Today, six players were inducted in the Hall of Fame. Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and the late Roy Halladay were voted in over the winter while Lee Smith and Harold Baines were added by the veteran’s committee. As a big hall person, it gladdens me to see so many players enter Cooperstown, but I can’t help but think of the players that won’t be joining them this year or any time soon. In particular, I’m thinking about a former Giants outfielder who didn’t get the respect he deserved.
No, I’m not thinking about Barry Bonds. Enough has been written about how Bonds’s omission from the Hall of Fame is a farce, how he was a Hall of Famer in just the first ten years of his career, how he more than doubled the career bWAR of 27 first-ballot Hall of Famers, and how the induction of Bud Selig, the man who oversaw the Steroid Era, is a glaring hypocrisy.
Instead, I’m going to focus on a player who was one of the ten-best players at a premium position who also fell off the ballot in his first year. That player is Kenny Lofton.
If you’re only looking at counting stats and traditional stats, Lofton doesn’t jump out. In his 17-year career, he amassed 2,428 hits and just 130 home runs neither of which are milestones worth paying attention to. His career slash line is .299/.372/.794, so he was almost, but not quite a .300 hitter. He never won a World Series and didn’t hit well in the postseason (.667 OPS in 438 plate appearances). As far as hardware, he was a six-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner. He picked up MVP votes in four seasons, but never finished higher than fourth despite leading the league in WAR that year.
There are arguments to be made for why Lofton ultimately isn’t a Hall of Famer, even if none of them are very compelling unless you’re one of those people who thinks a hitter needed to be feared to make it to the Hall. But even if you think that Lofton not reaching 3,000 hits or winning more hardware should keep him out, I think you’d have to agree that Lofton falling off the first ballot is inexcusable.
What makes Lofton’s snub all the more upsetting is that his first and only year on the ballot was 2013, the year where no player was voted in. More voters preferred Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, and Dale Murphy to Kenny Lofton which is absurd.
There are two center fielders who have compiled more WAR and JAWS than Lofton who aren’t in the Hall of Fame: Carlos Beltran, who won’t be on the ballot until 2023, and Mike Trout, who won’t be Hall of Fame eligible until 2035 at the very earliest. Dan Hirsch’s The Baseball Gauge makes it easy to see how Lofton compares to other Hall of Fame center fielders.
Lofton didn’t make his major league debut until he was 24 and didn’t play his first full season until he was 25, but he still beat out Andre Dawson and left Kirby Puckett in the dust.
The major knock against Lofton is that he peaked early and was just about average for the rest of his career, but his seven-year peak (WAR7) is right in line with an average Hall of Fame center fielder.
Hall of Fame Center Fielders
|Ken Griffey Jr.||83.8||54.0||68.9|
Lofton may not have met the traditional measures for a Hall of Famer, but the traditional measures for a Hall of Famer are kind of dumb. He was the best or among the best at his position through his 20s and into his 30s, and he certainly deserved more than one lousy year on the ballot. We have to depend on the Today’s Game Committee to give Lofton the consideration he deserves. I’m optimistic that he will eventually be enshrined, but his name should still be on the ballot.