Retiring Number 51

The Padres will retire Trevor Hoffman’s number 51 before Sunday afternoon’s game against the Florida Marlins, Hoffman’s first big-league team. To prepare for this momentous occasion, I thought it might be fun to revisit some past articles about the man here at Ducksnorts.

We’ll skip our celebrations of his 300th and 500th saves, which consisted solely of photos that are on some disconnected server in Australia. (My photos of Hoffman’s record-breaking 479th save are available at Flickr.) Instead, we’ll borrow from two different articles, one from nearly a decade ago and the other from earlier this year.

December 4, 2002

In light of the current Heath Bell situation, this is kind of eerie:

With the retirement of Tony Gwynn, Hoffman is the senior Padre player. He’s well respected and liked by teammates, the media, and fans alike. He’s a solid member of the community. Basically, he’s everything Gwynn was, on a smaller scale (no pun intended). And like Gwynn, he holds several Padre records. Heck, he holds the big-league record for saves with one team. Hoffman is a cultural icon here in San Diego.

So, what’s the problem?

The Padres are blowing a quarter of their payroll on a guy who works 60 innings a year. As much as it pains me to admit this, because Hoffman is one of my favorite players in the game right now, I’m not sure that’s a wise way for an organization that refers to itself as “small market” to be allocating its resources. Hoffy has done a great deal for the city and the ballclub, and he seems like a heckuva good guy. But he isn’t young, and he isn’t cheap. And on a team that constantly cries “small market” that’s not a winning combination.

Please don’t send me hate mail (oh, go ahead if it makes you feel better); I’m just reporting the facts. No, I don’t have a solution. The very thing that makes Hoffman a problem (his contract) also makes it difficult to fix that problem. What team can afford to take on 9+ million bucks for a 35-year-old pitcher who appeared in just over 4% of his team’s innings last year?

I don’t know what the Padres can do. They can’t trade him because of his salary, and even if they could it would be a PR nightmare. People were upset that Euguene freakin’ Kingsale was run out of town and he was a spare outfielder who added little value and who only spent half a season here. Hoffman’s pitched over 600 games for the Pads and, as mentioned before, he’s almost universally loved in San Diego.

I guess the only two possibilities I can think of right now are: a) ask Hoffman to renegotiate his contract and take a pay cut (you know, like they always do with schoolteachers) or b) get John Moores or someone more willing/able to commit the money needed to build a team to pony up the cash for free agents and not use Hoffman’s contract as an excuse for making Jesse Orosco your biggest off-season acquisition.

There are also a few anagrams for Hoffman’s name at the end. My favorite is “Fat Vern from OH,” although upon further review, I’m not sure why “Farm Oven Froth” didn’t make the original list.

January 11, 2011

This one came shortly after Hoffman announced his retirement and includes links to a bunch of other stuff I wrote about him over the years. Here are a few snippets:

Several years ago, Hoffman spoke at a company event where I used to work. It was a picnic type of thing, and folks brought their families. Hoffman got up on stage, said a few words about the importance of hard work, then fielded questions from the audience. He answered maybe 10-15 kids before leaving the stage. Then he and his wife hung out for another half our or so while he signed autographs and answered more questions. Eventually he left because, well, the Padres were playing a game that night and he had to get ready.

* * *

A friend and I drove out to Peoria for spring training, I’m thinking 2006 or 2007. Toward the end of an exhibition game, three boys with blond hair and no. 51 jerseys on their back started warming up in the Padres bullpen. Hoffman’s kids were loosening up, just in case. I’m still thinking about that moment years later; I can’t imagine they’ll ever forget it.

* * *

I don’t get this feeling often at sporting events (or anywhere, for that matter), but whenever “Hells Bells” boomed through Qualcomm Stadium or Petco Park, I felt like we were all in this thing together. At the risk of sounding sappy, Trevor Time brought San Diegans together in a way that few things other than, say, wildfires do.

I am honored and privileged to have experienced the phenomenon firsthand. If I had children of my own, it is the sort of thing I would tell them about as an example of what is good in the world, to give them hope for a little while until they discover for themselves that such moments of connectedness are fleeting.

Sporting events in San Diego often feel more like a trip to the beach with uniforms and the occasional tired Anchorman reference from out-of-towners, but Trevor Time was different. It was raw, it was beautiful, and it was ours. If you were there, you know what I mean. If you weren’t, I’m sorry you missed it. I’ve never seen anything like it in San Diego, and I doubt I will again.

Well, I was wrong. We got to see it once more on Opening Day and we’ll see it again on Sunday. Thank you, Trevor Hoffman, for everything. Your pal, San Diego.

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10 Responses »

  1. I will definitely be making the 2-hour drive to San Diego for this. I wouldn’t miss it for anything (my 8-month-old son’s name IS Trevor, after all). And I’ll be there in 5 years when he gets enshrined next to Tony.

    I fully expect to shed some tears as Hells Bells plays for the last time. It saddens me th