Hoffman, 28, saved 20 games in 1994 and 31 last year despite pitching most of the season with a rotator-cuff tear in his right shoulder. Most pitchers would have opted for surgery, but Hoffman pitched through the pain—without complaint or alibi. He had surgery in the off-season, the pain is gone, and he's pitching as well as any closer in the league. He throws in the low 90's, with a tight curveball and a terrific changeup, which makes his fastball look as if it's going 110 mph. He learned the changeup last year because he didn't have his best fastball. "It was a good pitch last year," says catcher Brian Johnson. "This year, it's a weapon."
Even sweeter to Hoffman than the Padres' first-place standing is the news that his wife, Tracy, a former Buffalo Bills cheerleader, is expecting the couple's first child in August. "I proposed to her during the '93 Super Bowl," Hoffman says. "I was about 30 rows up in the stands. I held this [MARRY ME] sign up—she saw it, but she thought I was kidding. At the end of the third quarter I tried to get down to the field. The usher stopped me. I said, 'Dude, I'm going to propose to my girl.' I showed him the sign; he said, 'Right on, man.' I made it down to the field, got down on one knee and proposed. They got it all on the big screen. She was flabbergasted. The Bills got their butts kicked, but she wasn't too worried about that."
Do You Think I'm Sexy?
Some young players have the look of impending stardom. One to keep an eye on is A's third baseman Jason Giambi, who one day just might win a batting championship. At week's end he was hitting .323—helped by a 19-game hitting streak, the second longest in the majors this year, that ended on May 1. Even though he had only 54 big league games under his belt entering the season, he has displayed a terrific eye and the ability to make adjustments at the plate. A second-round pick out of Long Beach State in the 1992 draft, Giambi, 25, has hit wherever he has gone in the minors too, including .342 last season at Triple A Edmonton.
In the Arizona Fall League two years ago, Giambi became good friends with Michael Jordan, who was with the White Sox's club that also trained in the Phoenix area. They hung out after games and played a lot of basketball. "He'd always pick me to be on his team," Giambi said. "He wasn't going full speed, but he still wouldn't miss a shot. If we were ever losing, we'd throw it to him and just say, 'Score,' and he would."
What makes Giambi unique is his philosophy on hitting, which isn't straight out of the Charlie Lau school. He first delivered his theory to a group of teammates in a Chicago bar last year and recently expanded upon it in the visitors' clubhouse in Baltimore. "You've got to feel sexy at the plate," he says. "It has nothing to do with sex, though. It's a confidence thing. Baseball can be pretty boring over 162 games. You've got to have something to use to your advantage. So you have to think when you go to the plate that all eyes turn on you, like a beautiful woman who walks into a room. Barry Bonds has got that. He knows he's the best. You've got to have confidence in yourself—feel sexy at the plate."
National League umpire Bruce Froemming was out of line last week when he called a press conference to tear into Expos pitcher Jeff Fassero, who was off base the night before when he publicly criticized the work of Charlie Williams, a member of Froemming's crew. Among other things, Froemming said, "He's 3-5, making two-plus million dollars a season. He should concentrate on improving his record and let the umpires do their job." He went on to say, "This is typical sour grapes from a guy who is struggling and looking for an alibi." Sure, umps are entitled to feel unjustly criticized by players, but the game's integrity depends on the belief that every player will get fair and objective calls from the umpires. Froemming's personal attack on Fassero now raises questions about whether Fassero can get just that....
Reliever Lee Smith, who was traded last week from the Angels to the Reds, joins his seventh big league club and his fifth in the last four seasons. At week's end Smith had pitched in 955 games without appearing in a World Series. Only Lindy McDaniel (987 games from 1955 to '75) pitched in more without a World Series appearance. Don't look for Smith's streak to end this year, either.
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