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Opinion

Hoffman makes a name for himself

Ben Brewster

September 28, 2006

On Sept. 24 San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman staked his place in history in a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record the save—it was the 479th of his career, passing Lee Smith and going into first place on the all-time list.

The game ball and Hoffman’s uniform are on their way to Cooperstown, N.Y., to go on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But the record raises the question of whether Hoffman himself will be entering the Hall of Fame when his career is over.

Smith is not in the Hall and has even less of a chance now that his record is broken.
There are other closers in the Hall, like Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley and last year’s inductee Bruce Sutter. Those guys were dominating in their prime, but didn’t last long enough to rack up save totals like Hoffman has. In the case of Fingers, Eckersley, and current closers such as Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne, they were converted into closers after being ineffective or injury prone as starters.

Rivera will almost certainly be a Hall of Famer, while Gagne has proved he doesn’t have the kind of longevity it will take to make it, missing part of last season and almost all of this season with injuries.

Closers typically have one unhittable dominating pitch, which they use one time through a lineup. Hitters then figure it out the second time through, which is why closers are ineffective at starting games. Rivera has his cut fastball, Hoffman has his change up, and Bruce Sutter had a split finger that pioneered the use of that pitch.

In Hall of Fame voting, the voters have generally been kinder to the closers who really dominated games, even if they didn’t have the longevity.

Lee Smith was durable and while he was very good, he wasn’t quite as lights-out as the others.

ESPN’s Buster Olney may have the best way to measure a closer’s greatness. He calls it the “Oh-Shit Meter,” named for what teams say when a particularly good closer comes into the game.

If there are rankings for the Oh-Shit Meter, Hoffman is definitely near the top, having been dominating and durable since getting the closer job for the Padres in 1994.

Now that he has the all-time saves record to his name, there should be no doubt in any of the voters’ minds that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. 

Ben Brewster is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2009.