Kenny Lofton enshrined in Indians Hall
The outfielder, who spent three separate stints in Cleveland while playing for 11 different major league teams, was enshrined into the team's hall of fame on Saturday night.
"It's always good to come back to a city that's like my second home," Lofton told reporters before the ceremony. "Every time I come here, I feel the love."
Lofton was enshrined with the late Cy Slapnicka, the general manager who signed Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller. Fans politely acknowledged Slapnicka's accomplishments as they were presented on the giant scoreboard, then gave Lofton a resounding standing ovation, chanting "Ken-ny, Ken-ny."
Lofton unveiled his own plaque in the team's hallowed Heritage Park beyond the center-field wall, then walked to the infield. He was greeted by Feller and several other Hall members, including his former manager Mike Hargrove and 1990s teammates Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar Jr.
Lofton said the turning point in his career came after being traded to Cleveland at age 24 before the 1992 season. He finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting, and by 1995 was a key part of a dominant Indians team that went to the World Series for the first time in 41 years.
"It's the city that got me going," he said. "We were part of something special, moving into the new ballpark [in 1994] and the fans responding. We knew it had been like a thousand years since they made the playoffs and we were proud to be part of it."
Lofton's heart was broken when he was dealt to Atlanta days before the 1997 season for all-stars Marquis Grissom and David Justice. A year later, he re-signed with Cleveland and stayed through 2001 before embarking on a journey that took him to eight clubs in six seasons before returning yet again during the 2007 stretch drive to help the Indians make it back to the playoffs.
"Kenny was the igniter for this team for many years," said Alomar, inducted last year and now the Indians' first base coach. "I have a great deal of respect for him."
Lofton played 17 seasons, but his 10 years in Cleveland were most memorable. In 2,103 career games, he hit .299 with 113 triples, 130 homers, 383 doubles, 622 steals, 1,528 runs and 2,428 hits. In 95 postseason games, including 50 for Cleveland, he scored 65 runs.
He hopes those numbers may be good enough to get into Baseball's Hall of Fame, and is particularly proud that he played without any illegal boosts during the game's scandalized Steroid Era.
"I didn't take any shortcuts," Lofton said. "I played the game right, played hard and I had fun doing it."
Two of Lofton's many spectacular plays top his own personal list of favorites. One was scoring from second base on a wild pitch by Seattle's Randy Johnson in the 1995 AL Championship Series. The other was a leaping catch to take a homer away from Baltimore's B.J. Surhoff. Fans attending Saturday's game got a souvenir of that play, a special bobblehead doll depicting Lofton, a former basketball player at the University of Arizona, jumping to make the grab.
"I remember that play like it was yesterday," he said. "The funniest part was seeing the guys in the bullpen when I caught the ball. They were going crazy. I'll never forget it."
Lofton, his eyes glistening as he spoke, thanked his family, Cleveland fans and the Indians organization for helping him achieve his career accomplishments. Then, before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Alomar, the 42-year-old told fans to stick with the organization.
"You guys will get a championship," he told Clevelanders who have not won a World Series since 1948. "I guarantee it."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press