Kenny Lofton is one of the best players in Cleveland Indians history.
But his path to fame was one filled with intrigue and some other prominent interests.
The former college basketball player at Arizona made the switch to baseball and the rest is history.
Lofton spent 17 years in MLB and retired with a 68.4 WAR.
48.6 of that WAR came during three separate stints with the Indians.
So how did Lofton make his rise to prominence in Cleveland?
Also, what happened to him after his third and final stint in town?
A Surprising Beginning
Lofton was taken in the 17th round of the 1988 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros.
Anyone taken at that stage is seen as a project, and that was true given the fact his main focus in college was on basketball.
But the speedy Lofton had all the intangibles to be an exciting player on the baseball diamond.
He ended up making his MLB debut in 1991 with the Astros in limited action of only 20 games.
Lofton was in his mid-20s so the Astros decided they waited long enough, and moved on by sending him to the Indians.
That trade ended up being the catalyst of a legendary career.
Lofton finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1992 with a 6.6 WAR.
He had a league-leading 66 stolen bases that season and ended up leading the league in that category from 1992-1996.
The center fielder was instantly a star player in Cleveland and his skills were showcased on a national level once the team was competitive again in 1994.
That year marked Lofton’s first All-Star Game appearance and he would make the event every year from 1994-1999.
He also added four Gold Gloves in that span of time as well.
A Trade To Atlanta
Lofton was a key member of the Indians organization, but was traded to the Atlanta Braves following the 1996 season in exchange for David Justice and Marquis Grissom.
Unfortunately, that meant he was not around for the 1997 World Series.
Would he have made the ultimate difference in the tight series against the Florida Marlins?
We may never know.
Lofton made the All-Star Game with the Braves in 1997 and was a valuable player as expected.
However, he was in the final year of his contract and the trade ended up helping the Indians acquire more veteran talent in exchange for a one-year rental of Lofton to Atlanta.
It was still bizarre to see him in a Braves uniform, especially after the heated battle between the Indians and Braves in the 1995 World Series.
Luckily, the trade did not create any sort of bad blood between the two sides.
A Return To Cleveland And Second Departure
The Indians and Lofton were the perfect match and he re-signed with the team in 1998 on a three-year deal.
He ended up sticking around for four more seasons from 1998-2001.
While Lofton returned at his usual pace, he started to slow down at the turn of the century.
His WAR dipped to 3.4 in 2000 and went down to 1.9 in 2001.
But that was not too unexpected, as Lofton was in his mid-30s at the time.
However, his 16 stolen bases in 2001 were certainly a shocking total to fans who remembered him when he made himself into a star a decade prior.
Following the 2001 season, the Indians decided it was time for a rebuild.
The team was unable to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a World Series and the former core was again.
Thus, Lofton signed with the Chicago White Sox on a minimal deal for the 2002 season.
He ended up appearing in only 93 games for the club that year before being traded.
Then came stints with the San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Texas Rangers all in a span of time from 2002-2007.
What followed was one final stint at home.
A Third And Final Stint In Cleveland
Lofton finished his career as a player who playoff teams wanted around.
Thus, the 2007 Indians made a trade with the Rangers to bring him back during that year’s pennant race.
Lofton returned and played in 52 regular season games for the Indians before the postseason began.
The veteran had a great ALDS against the Yankees, batting .375 and driving in four runs.
Then came the collapse against the Boston Red Sox.
One of the most memorable moments in recent Indians history was when third-base coach Joel Skinner held up Lofton as he was heading for home in Game 7 of the ALCS.
What could have been a tie game ended up being a nasty loss that fans are likely still upset about.
Holding up Lofton, even at his veteran age, was unforgivable in the eyes of so many.
The Indians were eliminated and Lofton never played in the league again.
Hall Of Fame Resume
Lofton has a career WAR of 68.4, but remains out of the Hall of Fame.
Why is that?
That question is hard to answer, but it is not rare to see a long career hurt players in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters.
Lofton played 17 seasons and slowed down immensely during the final five years of his career.
However, he had an eight-year run as an elite player.
From 1992-1999, his WAR was 5.0 or higher in seven of the eight seasons.
Taking home four Gold Gloves and making six All-Star Games is nothing to scoff at either.
The problem for Lofton is also never hitting any major milestones.
He retired with 2,428 hits, and is still not even top 10 in career stolen bases.
Lofton ranks 15th all-time with 622.
Ricky Henderson tops the list with a mind-blowing total of 1,406.
So while Lofton put up great numbers, he lacks that one statistic to set him apart among the all-time greats.
Still, he is tied for 118th in league history in terms of WAR with Carlton Fisk and Edgar Martinez, who both happen to be in the Hall of Fame.
WAR is not a perfect stat, but it is hard to ignore.
Lofton will end up being a player who will have to rely on a veterans committee to vote him in sometime in the future.
If his stats continue to hold up, ignoring his candidacy given the player comparisons just makes zero sense.
Lofton turned 54 years old in May 2021 and was previously inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame a decade prior in 2010.
Since then, he has shown up at Indians spring training to help out and seems to just be living and enjoying life.
He maintains an active Twitter account @Kenny_Lofton7 and his bio includes the fact he is the CEO of a company called Filmpool, which is a film production outfit.
So it would appear Lofton used some of his money and notoriety to take a shot at getting into the film industry.
He is having success as well, as Filmpool’s webpage includes the awards he has already taken home.
In addition to that, Lofton is also available on Cameo for the price of $85.
That is a bit steep, however, he has plenty of positive reviews so people are forking over the cash to get a message from the all-time Indians great.
Lofton is beloved in Cleveland and it is no surprise he can command a nice price on the service.
Lofton is one of the lasting symbols of Indians greatness seen in the 1990s.
The speedy center fielder amazed fans in the field, on the basepaths, and at the plate with countless clutch moments.
And even if he never makes the Hall of Fame, that will never take away from what he did in an Indians uniform.
Lofton is still young, so fans should expect to see him back at Progressive Field in some capacity in the future whether that is to retire his jersey or just to take in a game as a famous fan.