When the Cleveland Indians ascended as one of the best teams in baseball in the 1990s, Kenny Lofton was right in the middle of their resurgence. The speedy leadoff hitter was a catalyst who sparked a powerful lineup that included Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar, Julio Franco, and Carlos Baerga.
Lofton assumed the mantle from Rickey Henderson as the best base thief in the American League, pacing the AL in steals five straight seasons. Lofton was also a great hitter, batting .326 in his prime from 1993-1997. He scored at least 90 runs in 12 consecutive seasons, and led the league in hits in 1994 and triples in 1995.
Lofton was traded by Cleveland in a controversial deal during spring training in 1997 that sent him and pitcher Alan Embree to the Atlanta Braves for Marquis Grissom and David Justice. The trade turned out to work well for both Cleveland and Lofton, as the Indians advanced to the World Series later that Fall, and Lofton re-signed with the Tribe after becoming a free agent after one season. In his second stint with the Indians, Lofton was still an effective leadoff man and basestealer even though his bat cooled a bit. He hit .280 in his second stint with Cleveland after having hit .316 during his first tenure. Lofton spent the final six years of his career as a hired bat and feet, playing for nine teams, including a final stretch with the Indians. In his first game back with the Indians on July 27, 2007, the 40-year old collected three hits in Cleveland’s victory over the Twins. That season he regained some of the old magic, hitting .375 with four RBI and a stolen base in Cleveland’s upset of the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series. In all, Lofton played in 95 post-season games for six different teams, stealing a record 34 bases.
Lofton was a gifted athlete who was a basketball star at the University of Arizona where he played in the Final Four in 1988. He had good range in center field and won four Gold Glove Awards. He wasn’t a power hitter, but he made good contact and often finished among league leaders in singles.