CLEVELAND —In the midst of their annual press tour, the Indians announced Wednesday that Kenny Lofton will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
Next stop: Cooperstown, N.Y.?
Lofton, a six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner who played for the Indians in three separate stints (1992-96, 1998-2001, 2007) during a 17-year major league career, certainly has the numbers for consideration.
“It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know how (Hall of Fame voters) judge players,” Lofton said via a conference call with media assembled at Progressive Field. “I just went out there and did what I had to do on and off the field. Now it’s up to whomever it’s up to.”
Lofton, a speedy offensive and defensive catalyst throughout his career, produced a lifetime .299 batting average with 130 home runs. His best statistics came in the stolen base department, where he recorded 622 steals and led the American League with the Indians from 1992-96.
Lofton never put up the impressive power numbers that Hall voters have traditionally favored, but he was an elite center fielder in the field and at the plate for close to a decade.
He reached that level in the steroid era, something he thinks Hall voters should consider.
“I hope they do,” Lofton said. “I was a guy that just didn’t do (steroids), never did it, never wanted to do it. My competitive level had to be higher to compete with those guys that were cheat-ing. It was tough. I just felt like the good guys always lose.”
When Lofton, who said he is officially retired and running a television and film production com-pany in Los Angeles, is eligible for the Hall of Fame, he would have Sandy Alomar’s vote. Alomar was a longtime teammate in Cleveland.
“You have to reward players for ability, not just home runs,” Alomar said. “He was the complete package. He’s the most dominating leadoff guy ever outside of Rickey Henderson.”
No doubt Lofton is worthy of the Cleveland recognition. The franchise leader in stolen bases (452) starred on five Central Division title teams and appeared in one World Series with the Indians in 1995 — the club’s first trip to the Fall Classic in 41 years.
Lofton, 42, hit .300 in 10 seasons with Cleveland and ranks third in club history in runs (975) and 10th in hits (1,522) and at-bats (4,872).
“He deserves it more than anyone,” Alomar said. “He’s one of the greatest leadoff hitters to play the game. This guy was the igniter for this organization for many years. He was a winner, a post-season guy. He got better when the stage got bigger.”
On that stage is where Lofton cited his biggest Indians moment. In 1995, when Cleveland beat Seattle and Randy Johnson to advance to the World Series.
Despite assembling one of the most formidable offensive teams in history, the Indians lost the World Series to Atlanta and then fell well short the following season when they were eliminated in the Division Series by Baltimore.
“It was just one of those things,” Lofton said. “I think we had the players and the team to do it, it was just fate. It was just not our time.”
Lofton’s time came quickly after he arrived in Cleveland prior to the 1992 season in a trade with Houston for catcher Eddie Taubensee. Lofton, who was a teammate of new Indians manager Manny Acta at the Class A level for the Astros in 1990, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting as Cleveland’s starter in center.
“It was amazing how quickly he developed. He just cruised through the minor leagues,” Acta said. “He was so talented. Kenny could square and bunt and the whole ballpark knew it, and he could still beat it out.”
One of the most popular players to ever wear an Indians uniform, Lofton and Tribe fans will get the opportunity to reconnect when he is inducted into the club’s Hall during a ceremony prior to a game at Progressive Field against the Twins on Aug. 7.
“The biggest thing I look back at is just the excitement in Cleveland and how the fans took to me and my teammates,” Lofton said. “I just treated the fans with respect and they did the same for me.”
Acta said the Indians examined signing slugger Jim Thome, who agreed to a one-year contract with the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday.
“How could you not think about Thome?” Acta said of Cleveland’s all-time leader in home runs. “He’s one of the greatest players in franchise history. Having said that, the at-bats wouldn’t have been there. Having Travis Hafner back as healthy as he’s been in a long time, the at-bats weren’t going to be there for him.”
Right-hander Chris Perez had offseason surgery on his left ankle, but said he would be 100 percent by the start of spring training.
“I’m not even worried about it at all,” said Perez, who is expected to serve as the setup man to closer Kerry Wood this year.
Acta said everyone outside of starting pitcher Anthony Reyes (Tommy John surgery) would come to spring training in full health, including Grady Sizemore and Hafner, each of whom endured injury-plagued seasons last year.
Alomar said his brother Robbie missing out on Hall of Fame induction last month by eight votes was “very disappointing.”
He said some voters might have focused on Robbie’s spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck instead of his impressive career. He also said voters failed to understand the fiery, competitive nature of Latino players.
“(The Hirschbeck incident) hurt him tremendously, I feel,” he said. “It left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. It’s a shame that’s the way it is. Hopefully next year he’ll be in.”
Cy Slapnicka, Cleveland’s general manager from 1935-40 and a scout in the organization for 21 years after that, will be inducted into the Indians’ Distinguished Hall of Fame. Slapnicka, who as a scout signed Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, joins former owner Dick Jacobs and former owner/GM Bill Veeck in the special wing.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.