What he did: Kenny Lofton finished his career with 1,528 runs, the 33rd most by a lefty in MLB History. In 2000, his run scoring was at its zenith as he scored a run in 18 consecutive games, tied for the seventh longest streak since 1893.
While a player needs someone to knock him in to score, the player does have to get on base. Lofton’s career .372 OBP is ahead of Roberto Alomar, Bobby Grich, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, George Brett, and a whole host of other players.
Of course, once Lofton got on base, he knew what to do. He stole 622 bases, the 15th most in MLB history and almost halfway to Rickey Henderson. He also was efficient, posting a 79.5% success rate, just behind Ozzie Smith and in the top 30 in MLB history. As a rookie, Lofton stole 66 bases, the fifth most prolific rookie season in MLB history.
Lofton played for 11 teams, although the Indians were the only club he played for more than one season with. He hit a HR for every team except the Houston Astros. Only seven players in MLB history have hit HRs for nine different teams. Todd Zeile leads the way, hitting HRs it for 11 teams, while Rickey Henderson (and others) did it for nine squads.
In 2007, his final season, a 40-year-old Lofton batted .296/.367/.414 with 23 steals in 30 chances. In fact, his age 37-40 seasons produced a .303/.367/.409 line with 84 SBs and 18 CS.
When his Hall of Fame candidacy comes up, there will be a heated debate over whether he belongs. While it might not be a no-brainer, the Hall will be a better place with players like Lofton in it.
In addition to the steals of home and other acts of brilliance, I’ll remember that Lofton was the first batter in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history. He led off with a short fly to right. Rick Sutcliffe pitched a complete game shut-out for the win. Same Horn and Leo Gomez scored for the Orioles with Chris Hoiles and Billy Ripken knocking them in. Charles Nagy went eight strong for the Indians.
Era he would have thrived in: It’s hard to imagine Lofton not thriving in any particular era. That said, starting Lofton’s career more recently would have helped him get the recognition he deserves. Lofton wasn’t just another Otis Nixon or Juan Pierre, he would be the closest we have in the modern game to Tim Raines. For reasons you’ll see, Lofton probably belongs on the Boston Red Sox of this era.
Why: With Lofton’s ability to get on base and steal efficiently, he would fit perfectly into the “modern” game of baseball. Lofton would fit nowhere better than on the Boston Red Sox. If you normalize Lofton’s numbers to the 2008 Red Sox, you get a .312/.386/.442 line with 692 steals.
Those numbers would compare incredibly favorably to Raines and would create this modern Tim Raines dynamic. As Raines continues to fight or writers continue to fight for for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, Lofton would be the perfect reminder of how great Raines was.
Beginning in 2002, it wouldn’t be that difficult to get Lofton significant at bats, with him moving Trot Nixon to the bench predominantly, but also Coco Crisp, Gabe Kapler and others. It would reunite Lofton with Manny Ramirez and let Lofton bat ahead of Manny, Ortiz, Nomar, etc. In short, he’d score a bazillion runs and be appreciated for all his hustle and brilliance.