CLEVELAND -- Kenny Lofton is one of those names that people reflect on and wonder, "How did he get eliminated from the Hall of Fame ballot after just one year?"
Lofton roamed center field for 17 seasons. While he bounced around later in his career, playing for 11 different teams, Cleveland was the only club he played multiple seasons for. A decade in Northeast Ohio earned him six All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and a second-place finish for the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1992.
Known largely for his exceptional defense and tremendous speed, the fact that he led the American League in stolen bases five times (he led the Majors in three of those seasons) was unsurprising. And yet, while he dazzled in the field and on the basepaths, he still managed to end his career with a .299 average and a .794 OPS -- a résumé that causes many to wonder how he didn't get more Cooperstown consideration.
Let’s take a look at 10 top moments from Lofton’s career:
1. Passed ball scores him … from second
Oct. 17, 1995
Every run counts in the postseason, and Lofton realized he had a chance to give his team an insurance run in the eighth inning of a pennant-clinching ALCS Game 6 in an uncharacteristic manner. In front of a roaring crowd at the Kingdome, a pitch from Randy Johnson skipped off the glove of catcher Dan Wilson and trickled over to the backstop, giving Ruben Amaro (who was on third) plenty of time to score. Most of the time, it’d be easy to assume that the damage had been done and Wilson could toss the ball back to Johnson and turn their focus to the next pitch. Lofton clearly knew that was the expectation and caught Seattle by surprise as he was charging behind Amaro to score on the passed ball all the way from second base. As Bob Costas said on the call, "He never stopped. Kenny Lofton made this inning."
2. A "routine" basket catch
June 4, 2001
When most would assume an outfielder had no chance at catching a fly ball, Lofton routinely proved them wrong -- and no one knows that feeling like Torii Hunter. In the bottom of the second inning, Hunter lifted a high fly ball to deep center field at the Metrodome. Lofton turned and ran toward the fence with his back toward the infield. When it was clear he wouldn't have time to turn and get himself planted under the ball, he slowed down, reached his glove out in front of him and made an incredible basket catch at the warning track to rob Hunter of an extra-base hit, though Minnesota won the game, 11-10.
3. Lofton’s big game
Sept. 3, 2000
A four-hit game isn't too rare, but pairing it with a walk-off homer and five stolen bases put together an unforgettable performance. Lofton is one of 10 players in Major League history to record at least four hits with five stolen bases in a single game and the only player to have one of those four hits be a home run. At the time, he also tied the American League record by scoring a run in 18 consecutive games. In the bottom of the 13th with the game tied at 11, Lofton launched a solo homer to right field and was greeted by a dogpile at home plate to end his huge day.
4. A leaping grab
Aug. 4, 1996
Any time a player robs a home run, it's impressive, but when the outfielder scales the wall and has his back completely toward the field, it's otherwordly -- and that's exactly what B.J. Surhoff watched Lofton do. Surhoff lifted a long fly ball to center field that Lofton tracked beautifully. Just as the ball was inching its way over the wall, Lofton leaped, planted his right foot in the chain-linked fence and twisted his body to allow his glove to reach over his head and make an unbelievable snag, robbing Surhoff of a home run.
5. Solidifying a trip to the World Series
Oct. 14, 2002
While most of his highlights came with Cleveland, considering more than half of his career was spent in Northeast Ohio, Lofton still made an impact with every team he joined, including the Giants in the 2002 postseason. In Game 5 of the NLCS, the Cardinals were the first to score, plating the first run of the game in the seventh inning. But with a trip to the World Series in sight, the Giants responded to tie the game at 1 in the bottom of the eighth. The team's fate fell on Lofton's shoulders in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and runners on first and second, Lofton served a soft single into shallow right field that allowed the winning run to score, sending San Francisco to the World Series.
6. The 12th inning walk-off
April 29, 1994
Speaking of walk-offs ... this may not have sent Cleveland to the World Series like the No. 5 moment on this list, however, Lofton gave fans an incredible memory just after the doors to then-Jacobs Field opened. Cleveland carried a one-run lead into the ninth inning, but the Rangers knotted the score at 4, forcing extra frames. With one out in the bottom of the 12th, Lofton's healthy cut resulted in a solo shot that he admired from the batter's box.
7. Another robbery
Aug. 3, 2001
Another day, another marvelous defensive play for Lofton. While this one didn't require him to scale the wall, Lofton covered serious ground to reach the right-center-field warning track. He still had plenty of time to track the ball and time out his jump perfectly to reach over the wall and pull back what would've been a Carlos Guillen homer.
8. Lofton ends longest game in club history
May 7, 1995
While there have been games with more innings since this day, this 6-hour, 36-minute marathon still stands as the club's longest game by time -- and if it wasn't for Lofton, it could've gone on even longer. With a runner on third and the infield in, Lofton hit a single up the middle into center field to plate the winning run.
9. Scoring the game-winner
Aug. 5, 2001
Maybe this is more of a team highlight than a Lofton highlight, but it's only fitting that one of the most unbelievable comebacks was punctuated with the run-scoring machine in Lofton. The team fell in a 12-0 hole by the third inning and slowly started to chip away at the Mariners' lead before 12 unanswered runs forced extra innings. It wasn't until the bottom of the 11th that the mission was complete, as Cleveland won the game on a Jolbert Cabrera broken-bat single to score Lofton, who leaped into Ed Taubensee’s arms at the plate and was flung over his shoulder in celebration. The 12-run deficit is tied for the largest overcome in MLB history.
10. 2,000-hit club
Aug. 25, 2004
Lofton's name falls on the list of the 286 Major Leaguers who have joined the 2,000 hits club. On Aug. 25, 2004, with the Yankees, he recorded his milestone hit -- ironically against Cleveland at Jacobs Field -- on a single up the middle. It was only fitting that he was in front of his home crowd despite wearing the opposing uniform, allowing him to have a much-deserved standing ovation for the feat. He ended his 17-year career with 2,428 hits three years later.