Hoffman deserves a plaque in Cooperstown

Updated: June 1, 2007, 5:31 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

As Padres closer Trevor Hoffman approaches his 500th career save, ESPN.com asked 62 baseball writers the following question:

If you had to cast your Hall of Fame ballot today, would you vote "yes," "no" or "undecided" on Hoffman for Cooperstown?

Still undecided
Oh, I may vote for Trevor Hoffman. But if so, it will be the same way I voted for Michael Dukakis -- not very enthusiastically.

My problem is not with Hoffman, who has been the game's steadiest and most reliable closer over the past decade or so. Effective closers tend to come and go relatively quickly, but Hoffman and Mariano Rivera have maintained their standard for enough years to merit Hall of Fame consideration.

With each passing year, however, the closer role becomes more limited and more overrated. There was a time when closers were brought into an important situation as early as the sixth inning -- Goose Gossage pitched the final 2 2/3 innings of the 1978 Red Sox-Yankees playoff game -- but no more. Closers are used almost exclusively to begin the ninth inning, rarely inheriting a runner and often pitching with two- to three-run leads.

Dave Smith did a study of all late-inning leads from 1944-2003 and found that no matter the era or what relief strategy was used, there was virtually no difference in how successfully a team protected the lead. Another Retrosheet study by Tom Ruane found that home teams entering the ninth inning with a one-run lead win 85 percent of the time. They win 93 percent of games with a two-run lead in the ninth. They win 97 percent of the time with a three-run lead.

In other words, over the course of time, it really hasn't mattered much whom teams had on the mound in the ninth inning (with the possible exception of Bobby Ayala) if they had the lead. They almost always won. So what we're really debating here is whether Hoffman should be in Cooperstown for often preserving victories in games when victory is already all but assured.

Hoffman may be among the best closers in the game's history, but I still think Jack Morris belongs in the Hall more.
-- Jim Caple

The results were overwhelmingly positive -- 58 yes votes, four undecideds (including ESPN.com writer Jim Caple) and not a single outright "no."

Here's a sample of writers' comments:

"I think Hoffman is unquestionably a first ballot Hall of Famer, and I say that as someone with some reservations about others with high career save totals (Lee Smith, etc). To me, Hoffman has been the picture of consistency and accomplishment. He's not at the level of Mariano Rivera, in part because he hasn't had a chance to leave his mark on the postseason. But he's at the very next level, and very much worthy of Cooperstown.''
-- Sean McAdam, Providence Journal and ESPN.com

"I can appreciate those who say the save has been cheapened in recent years by managers who can't wait to insert a closer into a first-and-third situation with two outs and a four-run lead in the ninth inning. But to penalize Hoffman for abuse of the save rule is wrong, in my opinion. If Bruce Sutter's 300 saves are worthy of induction (and I agree they are), then 500 saves under current conditions should validate Hoffman."
-- Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"He is the best at what he does and has been for a long, long time. Any time anybody dominates a position (and these days, 'closer' is a position) the way he has done it consistently year after year after year, he gets my vote. First ballot."
-- Hal McCoy, Dayton Daily News

"His consistency is mind-boggling and his longevity defies logic. No one has ever closed at such a high level of excellence for such an extended period of time. Every year, you think this is going to be the year he can't do it anymore, that there will be some drop-off, and then he does it again. Amazing.''
-- Barry Rozner, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.)

"I would vote for Trevor for the Hall of Fame simply because he was a dominant player in his time -- never mind whether he was a specialist of some sort. … That said, must Lee Smith get in before Trevor, since Trevor broke Lee Arthur's record? Whether it's because he was a vagabond, unlike Trevor, or because some voters have a bias against relievers, Smith suffers.''
-- Jack Etkin, Rocky Mountain News

"Hoffman may not make batters shake in their spikes like Goose Gossage -- who should also be in -- but he has left them with a sense of dread for many years, knowing that the game was almost certainly over once he came walking from the bullpen.''
-- John Perrotto, Beaver County (Pa.) Times

"He's Hall worthy, but, when it comes to relievers going in, there's a chain of command of sorts that has to be followed. Goose Gossage has to go in first, and, if you're going to put Hoffman in, you first have to put Lee Smith in. It's a difficult question that, frankly, the writers have been inconsistent in dealing with. Dennis Eckersley going in before Gossage is a joke and reflects poor knowledge by the electorate on how the game was played in Gossage's day. To me, you can't put ninth-inning guys, or one-out guys, in before Gossage.''
-- Jim Armstrong, Denver Post

"Trevor is a slam dunk. I point to his length of dominance, especially in a specialty role where the life span is usually finite. He also dominated with his changeup, which adds to his uniqueness at a position where one usually dominates with power or another trick pitch.''
-- Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune

"There's no question Trevor Hoffman gets my Hall of Fame vote. I covered the Yankees for eight years and got to see Mariano Rivera on a regular basis. Unfortunately for Hoffman and other relievers of his era, they are compared to Rivera's body of work in the playoffs. There's no denying Rivera's greatness, but had the Yankees had Hoffman instead, I believe they would have been just as successful.''
-- John Delcos, The Journal News (New York)

"To me, anyone who doesn't think Trevor Hoffman is a lock Hall of Famer right this minute must think closer is a job only slightly more important than bat boy.''
-- Jayson Stark, ESPN.com

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" has been published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer