keeps a ball from every game he saves, most of which are displayed on a wall in
his home north of San Diego. The Padres closer dates and numbers each ball, and
even scribbles notes on some if, say, a teammate earns his first career victory
or Hoffman's nephew serves as batboy that day. "They've become a journal of
sorts for me," Hoffman says of his collection, which, at week's end,
numbered 475. "The memorable moments from my career."
A special place
will have to be reserved for a moment that's coming soon. Through Sunday,
Hoffman needed only four saves to top Lee Smith's record of 478, a reachable
target by season's end given how well the Padres have played and Hoffman has
pitched in the second half. The 14-year veteran leads the National League in
saves (39) and has a 1.80 ERA. Barring injury, he will likely have his eighth
straight year with 40 or more saves, another record. "You get a player like
him maybe once," San Diego manager Bruce Bochy says.
With the Padres
locked in a tight race for both the NL West crown and the wild card, Hoffman
was loath to talk about making history during last weekend's four-game set
against the Dodgers. With some prodding he did say, "Statistically, the
save has been argued from every standpoint. There are different players and
different eras, so it's hard to quantify what it means to baseball [box,
right]. What I take from it is that I've been at this for a long, long
A generation of
San Diego fans has never known life without Hoffman, without AC/DC's Hells
Bells blasting as he emerges from the bullpen. He was acquired from the Florida
Marlins in 1993 for Gary Sheffield during an infamous Padres fire sale. He has
since become a Padres icon on par with Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, remaking
himself from a power pitcher into a changeup artist after having surgery on his
right shoulder in 1995.
off-season, however, the 38-year-old Hoffman was tempted to leave when the
Cleveland Indians offered him a free-agent contract worth $22.5 million over
three years. In addition to offering less money per year, the Padres would not
guarantee a third year, a stance that deeply stung Hoffman. Padres general
manager Kevin Towers didn't believe a pitcher approaching 40 was worth $8
million per, and he thought Hoffman's well-known desire to keep his family in
San Diego would be enough to discourage a move.
did decide to stay, but not until Padres CEO Sandy Alderson flew back to San
Diego from the winter meetings in Dallas last December to meet with him.
"Whatever the perception is that I don't want you, it's wrong,"
Alderson told him. The next day, Hoffman agreed to a contract for a guaranteed
$13 million but with an option for 2008 that could push the deal's worth to $19
"A lot of
guys' families have to go home when school starts [in the late summer], and
then they won't see their kids for months," Hoffman says. "That's not
something, fortunately, I have to worry about." It also helps that
Hoffman's brother, Glenn, is the team's third base coach, which contributes to
the homey vibe in the clubhouse at Petco Park.
relievers are particularly close, and Hoffman is their undisputed leader,
though he approaches the role with great humility. "I've just wanted to be
a good teammate," he says, "someone who is supportive of people, who
can give them a little grief when I can. But mainly it's just trying to be
someone who doesn't think he's above the game."
That same humility
is evident when he reveals the dirty little secret about the keepsakes from his
many saves. "There were games where a guy made his debut or got his first
win--bigger things than a save--so I gave them the ball from the final
out," Hoffman admits. "Some of the balls I have [on the wall] are just
ones I took from a bucket of used balls.
important to remember, it's just a ball."