Six-time All-Star Kenny Lofton still feels cheated from when he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one try in 2013. The numbers back up his case as one of the most well-rounded center fielders of all time.
Lofton explained his feelings in a phone interview with the New York Post on Wednesday, where he put part of the blame on players who chose to used PEDs.
“I was expecting to do better. But I’m a realist,” Lofton said. “I look back at the situation, and at that time, I think what happened for me was I came out on the ballot in the wrong year. There was so many people on the ballot, and so many people who had a potential situation with the performance-enhancing drugs. I felt a lot of voters wanted to keep those guys on the ballot, and that was votes taken away from me.”
There’s not much Lofton can do about his lack of a plaque in Cooperstown now besides complain, but how valid is Lofton’s argument?
What is Lofton’s Hall of Fame case?
Lofton may not have the recognition of many other stars in part because he played for 11 teams over his 17-year career, but he certainly belongs in the discussion for the Hall. He was an excellent defender at one of the toughest positions and had a very respectable bat as a career .299/.372/.423 hitter with 622 stolen bases (15th all-time) and nearly as many walks (945) as strikeouts (1,106).
Two of the better ways to measure how qualified a player is to reach Cooperstown is to look at their JAWS score or Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor. Each statistic summarizes a players’ estimated chance of making the Hall of Fame by comparing their WAR (JAWS) or statistical profile (Hall of Fame Monitor) to enshrined players.
Lofton falls just below the average of the 19 center fielders for JAWS with 55.9, but his mark still ranks 10th-highest and is ahead of 12 Hall of Fame center fielders. He’s sandwiched directly between Carlos Beltran and Andruw Jones, two players who also deserve recognition. James’ Hall of Fame Monitor is less optimistic with a score of 91, where 100 gives a player a “good possibility” and 130 is a “virtual cinch.”
Of course, players with defense-first profiles often get overlooked. Jones only reached 7.5 percent in his second year on the ballot this winter, while Jim Edmonds — who is 15th among center fielders with 51.5 JAWS — fell off the ballot in his first try, like Lofton, with just 2.6 percent of the vote in 2016.
Did Lofton get crowded out of the ballot?
Obviously Lofton did not get enough love in the Hall of Fame voting, but he is right that he came in during a tough year. In an extremely crowded ballot, 17 different players got at least 10 percent of the vote, and many of them were new, controversial candidates.
Joining Lofton as first-year candidates were Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling, plus a bevy of players with ties to PEDs: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. Add in Rafael Palmeiro in his third year and Mike Piazza unfairly drawing PED connections because of his size, and there were a lot of players with massive stat totals splitting people’s ballots.
“I just don’t like it,” Lofton said. “It pisses me off when they still talk about the guys who did PEDs still have the opportunity to get in. You cheated the game. Look at somebody like Pete Rose not in the Hall of Fame. I’m not saying what Pete Rose did was right, but his numbers that he put up were real numbers. If it’s all about numbers, guys who cheated the game shouldn’t be in. PED guys piss me off. I just get irked every time I hear people talk about it.”
Of course, even if any player with a PED connection had not been put on the ballot or voters could select more than 10 players, Lofton still likely would be polling in the teens at best. And players generally don’t reach the 75 percent needed for induction when they start below 20 percent in their first year.
How does Lofton feel about A-Rod?
It’s not just the Hall of Fame voting that is a sore spot for Lofton, either. He’s upset players like Alex Rodriguez are not only celebrated for their achievements but also allowed to stay as one of the more visible figures in the sport. That A-Rod is a play-by-play for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and Fox’s playoff coverage really grinds his gears.
“You’ve got Fox having a guy who got caught with PEDs doing the World Series. I can’t even watch the World Series now,” said Lofton, who played with Rodriguez in 2004. “That’s sad, you have a game that I love, I played 17 years in it, and you have Major League Baseball allowing a guy that knowingly cheated the game twice, and he’s the face of baseball, doing the World Series. That is not cool.
“To see somebody who cheated the game blatantly is doing the World Series? Come on, people. You’re basically telling kids nowadays that it’s OK to cheat the game of baseball. It’s OK to cheat. You will still get a job being a commentator, being the face of baseball. I don’t see how that flies with anyone.”
Lofton was briefly teammates with Rodriguez on the New York Yankees in 2004, but clearly there is no love lost. Rodriguez will get his first shot at cracking the Hall of Fame when he reaches the ballot in 2022, and Lofton will certainly not be thrilled when A-Rod surpasses his vote total by an order of magnitudes.
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