“Hells Bells” and The Hardball Times

This is a bit longer than I intended. Click here if you’re looking for a link to today’s Hardball Times article on Trevor Hoffman and “Hells Bells”.

In case you missed it yesterday, it was announced that Trevor Hoffman would be officially retiring from baseball some time this afternoon. After enjoying his career from afar – seriously, how could you not love a closer who got it done with a changeup?! – and marveling at his “Hells Bells” entrance, I got to be an up-close and personal fan of his for two years when he joined the Brewers. And even though he was nowhere near the pitcher he was in 1998, his changeup – and that entrance – were still a sight to behold.

His 2010 season didn’t work out at all how he or the Brewers or Brewers fans were hoping, but that does nothing to diminish him in my eyes. That’s just a fact of life when you’re dealing with 42-year-old, soft-tossing closers. It was a little strange to see him walking out to “Dancing Queen” though.

Which, as it turns out, was not a good omen. The “Dancing Queen” night came on May 16, when Hoffman pitched the ninth inning of a Brewers loss to the Phillies in Milwaukee. The Brewers were already losing the game when he came in to pitch (on “1970s night”), so “Hells Bells” was not called for. It was a strange sight anyway. Two nights later, on May 18, he blew his fifth save of the season and was removed from the closer’s role. He would not get another save until August 7.

At the time, I wrote about the origins of the “Hells Bells” entrance music. I did not know that the May 18 game would be the last time a Brewers fans heard the bells toll for almost three months, but it seemed appropriate to look into the origins of such a defining tradition:

(Click “Read More’ to continue reading.)

It was a good year for Padres fans, 1998. Led by Kevin Brown, Greg Vaughn, and Ken Caminiti, the club made it to their second-ever World Series before losing to the Yankees’ burgeoning dynasty. They also got a little help from their star closer, Trevor Hoffman, who converted 41 consecutive save opportunities – tying Rod Beck’s then-record – from August 24, 1997, through July 25, 1998. He would only blow one save all year.

That record-tying game on July 25 was also the first time he walked in to “Hell’s Bells.” They continued it the next night, when Hoffman was called in to pick up the save in a one-run game. Moises Alou, who Hoffman struck out to end the game the night before, took his first pitch deep to tie the game and end the streak. The Padres would go on to win the game.

I can only imagine how amazing those two games must have been, hearing those bells chime for the first time as Hoffman exited the bullpen. We’ve grown to expect it now, and it’s still chilling. How must those 50,000 fans have felt that first time?

Thankfully, Buster Olney has a quote from someone who actually did get to witness it for the first time in today’s column:

When I played for Houston — I think it was in 1998 — Trevor was set to tie or break (can’t remember) the consecutive-save mark when we came to San Diego. In the bottom of the ninth, the Padres had a slim lead, and here comes Hoffy out of the bullpen to slam the door. And, out of the stadium sound system, at a deafening level, blares ‘Hells Bells.’ The first time they played ‘Hells Bells’ for Trevor as he entered the game. But it wasn’t in the cards — Moises Alou tied the game with a home run, Trevor blew the save, streak was over.

“I imagine there is no other closer that would have allowed ‘Hells Bells’ to be played again as they came into a game after what happened that day. It didn’t faze Trevor. They continued to play ‘Hells Bells’ every time he entered a game in a save situation. It became a ritual in San Diego, so that even brought San Diego Charger fans to their feet when they played that song during Charger home games. Today, almost every closer has their signature entry song playing at their home stadium.

Because the “Hells Bells” tradition is so tightly linked to Hoffman, I thought it’d be fun to look at his stats “pre-Hells Bells” and “post-Hells Bells” in my column today over at The Hardball Times. It’s not meant very seriously – this is no attempt to explain Hoffman’s magic. Instead, it’s a way to fondly remember one of the most interesting, fun-to-root-for athletes of our generation. Baseball will be a slightly lesser event with no “Trevor Time” to pump it up.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.