Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #13 Kenny Lofton

Jason Miller

Next in our countdown is the greatest leadoff hitter and base stealer in franchise history.

Kenny Lofton

Center Fielder, 1992-1996, 1998-2001, 2007

Height: 6'0" Weight: 180 lbs

Throws: Left Bats: Left

Acquired (1): Traded with D.Rohde by the Astros for W.Blair and E.Taubensee (12/10/91)

Left (1): Traded with A.Embree to the Braves for D.Justice and M.Grissom (3/25/97)

Acquired (2): Free Agency, December 8, 1997

Left (2): Free Agency, November 5, 2001

Acquired (3): Traded by the Rangers for Max Ramirez (7/27/07)

Left (3): Free Agency, October 30, 2007

Three Pounds

Kenny Lofton was born in East Chicago, Indiana. He weighed just 3 pounds at birth, making him an unlikely candidate to become a world-class athlete. Lofton's mother moved to Alabama not long after Kenny was born, but he was left behind to be raised by his grandmother, who could not work because glaucoma had left her nearly blind. They lived with other family members in a small basement apartment in a rough neighborhood. With money so tight, a scholarship was the only way he'd go to college. A scholarship offer arrived, from the baseball powerhouse University of Arizona... but the scholarship wasn't for baseball, it was for basketball.

Kenny played in the NCAA Final Four in 1988, his junior year, but when the season ended, he found that he very much missed baseball. Lofton received permission to practice with the school'sl team, but because their season was already more than halfway finished, he wasn't promised any playing time. He did end up making his way into a few games, mostly as a pinch runner. He batted just once. His speed and athleticism were enough to impress scouts though, one of whom convinced the Houston Astros to draft Lofton in the 17th round that summer.

He was sent to Low-A ball, where he struggled at the plate, but also stole 26 bases in 30 attempts, which was enough to convince the organization that it wanted to keep him around. Lofton has promised his grandmother he'd get his degree though, and he wasn't ready to give up his senior year on the basketball team either, so he returned to Tucson, broke the school record for steals (the hardcourt variety), and graduated before finally turning his full attention to baseball. Lofton boosted his batting average to .292 that summer, and in 1990, having been promoted to High-A for his first full season in the minors, he hit .331 and stole 62 bases, second-most in the Florida State League.

Baseball American named Lofton as one of its top 100 prospects; Kenny Lofton, baseball player had arrived.

Cleveland's New Treasure

in 1991 Lofton moved to Triple-A (Houston's affiliate at the time was the Tucson Toros, which meant Kenny was back at his old stomping grounds) and collected more extra-base hits than he had in the previous three summers combined, including 17 triples, which easily led the Pacific Coast League. The Toros won the PCL championship, and Lofton was then called up to Houston, making his MLB debut on September 14. Steve Finley was the team's center fielder of the future though, and in December, Lofton was dealt to the Indians. "I know they gave up on me and now I'm glad they did, Lofton said of the trade, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Come Opening Day in 1992, Lofton was the Tribe's starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. Kenny hit .285 that year, used an improved eye at the plate to draw 68 walks and combined his speed with base-running instruction from first-base coach Dave Nelson to set a franchise record by stealing a league-leading 66 bases (while being caught just 12 times). In addition, he led the Tribe in triples, OBP, and runs scored, and finished 2nd in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He also bought his grandmother a big house in a nice neighborhood.

In 1993 Lofton walked even more frequently, helping him to boost his OBP to .408, the best by any Indian in twelve years. He also scored 116 runs, the most by an Indian in 38 years. On top of all that, he broke his own franchise record and led the league again by stealing 70 bases. Lofton had also developed into a great fielder, and won the first of four consecutive Gold Gloves.

In 1994 Lofton stepped his game up again. He was named to his first All-Star team and by the break he'd already stolen 45 bases and was batting .378. He also had 42 walks, 41 extra-base hits, and an OPS of 1.021. At the end of play on August 10, Lofton was on pace for 86 stolen bases and 150 runs scored (both of which would have been team records), and was just 10 points behind the league lead in batting average. The Indians were 66-47, in possession of the AL's third-best record, and had gone 35-22 over the previous two months. If the Indians had won the division and Lofton had put up those numbers, he may have won the MVP award. Instead, players went on strike the next morning, and the rest of the season was washed away. Kenny was listed 1st on one MVP ballot, and finished in 4th place. Lofton's 7.2 WAR are the most by any AL player that year.

The Igniter

The 1995 season started about three weeks late, as the final pieces of a new labor agreement were worked out. The Indians moved into 1st place two weeks into the season and never looked back, ultimately finishing a staggering 30 games ahead of the 2nd place Royals. Lofton made his second All-Star team, led the league in steals for the fourth straight year, and in triples too. The Indians made the playoffs for the first time since 1954, and after dispatching Boston in the LDS, faced off against the Seattle Mariners with a trip to the World Series on the line. Lofton hit .458 in that series, with two triples and five stolen bases. In Game 6 Lofton turned in one of the signature moments of his career:


The Indians lost that year's World Series in 6 games, which Lofton would later call the most disappointing finish to a season in his career, expressing frustration with the strike zone Atlanta Braves pitchers were afforded throughout the series.

The Indians and Lofton picked themselves up and went back to work in 1996. Lofton made the All-Star team again, this time as a starter, and once again led the league in stolen bases, establishing a new team record with 75 of them. No American League player has reached that total in the 17 seasons since then. The 5th of those steals set a new career franchise record, which had previously been held by Terry Turner since 1916. In August of that season, Lofton made probably the best catch of his career, perhaps the most spectacular ever by an Indian:


Looking back on those years, teammate Sandy Alomar said, "Everyone talks about home runs, but Kenny was the igniter."

Lofton was a year away from free agency at season's end, and while there had been some discussions about an extension, nothing came of them. Just days before the season was to begin, Cleveland, fearful of losing Lofton for nothing, as had happened that offseason with Albert Belle, shocked the baseball world by trading Lofton to Atlanta in exchange for David Justice and Marquis Grissom. "The trade will be in the back of my mind for a long time," said Lofton, "but it's baseball. It happens to nearly everybody."

Look Who's Back

Lofton had a strong year at the plate for the Braves, though his stolen base total plummeted to 27. When the season ended, Lofton's contract was up, and after talking with a number of teams, Kenny signed a 3-year, $24-million deal and returned to Cleveland. "It's like I was a ghost for a year, but now I'm back."

Lofton was elected to be a starter on the All-Star team in 1998, and his stolen bases rebounded to 54. He had another 214 steals in his career after that season, but would never again nab more than 32 in a single season, as at the age of 31, his speed had begun to wane. He made his final All-Star team in 1999, and scored 110 runs, making him only the second player in franchise history to score so many in at least five different seasons.

Lofton's batting average fell to .278 in 2000, the lowest of any of his 9 full seasons to that point. He did hit a career-high 15 home runs though, and he kept scoring runs, 107 in total. Late in the season, Lofton tied an American League record by scoring at least one run in 18 consecutive games. The final game of that streak came on September 3. Kenny scored not 1, but 4 runs in that contest; he also tied a team record with 5 stolen bases and ended the game with an 13th-inning home run to right field.

Cleveland exercised a team option and brought Lofton back for 2001, but he had a poor season. Lofton made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, but yet again, things didn't break right for his team, and after the Indians were eliminated in the ALDS, Lofton left as a free agent.

The Journeyman

Lofton became a one-man barnstorming tour over the next few seasons, playing for the White Sox, Giants, Pirates, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, and Rangers. He had transformed into a solid role player, no longer a star, but one thing that remained the same: Lofton's teams were snakebit in the postseason.

Lofton was on the San Francisco team that blew a 5-run leas in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series and then lost Game 7. A year later he was on the Chicago team that lost Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, unraveling after Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached for a foul ball that might have been caught for a big out. The year after that Lofton was on the New York team that blew the ALCS by becoming the first MLB team to lose a 3-games-to-none lead.

In those years Lofton banged out his 2,000th hit, his 100th triple, and his 100th home run; stole his 600th base and scored his 1,500th run. By late July of 2007, Lofton had played in more than 2,000 career games and turned 40 years old. He'd played for 11 different teams, but had spent more than a year with only one of them. His career was winding down, and there was no place more fitting for it to end than back in Cleveland, where he was traded on July 27th.

Kenny played left field instead of center, and was usually hitting 7th, instead of his usual leadoff spot, but he helped the team to its first playoff appearance in six years. Lofton collected 3 hits and drove in 4 runs in the Tribe's ALDS Game 1 win over the Yankees. In the 7th inning of Game 7 of the ALCS, Lofton reached base for what would prove to be the final time in his career. Representing the tying run, he took off from second base on a single down the left-field line and could have scored easily, but was held at third by base coach Joel Skinner. The next batter grounded into a double play, and while the Tribe ended up losing 11-2 after Boston's offense exploded in the 8th, many fans will always wonder if things might have turned out differently had the Indians tied the game when they had the chance.

A Fitting Finale

That final game was the 95th postseason contest of Lofton's career, the most in history by a player who never won a World Series. Kenny ended his career as the Indians' all-time leader in stolen bases; he ranks third in runs scored, and among the top 15 in hits, doubles, triples, and walks. Including his time with other teams, Lofton ran his way to 622 stolen bases, 15th most in MLB history, and the highest total by any player over the last 25 years. Kenny's 34 postseason stolen bases are a record.

On August 7, 2010, Lofton was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame. In January, 2013, in his first time on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, Lofton's candidacy was overlooked, and one of the dozen best center fielders in MLB history didn't even receive enough support to remain on the ballot. That's a shame, but it doesn't diminish all that he accomplished.

Lofton was popular in every one of his baseball destinations, but Cleveland will always be his baseball home. He is both one of the most beloved and one of the most accomplished players ever to wear an Indians uniform.

- - - - - -

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR SB BB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1992 25 CLE 148 651 96 164 15 8 5 66 68 .285 .362 .365 .726 107
1993 26 CLE 148 657 116 185 28 8 1 70 81 .325 .408 .408 .815 121
1994 27 CLE 112 523 105 160 32 9 12 60 52 .349 .412 .536 .948 145
1995 28 CLE 118 529 93 149 22 13 7 54 40 .310 .362 .453 .815 110
1996 29 CLE 154 736 132 210 35 4 14 75 61 .317 .372 .446 .817 107
1998 31 CLE 154 698 101 169 31 6 12 54 87 .282 .371 .413 .785 102
1999 32 CLE 120 561 110 140 28 6 7 25 79 .301 .405 .432 .838 112
2000 33 CLE 137 640 107 151 23 5 15 30 79 .278 .369 .422 .791 100
2001 34 CLE 133 576 91 135 21 4 14 16 47 .261 .322 .398 .721 89
2007 40 CLE 52 196 24 49 9 3 0 2 17 .283 .344 .370 .714 88
CLE (10 yrs) 1276 5767 975 1512 244 66 87 452 611 .300 .375 .426 .800 109

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com

Sources

The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Classical, Wikipedia

Selected AL Awards/Leaders
  • All-Star: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999
  • MVP: 4th, 1994; 11th, 1996; 15th, 1993
  • Gold Glove: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996
  • WAR: 1st, 1994 (7.2); 5th, 1993 (7.6); 8th, 1992 (6.5)
  • dWAR: 3rd, 1992 (2.3); 4th, 1994 (1.5); 5th, 1993 (2.1); 8th, 1998 (2.1)
  • Batting Average: 4th, 1993 (.325); 4th, 1994 (.349)
  • On Base Percentage: 7th, 1994 (.412); 8th, 1993 (.408)
  • OPS: 9th, 1994 (.948)
  • OPS+: 9th, 1994 (145)
  • Runs: 2nd, 1994 (105); 3rd, 1993 (116); 3rd, 1996 (132)
  • Hits: 1st, 1994 (160); 3rd, 1996 (210); 5th, 1993 (185)
  • Doubles: 5th, 1994 (32)
  • Triples: 1st, 1995 (13); 3rd, 1994 (9); 5th, 1992 (8); 6th, 1993 (8); 10th, 1998 (6)
  • Walks: 8th, 1998 (87)
  • SB: 1st, 1992 (66); 1st, 1993 (70); 1st, 1994 (60); 1st, 1995 (54); 1st, 1996 (75);2nd, 1998 (54); 5th, 2000 (30)
  • SB%: 2nd, 1998 (84.4); 5th, 1992 (84.6); 6th, 1993 (83.3); 6th, 1996 (81.5); 7th,2000 (81.1); 10th, 1999 (80.7)
  • Putouts (CF): 3rd, 1993 (402); 3rd, 1996 (376); 4th, 1994 (274); 5th, 1992 (420); 5th,1998 (343)
  • Assists (CF): 1st, 1992 (14); 1st, 1994 (13); 1st, 1995 (11); 1st, 1998 (19); 2nd, 1993 (11);2nd, 1996 (13); 2nd, 1999 (11)
Cleveland Indians Career Leaders
  • 4th WAR Position Players (48.5)
  • 8th oWAR (38.3)
  • 3rd dWAR (12.6)
  • 22nd Batting Average (.300)
  • t-25th On Base Percentage (.375)
  • t-37th OPS (.800)
  • 14th Games Played (1276)
  • 10th At Bats (5045)
  • 11th Plate Appearances (5767)
  • 3rd Runs Scored (975)
  • 9th Hits (1512)
  • 12th Total Bases (2149)
  • 11th Doubles (244)
  • 13th Triples (66)
  • 33rd Home Runs (87)
  • t-25th Runs Batted In (518)
  • 11th Bases On Balls (611)
  • 1st Stolen Bases (452)
  • 9th Singles (1115)
  • 16th Extra Base Hits (397)
Cleveland Indians Season Leaders
  • t-18th WAR Position Players (7.6, 1993)
  • 29th WAR Position Players (7.2, 1994)
  • t-43rd WAR Position Players (6.5, 1992)
  • t-31st Batting Average (.349, 1994)
  • t-6th Plate Appearances (736, 1996)
  • 35th Plate Appearances (698, 1998)
  • 7th Runs (132, 1996)
  • t-23rd Runs (116, 1993)
  • t-34th Runs (110, 1999)
  • t-45th Runs (107, 2000)
  • 15th Hits (210, 1996)
  • t-29th Triples (13, 1995)
  • 1st Stolen Bases (75, 1996)
  • 2nd Stolen Bases (70, 1993)
  • 3rd Stolen Bases (66, 1992)
  • 5th Stolen Bases (60, 1994)
  • t-6th Stolen Bases (54, 1995, 1998)
  • t-49th Stolen Bases (30, 2000)
  • t-23rd Stolen Base % (84.62, 1992)
  • t-26th Stolen Base % (84.38, 1998)
  • t-29th Stolen Base % (83.33, 1993, 1994)
  • t-41st Stolen Base % (81.52, 1996)
  • t-44th Stolen Base % (81.08, 2000)
  • t-50th Stolen Base % (80.65, 1999)
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