Put Hoffman in the HOFYesterday, Trevor Hoffman, baseball's all-time career saves leader, announced his retirement. Probably one year too late as he absorbed a 5.89 ERA even in a year where baseball offense was knocked back to the Stone Age*.
(*That would be 1992 in modern terms.)
But the Brewers stuck with him enough times that he added ten final saves to his resume and finished his career with a highly memorable total of 601. So today we consider his Hall of Fame worthiness and with joy we can do this without discussing those nasty performance-enhancing substances - that dirty word that rhymes with Altoids and hemorrhoids - mostly because it's pretty clear Hoffman's career was the product of high-durability, incredible consistency, and one of the best change-ups ever unfurled on a baseball diamond.
As it has been said many times in the past, a save in Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage's eras were not what they are today, which would explain why those two are in the Hall of Fame and great closers like Lee Smith and John Franco haven't even gotten a sniff. But I think Hoffman is rare in that he had a more transcendent career than Smith or Franco.
Let's look at these guys' career stats (and we'll throw in another modern HOF-worthy closer for good measure). In parenthesis is the number of times they were an All-Star.
Name (AS) Games ERA Innings H BB K HRs Saves
Hoffman (6) 1035 2.87 1089 846 307 1133 100 601
Smith (7) 1022 3.03 1289 1133 486 1251 89 478
Sutter (6) 661 2.83 1042 879 309 861 77 300
Gossage (9) 1002 3.01 1809 1497 732 1502 119 310
Rivera (11) 978 2.23 1150 887 267 1051 62 559
Franco (4) 1119 2.89 1245 1166 495 975 81 424
What sticks out to me (and this is no revelation) is that Mariano Rivera is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. He made one pitch famous: the cutter (as Sutter did with the split-fingered fastball). He has always been money in the regular season, but incredibly, even more so in the playoffs. He is a legend.
Another item is that Lee Smith was an All-Star more times than Sutter or Hoffman. That surprised me. And honestly as a Cardinal fan, I've always wondered why Lee didn't get more support for the Hall. Lest anyone forget, Smith WAS at one time baseball's all-time saves leader as Hoffman is now. In the mid-90s he was our "game over" guy. He took eight and half minutes to lumber to the mound when called on. He menacingly threw only from the stretch, which was particularly heart-warming for Cardinal fans since that was also how former Cardinal Rookie of the Year closer Todd Worrell threw. And like an Al MacInnis slap-shot, Smith simply brought the gas. He blew guys away. (In fact, I'm getting queasy even now thinking about Ryan Franklin throwing 85 MPH frisbees in the ninth in comparison.)
Finally, I've always had a hard time accepting Bruce Sutter as a Hall of Famer. But in looking at the numbers, we see he threw almost as many innings as a "horse" like Hoffman in about 60% the amount of games Hoffman appeared in. So in that context, the fact that Sutter had exactly half as many saves as Hoffman in (roughly) half as many games played speaks well of Sutter.
All of this, of course, leads us to the fact that Hoffman is wholly Hall-worthy. In 200 fewer innings than Lee Smith he ends up with 123 more saves?? Not three saves difference. Not 23 saves. A HUNDRED and twenty-three saves more. Smith is not even in the same universe as Hoffman.
And we can't ignore the fact that Hoffman was not an upper-90s flame-thrower like Smith, Eric Gagne, Billy Wagner and other "sexier" closers that have come and gone. It's not too hard to get outs when you can come in throwing 98-99 MPH in the ninth when the opposing batters have been seeing 90-94 all game. But for 22 years Hoffman relied on an 85-MPH fastball and the most devastating change-up in history. Hoffman was the Greg Maddux of relievers, which is probably the highest compliment I can give the guy.
And if an 85 MPH fastball is good enough to make the Hall of Fame, then maybe there is hope for Ryan Franklin and all us Cardinal fans who no longer have finger nails left to nibble.
Yeah, not gonna hold my breath on that.
It's time for a snow-covered, long-overdue, hot-stove edition of...
The Hard Nine
1. Gee, I Guess We're Not a Forgiving Nation After All - Ken Caminiti apologized for steroid use. So did Jason Giambi. Alex Rodriguez, check. And the world allowed them to move on. So Mr. PED-Era Litmus Test himself, Mark McGwire, went on the apology circuit before spring training last year to pave the way for him to join the Cardinals' team as the hitting coach. He said all the right things. (Except that he insisted the drugs didn't help him hit homeruns. Apparently, McGwire wouldn't be a good politician.) But despite all that, sports columnists said, "Oh if McGwire confesses and apologizes, he will get a fair shake for Hall of Fame consideration."
Or not. This year's Hall of Fame vote saw McGwire actually drop below 20%, his lowest support ever, AFTER fessing up. It seems writers instead chose to say "I knew it!" and voted accordingly, even though 15 years ago McGwire and Sammy Sosa essentially brought the fans back and saved baseball, helped sports writers sell millions of newspapers and books, and captured our imaginations like only Hall of Famers can.
Sorry, but I don't see how we can blame players for doing what fallible human beings do when given license. The Players' Association, the MLB, the commissioner, agents, fans, the media, team owners, hot dog vendors, ticket scalpers, taxi drivers, stadium janitors, homeless people living on steam grates outside the stadium - NO ONE CARED about players taking PEDs and in most cases they probably encouraged it.
The Hall of Fame voting quagmire we are in now is the bed that baseball, itself, made and they must now lay in it. No one can say any one player was clean or dirty unless they, themselves, come forward to admit guilt. Either way, the playing field was level - PEDs were available.
But instead, baseball writers are embracing their role as morality police and stats and accomplishments on the field don't really matter any more. Their "gut feeling" - dirty or not - is all that matters now. What joy.
2. NL Central Arms Race - This coming season is going to be exciting for NL Central fans as the Brewers, Cubs and to a lesser extent, Cardinals, all worked to solidify their pitching staffs. The Brewers made the most noise trading for Shaun Marcum from Toronto and more impressively, picking up former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from the Royals. Every team in the division (save the Pirates, of course, and the rebuilding Astros) has the pitching talent, now, to take the division pennant. Not sure if I'll ever see the Cards with a comfortable 15-game lead by June ever again.
3. Boston Could Win It All - No really, the city could literally win EVERYTHING this year. The Patriots win the Super Bowl next month, the Bruins take the Stanley Cup this Spring, and the Red Sox, now that they've added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, win about 140 games out of the 162 game regular season schedule on their way to a World Series crown.
I just threw up in my mouth a little.
4. The Halak-ness Monster Is Already Just a Myth - I blogged quite a bit about the Blues' trade for Jaroslav Halak late last year and early on, the move looked beyond brilliant. The Blues had the best start in the NHL going 9-1 and Halak was the main reason. Then reality had to set in. The team got decimated by injuries, the defense suffered, and suddenly Halak looks human. If the team can somehow make the playoffs, maybe we will see the Monster surface again. Here's hoping.
5. War Eagle! Fight Chickenhawk! Attack Buzzard! That was a pretty incredible BCS Championship game Monday as "my" Auburn Tigers beat Oregon. Now I get to be obnoxious to the Alabama fans at work - yes, more obnoxious than usual.
6. $100 Million and Happy or $126 Million and Miserable? I hope Albert Pujols doesn't try to get every dollar possible in his upcoming mega-contract. Jason Werth did the money grab thing and ended up with the Nationals, who are not contending for an NL East title any time soon. Then his buddy, Cliff Lee, returned to the Phillies where that team appears poised to run roughshod over the National League and Werth could have been joining in the fun.
So hopefully Albert accepts a merely obscene amount of money to stay in St. Louis rather than a "gross-domestic-product-of-a-me
dium-sized-country" type deal that will simply give him more money than he needs and make it it difficult for us as fans to continue to care about the great game of baseball.
7. Sam Bradford Hit the Lottery, So Did Rams - Despite the Rams disappointing finale against the Seahawks last week, the bigger picture is that the Rams found a bonafide franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, who took every snap of every play for the Rams this year and broke some rookie records in the process, including one held by Peyton Manning. In an era where 9 out of 10 first round pick QBs ends up being a complete bust and considering the Rams have squandered too many early picks the past few years, they finally hit pay dirt.
8. On the Other Hand, Pujols in Pinstripes? For the sake of seeing Cardinal Nation as a whole hyperventilate in unison, it would be entertaining to see the Cards NOT SIGN Pujols before spring training. The Cubs would be drooling to give AP a lifetime contract - upgrading Carlos Pena for Pujols. And the Yankees could be too, even to throw him in left field or make him DH. At any rate, it would be a nice distraction from the fact the Cards are not winning the division this year.
9. I Guess Herzog's Opinion Don't Count For Much - I can't close this Hard Nine without mentioning other moves the Cardinals made this off-season, namely ending their relationship with Brendan Ryan, who was arguably the best glove man at shortstop in the majors.
We have now lost two Gold Glove-caliber defenders in Ryan and Ryan Ludwick and replaced them with not even average defensive players (Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman). In fact, Berkman could blow a knee with the first step he takes in right at Busch. And if scrappy, tough, in-the-LaRussa-mold-but-not-real-ta
lented Theriot is good enough to be our starting shortstop, then why on EARTH did we ever let World Series MVP David Eckstein go???
All I know is that left-handed batters (which we don't neutralize very well to begin with) are going to be amped to see a right-side defense of Skip Schumaker and Berkman. Pujols is going to have to play tight to the first bast bag, too, just to guard against hits down the line which will get played into triples by the Big Puma.
Yes "Big Puma", St. Louis.
Actually, is there a fatter cat species we can give him a new nickname for?