“Most of the teams traded for me or signed me needed to fill a hole in a puzzle. I feel good about that. You’ve got to roll with it, live your life day to day, tomorrow’s not promised to anyone” – Kenny Lofton
2013 was a bad year for the hall of fame. the BBWAA was scattered, not finding the will to give a single player a shrine in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, New York. The ballot started with 37 names, and when the dust cleared, nearly half had fallen off the ballot, failing to secure the minimum 5% vote threshold (except Dale Murphy, who’s time on the ballot expired after his 15th appearance). For the most part, the names eliminated made sense, since I think we can all agree that Ryan Klesko and Jeff Cirillo probably don’t warrant much consideration in the first place. Others, like Bernie Williams (who only secured 3.3% despite posting a career 125 OPS+) and David Wells (who’s 53.5 WAR is better than Jack Morris by more than 10) probably warranted more consideration, but ultimately had a very weak case to go much further.
There was one player that deserved a better fate. A speedster who could change a game just by virtue of being on base. He had a glove that could take sure hits away from batters, and could handle the bat as well. Kenny Lofton played 18 Major League seasons, playing for 11 different teams along the way. He was as smart as he was quick, and posted many accomplishments along the way, regardless of what uniform he wore:
- 622 Stolen Bases (more than Barry Bonds or Ichiro Suzuki)
- 107 OPS+ (better than Ozzie Smith or Vince Coleman)
- 15.5 Defensive Wins Above Replacement (more than Barry Larkin or Roberto Clemente)
- 68.3 total WAR (more than Andre Dawson or Craig Biggio)
- 4 Gold Glove awards, 6 All-Star appearances
Lofton was often described as a difference maker, and could affect the game from anywhere. In the field (he was a great defender), at the plate (as shown by his career .372 OBP), or especially on the bases (only Rickey Henderson stole more bases than Lofton in the ’90s).
So what gives? Why would a player so universally respected by his peers, with a solid statistical resume to boot, garner a pathetic 3.2% of votes on his inaugural ballot, failing to reach the 5% threshold for advancement to the following year?
Looking at that years ballot, two reasons jump out right away: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The physical manifestation of baseball controversy in batter and pitcher form also made their ballot debut that season, and the tone was decidedly harsh. It was the first time the BBWAA had failed to elect a single member to Cooperstown since 1996, thanks to the presence of the all time home run leader (Bonds), the seven time Cy Young award winner (Clemens), and the baggage they brought with them. They symbolized the much maligned “steroid era” in baseball, when the only thing escalating faster than home run rates were writers eyebrows.
Punishment was due, and the writers, who were shunned while trying to break the stories of steroid use in America’s game, had their chance to exact revenge. The results were telling. While no one was voted in that year, that particular ballot featured eight players that would eventually get elected into the Hall of Fame. The grudge match had officially begun, and deserving players were caught in the pettiness of so called “professionals” and “scribes of the game”.
Kenny Lofton knows this. He said as much to Yahoo just this year:
“I look back at the situation, and at that time, I think what happened for me was I came out on the ballot in the wrong year. There was so many people on the ballot, and so many people who had a potential situation with the performance-enhancing drugs. I felt a lot of voters wanted to keep those guys on the ballot, and that was votes taken away from me.”Kenny Lofton to Yahoo Sports’s Ben Weinrib
The 2013 ballot was a message the BBWAA sent to the baseball populous, and unfortunately, one of the most well rounded outfielders of a generation was the collateral damage. Lofton’s resume is simply too impressive to have been dropped off the ballot so quickly and violently without politics being the driving factor. This is the unfortunate nature of the voters, and while Lofton isn’t the first person to suffer such a fate (see also, Luis Tiant, Dale Murphy, among others), but the fact that he couldn’t even make it past the first ballot makes his case probably the most egregious example. The much maligned veterans committee holds the key to Lofton’s path to Cooperstown, and yet has inexplicably bypassed his case to elect Harold Baines and Ted Simmons instead.
It’s wrong. It needs to be made right. Put Kenny in the hall.