut and picked up dry-cleaning.
“I tried to keep it as normal as possible for what could have transpired,” Hoffman said. “For what has gone on over the last week, heck, back to when I got here, the support I’ve gotten in San Diego and the people that have wished you well on the ballot, from the really tough times in San Diego, with what has gone on with the football team, or lack thereof, it was amazing to get support around town.”
Hoffman had his first two career saves with Florida as a rookie in 1993 before he was acquired during the Padres’ infamous fire sale. After a rough start, he eventually became the closer, and his save opportunities became an event. Starting during the 1998 season, Hoffman entered from the bullpen accompanied by the brooding opening riff of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells.”
Hoffman became baseball’s career saves leader on Sept. 24, 2006, when he recorded No. 479 to pass Lee Smith. He spent his final two seasons with Milwaukee, retiring after the 2010 season with 601 saves. He was passed by Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, who retired after the 2013 season with 652.
Rivera won’t be on the ballot for another two years.
As it became clear he wasn’t going to get that special phone call Wednesday afternoon, Hoffman was a bit disappointed.
“It was like sitting around hoping to be asked to dance and it didn’t happen,” he said. “You’ve kind of got to put your ego in check a little bit and take the high ground and be appreciative of being able to be part of the process.”
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Bernie Wilson, The Associated Press