Hoffman has Hall of Fame credentials

Padres great was first closer to reach 500, 600 saves

Hoffman has Hall of Fame credentials

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Trevor Hoffman is an iconic figure around these parts.

Mention "Hells Bells" to a San Diegan and the first thing that comes to mind is not AC/DC.

It is the memory of Trevor Hoffman, trotting in from the bullpen to do what he did best -- close out Padres wins.

But Hoffman was far more than a closer. After the retirement of Tony Gwynn, Hoffman was the face of the Padres. Fans used to go to games at Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park waiting for the first chime of "Hells Bells" and the sight of Hoffman coming through the bullpen door.

Hoffman was synonymous with a Padres win. When Hoffman answered the call in the Padres bullpen, a win was almost sure to follow.

Now Hoffman is awaiting another call -- from Cooperstown, N.Y., and baseball's Hall of Fame. It's not a matter of if ... it's a question of when.

This is Hoffman's second year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the Hall of Fame. Last year, Hoffman was named on 67.3 percent of the ballots. It takes 75 percent to be elected to the Hall of Fame. No one with 67.3 percent on the first ballot has ever failed to be inducted into baseball's national shrine.

The ballots for this year's Hall of Fame vote were mailed last week. The deadline for voting is Dec. 31. The results will be announced Jan. 18.

Seldom in recent times has there been a deeper ballot. You can make solid arguments for 15 players on this ballot to be considered for the Hall of Fame. Individual voters can vote for 10 of the 34 nominees. Players can remain on the ballot for a decade as long as they continue to get 5 percent of the annual vote.

Today, as Hall of Fame voting begins, we're starting an eight-piece look at Hoffman's career as well as Trevor Hoffman the person, teammate and civic leader. For as great as he was in baseball, Hoffman was as good a man off the field.

"Best teammate you could ever have" is how former Padres catcher and now Detroit manager Brad Ausmus described Hoffman.

"Totally dedicated to everything he touched," said former Padres general manager Kevin Towers.

"I'm in awe of what he does and how he does it," said another Padres Hall of Famer, "Mr. Padre" himself, Tony Gwynn.

Hoffman's story goes far beyond being the first closer to reach 500 saves, then 600. It is a story of a smile for everyone off the field and fierce determination on it. It is a story of addressing and adapting to many challenges in an ever-changing game.

"I don't think he knows what anything less than 100 percent is," said former Padres manager Bruce Bochy. "He has only one way of doing things, the right way. And that extends to everything he does."

Yes, there are the numbers.

When Hoffman got his 479th save in front of a sellout crowd at Petco Park on Sept. 24, 2006, he passed Lee Smith as the game's all-time leader in saves. Hoffman extended his record to 601 and was the all-time leader until passed by the Yankees' Mariano Rivera in 2011.

Look at it this way -- Smith remains third on the all-time list.

Hoffman still holds or shares three Major League records -- most consecutive seasons with at least 40 saves (four), most seasons with at least 40 saves (nine) and most career strikeouts per nine innings by a reliever (9.36). He also holds the National League record for career saves and most games pitched with a single team.

In addition to ranking second to Rivera on the all-time saves list, Hoffman ranks seventh in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (6.99) in a career, seventh in highest career strikeouts-to-walks (3.69-1) and ninth in most games pitched (1,035). Hoffman's career conversion rate of 88.8 percent ranks third among the 27 closers with 300 or more saves.

When it comes to Padres records, Hoffman holds six and shares a seventh.

His Padres records are saves (552), career games pitched (902), saves in a single season (53), lowest career earned run average (2.76), lowest career opposition batting average (.211) and career strikeouts per nine innings (9.72). He and Heath Bell share the Padres record for consecutive save chances successfully converted (41).

Hoffman's No. 51 was retired by the Padres on Aug. 21, 2011, and he was inducted into the Padres' Hall of Fame in 2014.

Hoffman was twice the runnerup for the National League Cy Young Award and was arguably robbed of the honor in 1998 when he had more first-place votes (13-11) than winner Tom Glavine of the Braves but was left off six ballots.

He finished in the top six in Cy Young voting four times and twice was in the top 10 in National League Most Valuable Player voting. Hoffman was also a seven-time All-Star.