Q&A: Hoffman entertains, answers multitude of questions at media day
Trevor Hoffman, an 18-year veteran reliever, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this summer. He retired with 601 saves, a mark later broken by Mariano Rivera. He had 12 seasons with at least 37 saves and 13 seasons with an ERA of less than 3.00. He was runner-up for the Cy Young Award and led the majors in saves in 1998 and 2006. On Tuesday, he visited with the media, which included phone-ins from all over the country, at Media Day for the 29th annual American Century Championships.
Q: What does 600 saves mean to you? It’s only been done twice, by Mariano (Rivera) and you. And does it seem like 20 years since you’ve been in the World Series?
Hoffman: It’s unbelievable 20 years has gone by that fast. It really has. I guess 600 is a battle of attrition more than anything, stay healthy long enough and being put in situations that you can kind of accrue those numbers.
We’re starting to see a little bit of a change in the way relievers are used these days. Our guy down in San Diego, Brad Hand, is coming into a couple of ball games where the meat of the order has happened in the eighth.
I think me and (former San Diego Padres boss now San Francisco Giants head coach Bruce Bochy) ‘Boche’ might have had some tumbles going around if that would have happened. I think reliance on some of the other guys in the pen is something that’s pretty special, too.
But I just think that it’s great to come up here. It’s great to mingle with a lot of other great athletes that are part of this tournament.
Q: Tougher task, Barry Bonds, two on, two out in the bottom of the eighth, do you throw that slider, or 18 having to hit the green in two with the tournament on the line?
Hoffman: I think what’s really the hardest is the 150-yard shot on 17 with 100,000 people, seems like, in the water looking at you. Just try and keep your head down and hit it straight and try not to be short or long.
Barry was definitely a fearsome competitor in the batter’s box as well as everybody else. But you felt comfortable doing something you were pretty good at. Swinging a golf club isn’t quite at the top of my list of being very adept at. So sometimes a little fear factor comes in.
It was interesting, a couple years ago on 18, you talked about the second shot … I happened to go hard right into the fans and a lady was kind enough to use her soccer skills to push it back into the fairway so I could have a birdie attempt. But we had to put an ice bag on her head after that. (Laughter) Be careful out there. That might give you why 60 to 1 odds are on me. Maybe I’m closer to Charles (Barkley).
Q: With so many high spots in your career, so many achievements, are there a couple of moments that maybe stood out because of drama or because of the fact that you’re able to triumph under really harrowing circumstances?
Hoffman: There’s a couple that have stood out over time. I think anytime you’re talking about individual accomplishments, to me they pale in comparison to the bigger picture, and that is something to do with the team. So to kind of correlate passing Lee Smith at 479, was done at home after tying it the night before. We had a day game against Pittsburgh on Sunday, in a pennant race late in September. To be able to accomplish a personal goal but also being the concept of pushing towards a division title really was kind of the culmination of two great events. From a professional standpoint that was great.
Two years ago, what’s today — today is somewhere in the middle of the week. Two years ago today on Saturday, it’s the two year anniversary of my boys playing together on a high school baseball field for the culmination of a CIF title that they were able to accomplish. And so as a proud dad sitting in the stands had no ability to do anything about it — which I’m kind of a power guy, I like to be involved in everything, and couldn’t do it — it brought back a lot of fond memories thinking about your kids being able to be successful in something as well.
Q: Can you talk about the changing role of the relief pitcher?
Hoffman: It has been a lot of change. We saw Sergio Romo starting a ballgame in Anaheim not too long ago. I thought that was interesting. I know Goose (Gossage, Hall of Famer for the Yankees) has been pretty outspoken on ‘don’t compare me to the younger, newer version of closers.’ And I understand that. And he certainly paved the way for all of us.
But I kind of had the opportunity to follow what Tony (LaRussa) wanted to do with Dennis (Eckersley) in Oakland. And Boche decided to use me in a similar way, where we were able to get out there more than one or two times a week based off of uses.
Fortunately I had a lot of great setup men throughout my career and allowed me to sit back in that driver’s seat in the ninth and get things done.
Q: With all you’ve accomplished through probably many that would aspire to try and be like you, when you were growing up who were your role models?
Hoffman: It started in the household. Really came down to what mom and dad provided for us. My dad being a Marine, served our country in World War II. My mother grew up in England, lived through the buzz bombs from Germany in northern England and came over here to raise a family. And getting a chance to see how they went about their business and being very humble and providing for their family, and having two older brothers, nine years older and 13 years older and pretty successful in their own right in their careers, just kind of gave me a basis of what to go off of and what you wanted to stand for and hard work was a non-substitute. I was pretty lucky to have some great role models in the household.
Q: You were a closer all of your career. Did you ever have a desire to be a starter or play a different role, or were you just happy to be a closer?
Hoffman: It was hard. There was nothing better than being yesterday’s winning pitcher because then you had four days to gloat about it and walk around like you were all that. But there’s something to be said for being able to show up to the yard and know that you had a chance to play every day. I stopped pitching at age 12; my dad said we don’t want to run you into an overzealous coach and burn out your arm. We’re going to see what you can do as an infielder.
And it took me a couple years into pro ball until they decided I couldn’t hit anymore. Let’s use that arm on the mound. I had a chance to kind of start for a year in the minor leagues just to try to figure out how to throw certain things and develop pitches. But I certainly gravitated to the pen. That was something that fit my personality.
Q: Give us your top three relievers today?
Hoffman: You’ve got to start with Craig Kimbrel in Boston. I think what he’s starting to do in his career, passing the 300 mark in saves. But the number of strikeouts he gets per nine is pretty intimidating, pretty amazing.
Kenley Jansen up in Los Angeles has had a pretty nice run, won the Trevor Hoffman Award the last two years. (Laughter)
And then I’m going to go with Brad Hand in San Diego. I think he’s completely been underrated and flown under the radar, which most guys do in San Diego, because honestly I’ve got a son going to school in the East Coast, and I tried to watch the Padres a couple of weeks ago. And it doesn’t start until 10 p.m. I’m falling asleep during the third inning let alone watching what someone is doing in the ninth inning. Brad has been an amazing addition to our ball club, not only getting the saves that he’s been getting the opportunity to, but mixing and matching, a lot of punchouts. (He’s) One of the better lefties in the game. Hopefully we don’t lose him to somebody needing a little help in their bullpen.
Q: What’s your take on (Shohei) Otani, by the way?
Hoffman: I wish we would have gotten him. We were one of the six teams that had a shot at him. I was actually part of the presentation for Shohei. I had a chance to meet Shohei two years ago because they used our facility in Peoria, Arizona. And really solid gentleman, very down to earth and quiet.
But when we presented to him, we held nothing back. Our general manager walked in and memorized/rehearsed a five minute introduction in Japanese to Shohei. And he did it so well that Shohei returned dialogue back to him in Japanese. And he had to go, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese; I just memorized that.’
It’s cool that it actually broke the ice. Then we brought waves of people in to say hello and describe our organization a bit, from Hideo Nomo and Mr. O’Malley were kind of our trump card. And talk about holding court; when Mr. O’Malley walks in the room, it was something pretty special for everybody to behold.
Q: You watch pitchers on TV. Do you ever text advice to them or call them with any advice?
Hoffman: I won’t, I’d rather do it personally. I have fat thumbs, so it takes me a while to get what I need out on a text. If I do see some things, I think it’s part of — one of my roles in San Diego has been able to talk to the guys about things I might see and things that I’ve gone through and potential helping points, we’ll say.
And that’s kind of rewarding. I enjoy that part of it to be able to sit down and talk with the guys. In the next week or so after the draft is going on, because we’re going on with the amateur draft right now, we’re going to have a mini camp in Peoria, where we held spring training, and we’ll have all the kids who signed, some 20, 25 of them. They’re going to bright eyed, ready to get their careers going. And it’s going to be a time where we kind of pull the reins back and say, relax, take a deep breath. Yes, you’re a pro, but these are some things you’ll learn that you didn’t think about before.
Q: Your first reaction when you came up here, because of the higher elevation, when you hit the ball at the driving range, did you go, ‘Damn, I’m good, I can’t believe how high this ball is going and will it ever drop?’
Hoffman: I stuck my chest out a little bit going I wish I could do that at sea level and my boys would just say, relax, dad. You’re getting a 10 percent effect up here, so let’s figure this out
Q: Does it factor when you’re playing?
Hoffman: It’s hard to trust what the number is and what you need to hit it at based off that little extra kick. When you guys go out there today and play, understand there’s that little 10 percent that’s in your club that you’re not used to if you’ve been playing at sea level.
Q: Was it a factor throwing the baseball?
Hoffman: The factor, obviously the ball will travel and stay in the air a little bit longer at elevation, but more than anything I noticed in Denver when a ball’s trajectory started going in that particular space, it continued in that space. More often than not when you pulled down the seams, wherever your release point was you kind of get this natural tail when you long toss. In Denver if you threw and it started in that direction it kind of kept going in that direction. It didn’t have as much of the fade.
So they always talked about guys that would spin the baseball, curveballs wouldn’t get as much break. If you were a true guy that had a good curveball it still broke. That was the one thing I noticed different about pitching at elevation.
Q: All great closers have an out pitch. I remember (Bruce) Sutter having the great split finger, and (Aroldis) Chapman throws 103. You were unique in that your changeup was one of your best out pitches, right? What percentage of your strikeouts came with the changeup, and how did you develop that?
Hoffman: I’m not too much of an analytical guy. I couldn’t give you a specific number, but it’s not terribly smart to go out with an out pitch at 75 miles an hour. So you’re not intimidating anybody. The only thing you’re going to play off of is nobody wants to get embarrassed. If I can get ahead early, which for me strike one was imperative, and more often than not it was through a fastball, but if I could get to the point where I had guys guessing, it wasn’t side to side or up and down for me; it was front and back to work that strike zone.
I relied a little bit on the fact that I was a hitter, albeit not very good, but I knew that it’s not easy to hit and so don’t give away too much credit to the guy that would step in. And enjoyed that competition, one on one competition, read hitters and read foul balls and their swings and trusted my catcher back there. So I enjoyed getting to the point where I could throw a changeup but it was a little nerve racking looking at a Barry Bonds knowing you had to get him out with a 75 mile an hour pitch.