Axford cherished time with Hoffman

Axford cherished time with Hoffman

Axford cherished time with Hoffman
MILWAUKEE -- John Axford only briefly saw Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader in top form. Axford was among Milwaukee's September callups in 2009, when Hoffman was putting the finishing touches on a 37-save season. By the time Axford returned to the Brewers last May, Hoffman was in trouble and it was up to Axford to take over as closer.

Still, Axford spoke with reverence Tuesday after learning that Hoffman had decided to retire after 18 Major League seasons.

"I spent some time looking at videos on MLB.com of Trevor's first save and then No. 100, 200, 300, 400, 479, 500 and even 600," said Axford, who was on hand for No. 600 in September. "I was thinking about him a little bit."

Axford remembered a fiery competitor and the leader of the Brewers' clubhouse. He also thought about "Camp Hoffman," the daily workouts for Brewers relievers organized by their elder statesman. Those workouts often took the bullpen corps outside Miller Park for cardiovascular work.

"I'm going to remember everything from my time with him," Axford said. "He's a fantastic teammate, a great person, and in all honesty, the things I'll remember most are the things that happened off the field. He treats you fantastically. He took the bullpen out to dinner when we were on the road, and he invited us over to his home when we were in Milwaukee. He treated you like a friend, and respected you like a friend.

"That's all he wanted back -- your respect. That's what I'll remember about him the most. I just sat there and tried to soak up his 18 years of wisdom."

It was clear this winter that Hoffman's tenure with the Brewers was over. He hoped to find an offer to close on the free-agent market, but didn't get it.

"I knew Trevor wanted the opportunity to keep closing, because that's what he's done his entire life," Axford said. "He wanted to put his heart and all of his effort into it."

Hoffman logged the final 47 of his record 601 saves in a Brewers uniform and represented the franchise at the 2009 All-Star Game. His '10 season was a struggle from the start, as Hoffman converted only five of his first 10 save chances and lost the job to Axford, a 27-year-old rookie.

Instead of sulking, Hoffman took Axford under his wing.

"I don't think it would have done anyone any good to show any bitterness toward the situation," Hoffman said in July. "I created this situation. He was just sitting at the corner of opportunity."

Axford seized the opportunity by converting 24 of 27 save chances. He'll be the Brewers' closer again in 2011.

Hoffman, meanwhile, will take a front office position with the Padres, for whom he pitched 16 seasons. The Padres are planning a news conference on Wednesday at PETCO Park to announce the retirement and Hoffman's new role.

Hoffman will finish with an all-time record 601 regular-season saves, 42 ahead of Yankees great Mariano Rivera who is in second place at 559. Hoffman turned 43 on Oct. 13.

"It's time to retire. It's time to move on," Hoffman told MLB.com on Tuesday. "This is more of a self-evaluation. I expect to pitch at a certain level and I had to be honest with myself that I wasn't certain I could maintain that anymore."

The decision means the Brewers won't reap a compensatory Draft pick for Hoffman signing with another team. The Brewers offered Hoffman arbitration in December with a gentleman's agreement in place that he would decline.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.