Trevor Hoffman was a failed shortstop but a Hall of Fame closer

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN JUNE 2007, Trevor Hoffman recorded save No. 500.

Seventeen years earlier, Hoffman was in his first season as a shortstop in the Reds’ system. After 103 games at Class A ball, “I had 35 errors, and I was barely hitting over the Mendoza Line [.200],” Hoffman said. “I knew I wasn’t going to knock Barry Larkin out of a job with the Reds.”

So at the suggestion of his manager, Jim Lett, Hoffman became a pitcher.

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He became a Hall of Famer, a top-five closer of all time. He was the first pitcher to save 500 games and the first to 600. His 601 career saves are second all time to Mariano Rivera — no one else has 500. When Hoffman pitched, his teams were 539 games over .500 — Rivera is the only other pitcher in history at least 500 games over .500 (785 over). Hoffman saved 40 games in a season nine times, a major league record. His ERA was 2.87. When he would come out of the Padres’ bullpen with “Hells Bells” playing, it was electrifying. With all that adrenaline, the first pitch he would usually throw was a changeup.

Hoffman was destined for a life in baseball, and entertainment. His father, Ed, an ex-Marine, was a singing usher for 15 years at Angel Stadium. “But none of us [the family] can carry a tune.” His mom, Mikki, was a ballerina from England. An older brother (by nine years), Glenn, was a shortstop for the Red Sox. Trevor would wear his brother’s spikes “even though they were 10 sizes too big” as he walked around the Boston clubhouse.

Trevor married Tracy, a Buffalo Bills cheerleader. At the end of the third quarter of the Super Bowl in 1993, Hoffman, who was 30 rows up in the stands, held up a sign that read: “Marry Me.” The security guy wouldn’t let him on the field until he said, “Dude, I’m going to propose to that girl.” He got on one knee. “That got it all on the big screen,” Hoffman said. “She was flabbergasted. The Bills got their butts kicked. She wasn’t too worried about that.”

Hoffman has always had that playful side. When he played for the Brewers (2009-10), he attended a charity auction in Milwaukee. “One item was a zero-turn rider lawn mower, in Brewer colors,” said Craig Counsell, then a teammate. “Typical Trevor. He stuffed the ballot box all with the tickets he bought so he was certain to win. When he won, he told us, ‘I don’t think I can get this thing up to 60 [mph] and drive it back to San Diego.’ So he gave it to the guy [Counsell] who lives in Milwaukee, has a lawn and likes to mow it.”

Hoffman worked harder and was in better shape than any other reliever I’ve seen. He and the other Brewers relievers would run long distances, as a group, to stay fit. “But [reliever] Todd Coffey, he’s a big guy, was having trouble keeping up,” Counsell said. “So Trevor put an exercise bike in the back of his pickup truck. Brian Anderson, one of our broadcasters, was driving by Miller Park one day and he saw the Brewers’ relievers running the streets, and next to them, a pickup truck with Todd, in the back, riding the exercise bike. That way, he was a part of the team, a part of the pen, and didn’t have to run.”

Other baseball notes for June 6

  • In 1941, Rip Sewell tied a major league record (done five times previously) for most assists in a game by a pitcher with 11.

  • In 2017, the Reds’ Scooter Gennett hit four home runs in a 13-1 victory over the Cardinals. In that game, Gennett’s season homer total went from three to seven, and his RBIs went from 10 to 20.

  • In 1990, Anthony Rendon was born. He is such a good hitter. I once asked then-Nationals manager Dusty Baker what made Rendon so good at the plate. “Those hands,” he said. “Oh, those hands.”

  • In 1943, outfielder Merv Rettenmund was born. He had a great eye at the plate and a very good walk rate. “That’s no surprise,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Chuck Thompson said on the air. “He went to Ball State.”