Kenny Lofton loathes the phrase “chicks dig the long ball.”
“That quote came out,” Lofton said, “and it took guys like myself — speedsters, who were very important — it took us pretty much out of the game.”
A four-time Gold Glove Award winner and six-time All-Star, Lofton tallied 622 stolen bases (15th-most in Major League history) and recorded a .372 on-base percentage during his 17-year career. His 1,528 runs scored rank 60th all-time. When Lofton surveys the Major League scene today, he sees few examples of players like him, guys whose games are predicated on speed and defense and hustle.
“Everybody is looking for home run hitters,” Lofton said.
That’s a trend Lofton said started in the mid-’90s, when he had established himself as a guy who frequently reached base and wreaked havoc once he got there. That rare skill set didn’t do him any favors with colleagues cutting corners, he said.
“I just feel that I, personally, got affected by other guys cheating,” Lofton said. “All the guys who were getting paid all of the money were the guys who were hitting home runs. After a while, guys were like, ‘We could look at Kenny Lofton. He’s not getting paid because he’s not hitting home runs.’ So all these guys were saying, ‘How can I hit home runs? That’s the only way I’m going to get paid.'”
According to Baseball Reference, Lofton earned more than $60 million during his big league career. His salary peaked at $8 million in 2001, which fell short of the top 10 in the American League that year. In 2001, only two of the top 10 salaries in the AL were earned by pitchers. Of the eight hitters, two — Albert Belle and Mo Vaughn — didn’t play because of injuries. Only three of the hitters ranked in the top 10 in the AL in home runs.
Still, Lofton contends that the league-wide power surge paved the way for massive salaries, which encouraged players to put their power on display using whatever means necessary. Lofton said players with his set of abilities never commanded the attention that the big bats garnered.
“When all this stuff was going on, guys were worried about getting paid,” Lofton said. “They weren’t worried about the Hall of Fame or any of that stuff. They were worried about getting paid money. That’s the bottom line. If you were worried about your Hall of Fame credentials, those guys wouldn’t have cheated. It’s all about getting money. It’s all about getting paid.”
As a result, Lofton feels short-changed about his Hall of Fame status. He received 3.2 percent of the vote, 11 votes shy of the 5 percent necessary to remain on the ballot in future years. Lofton felt voters spent so much time debating the merits of sluggers tied to performance-enhancing drugs that they dismissed altogether those who didn’t hit for power.
“I just felt like they were concentrating on cheaters instead of concentrating on players who were legitimate,” Lofton said. “That was the main focus: ‘Should I vote this guy in or out?’ That was what reporters were probably thinking about. I can’t say for sure, but if you cheated, you shouldn’t even be considered. But that wasn’t the case. So you’re telling people it’s OK to cheat and you’ll still have a chance to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s what this year’s voting showed people.
“I really got penalized. I felt like I wanted a chance for people to look at my numbers and look at what I did year after year after year. But now you get off the ballot your first year, it’s like you’re just kicked to the curb now. But the guys who cheated still have a chance for people to look at them. It’s just unreal. I just don’t understand. It just boggles my mind how people go about things.”
Lofton said he never actually witnessed any players using PEDs, but when revelations came to light about various players, it all added up.
“You can only get so good,” Lofton said. “Just working as hard as I did and seeing guys leapfrog over me, I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. Something isn’t right. But I had no proof. I just knew something wasn’t right. Then once all of this stuff started to co out, it’s like, ‘Ohhh, that’s why. That would make sense why this guy was doing this and I couldn’t do it.’ It makes a lot of sense now.”