Any player/Any era: Kenny Lofton

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.

Any Player/Any Era: Al Rosen

What He Did: If you don’t know Al Rosen, it’s because his career was just a smidge away from absolute greatness.

Because of his military background, the War and some fluky poor performances in small samples from 1947-1949, Rosen didn’t get a full time gig until 1950. He was 26.

He had an immediate impact, leading the league with 37 HRs and setting a rookie record for HRs in the process. Rosen also walked a cool 100 times and had 159 hits. To put this in perspective, in just four of his seasons did Tony Gwynn reach base by walk and hit more than 159 times.

While there was a slight sophomore slump for Rosen in 1951, he finished fifth in RBIs (102), extra-base hits (55), and walks (85).

In 1953, Rosen hit 43 HRs, knocked in 145 and had a .336 average. He led the league in HRs, RBIs, SLG, OPS, OPS+, total bases and runs. Unfortunately, Mickey Vernon batted .337 that season, narrowly keeping Rosen from the Triple Crown. Rosen went 3-5 on the season’s final day, just missing out. That said, those RBIs are the 37th most by a righty in a season in baseball history, and he was rightly unanimously voted the MVP.

From 1950 – 1956 Rosen posted a .287/.386/.500 line and averaged 27 HRs a season. During that span, his 39.2 fWAR was the eighth best behind Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Jackie Robinson and Richie Ashburn. His mark was actually ahead of the immortal Ted Williams.

At his height, Rosen was a giant, just ask Casey Stengel: “That young feller. That feller’s a ball player. He’ll give you the works every time. Gets all the hits, gives you the hard tag in the field. That feller’s a real competitor, you bet your sweet curse life.”

Unfortunately, back problems and leg injuries forced Rosen to retire at 32 in 1956. Rosen finished with a .285/.384/.495 line with 192 HRs in 4,374 plate appearances. Of players with at least 4,000 plate appearances, Rosen’s HR:AB rate is in the top 100.

Oddly, Rosen is one of three players to retire with fewer than 200 HRs, but who hit 40 in a season (Jim Gentile and Davey Johnson are the others). He is also one of 32 players to have a 40 HR and 200 hit season. As a third baseman, the 43 dingers he hit during the magical 1953 season are tied with Matt Williams (more on him later) for the 10th most in a season.

Era he might have thrived in: Rosen is one of the great “what if” players, i.e., what if he played during a time when there wasn’t a World War, what if he stayed healthy, what if people fully understood how his minor league numbers would translate over a large sample in the majors. For those reasons, Rosen would have clearly thrived in the mid- to late-1990s. With modern medicine and analytics, Rosen’s career could have been years longer and Rosen might be in the Hall of Fame. For many reasons, I’m putting Rosen on the late ‘90s Cleveland Indians.

Why: Put Rosen on the 1996 Cleveland Indians and he hits .310/.412/.537. His 1953 season would produce 51 HRs, 184 RBIs and a .365/.453/.666 line from a third baseman.

While the numbers would be ridiculous, Rosen would have a real impact on those Indians teams. In 1996, the Indians could have traded Eddie Murray earlier to the Orioles, slid Julio Franco to DH and Jim Thome to first base and greatly enhanced the offense. In addition, Rosen’s presence in 1996 would have stopped the organization from giving a ton of talent for an aging Matt Williams. Instead of needing someone to man the hot corner, Rosen would have enabled the Indians to keep Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez and Jose Vizcaino.

In ‘97 and thereafter, Kent could have taken over for Tony Fernandez and David Bell at second base. In ’99, the Indians could shift Kent to third, still sign Roberto Alomar and give Rosen much needed DH duties.

Just imagine the 1998 Indians batting line-up: Kenny Lofton-Manny Ramirez-Al Rosen-Jim Thome-Brian Giles-David Justice-Jeff Kent-Omar Vizquel-Sandy Alomar. Perhaps they win a few World Series, perhaps Rosen stays healthy. If so, Rosen is in the Hall of Fame.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature (generally) here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Al KalineAl SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer FlickEric Davis, Frank HowardFritz MaiselGary CarterGavvy CravathGene TenaceGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack MorrisJackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Mark FidrychMatty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson
Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe JacksonSpud ChandlerStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays