CLEVELAND – A large crowd showed up at Progressive Field on Saturday night, and it probably had more to do with the induction of Cleveland Indians great Kenny Lofton into the franchise’s Hall of Fame than it did with the actual game between the Indians and Minnesota Twins.
Fans picked up their Lofton “The Catch” bobbleheads – which depicted Lofton’s catch at the wall from the Aug. 4, 1996, game against the Baltimore Orioles – and packed the stands to watch Lofton’s and former general manager Cy Slapnicka’s pregame ceremony.
“It’s always good to come back to a city you consider your second home,” Lofton said during a news conference Friday night. “Every time I come here, I feel the love.”
Lofton played for the Indians on three separate occasions – 1992-96, 1998-2002 and 2007 – and is the franchise leader with 452 stolen bases. He also ranks third with 975 runs and 10th with 1,512 hits.
But it’s one season that seems to define Lofton and many other Indians players from his era.
“Everywhere I go people always ask me about my days with the Indians and say, ‘You guys had the best team in ‘95,’” said Lofton, who became the 36th player inducted. “Once we got on a roll (that year), we just kept going. We knew the city was dying for something special, and we really felt like we were the team that could go out and give it to them.”
The 1995 Indians broke a decades-long run of losing seasons and earned their first World Series appearance since 1954, but lost in six games to the Atlanta Braves.
Slapnicka was the GM from 1935-40 and spent 21 years as a scout for the Indians, signing the likes of Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon.
Indians manager Manny Acta said that his career and Lofton’s were, “kind of like that theme park song … It’s a Small World.”
Acta was Lofton’s teammate two decades ago in Single-A ball and said it was strange that Lofton would be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame during Acta’s first year running the club.
“He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever seen,” Acta said. “He looked raw when I first saw him play because he was really a basketball player. I never knew that, but one day we were sitting on the team bus and they put on some footage of him from his days at Arizona and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I was shocked when I saw him out there dunking basketballs.”
Lofton picked up the game so quickly and looked so good doing it, Acta said, that he skipped Double-A ball and was promoted directly to Triple-A. Acta also said there was no reason a major league club shouldn’t still be interested in Lofton today.
“He has tremendous energy and was always a great guy in the clubhouse,” Acta said.
One of the big surprises of the season has been the big bat of Shelley Duncan. The right-hander has moved himself into the cleanup spot following the injury of rookie catcher Carlos Santana – and has been on fire lately.
“He didn’t even make our club out of spring training,” Acta said. “We felt that at some time Shelley would be a good right-handed batter for us.”
Duncan, who is tied for the AL lead with five pinch hits this season, is batting .333 with five RBIs in his last seven games, and has hit safely in 15 of his last 23 games.
“Nobody could have anticipated that he’d be doing what he’s doing now,” Acta said. “He’s also a great clubhouse guy, everybody loves him. He has definitely taken advantage of his opportunity.”
The Indians and Twins honored the Negro Leagues by wearing the throwback uniforms of the 1946 Cleveland Buckeyes and the 1909 uniforms of the St. Paul Gophers.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.