Perhaps the best way to describe the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame election results is “maddening.” This year’s candidate class was easily the best of my lifetime, yet the veteran sportswriters didn’t deem a single one of the 37 men on the ballot worthy of enshrinement of Cooperstown. As someone who would have voted for 17 people if I could have, this result was disappointing to say the least.
But while I’m flabbergasted that guys like Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and Curt Schilling didn’t make it into the Hall (I consider Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to be bigger snubs, but at least the reasons for rejecting them are understandable), the greatest sin isn’t someone staying on the ballot but someone getting kicked off of it: Kenny Lofton received only 18 votes (3.2 percent), 11 ballots shy of the 5 percent that would qualify him for another shot at immortality in 2014.
I figured Lofton wouldn’t get in this year; yes, he was squeaky-clean in an era when most of the stars were tarnished at least by rumors of PED use, but he might have been as low as the eighth-best player in an insanely talented first-year class. But for him not to get even the 5 percent necessary to hang onto the ballot for another year is downright criminal.
Need we list all of Lofton’s credentials? He was a six-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and a four-time recipient of MVP votes. He finished just four hits shy of a .300 career average, he scored over 1,500 runs, and with 622 career stolen bases (against just 160 caught stealings) he is the 15th-most prolific basestealer in baseball history. Not to mention that he was one of the greatest defensive outfielders of his generation, if not of all time.
What’s particularly striking about Lofton’s candidacy is how well he stacks up against his contemporaries. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system ranks Lofton as the eighth-best center fielder in baseball history, ahead of Richie Ashburn, Billy Hamilton, and Andre Dawson; everyone else in the top 14 is either in Cooperstown or not yet eligible. Baseball-Reference’s WAR and Adam Darowski’s Hall Rating both had Lofton as the ninth-best player on the ballot, while JAWS and WAR7 had him eighth. So why did Lofton finish 20th?
Here’s an interesting comparison: Lofton and Tim Raines. Both were speedy contact hitters who made their livings by getting on base and then hitting the ground running. Raines and Lofton are each other’s second-most similar players; they’re virtually tied in JAWS and WAR, and Lofton actually has a slight edge in WAR7 and Hall Rating. Raines is often cited as one of the most underrated players in recent history, and he got 52 percent of the vote. What does that tell you about Lofton’s 3 percent?
But perhaps the clearest example of how criminally indefensible Lofton’s low vote total is was the meager two-vote advantage he held over former teammate Sandy Alomar Jr. Now, I love Sandy and I’m thrilled to see him get some recognition, and I even voted for him in the Hall of Fame mock votes in which I participated (though only when the 10-vote maximum was lifted). But how in the world is the BBWAA’s position—that Lofton and Alomar were roughly equals on the playing field—defensible in any way? Scroll through Alomar and Lofton’s career stats:
From runs and RBI to WAR7 and JAWS, Lofton comes out ahead in literally every single category. It’s not Alomar’s fault that injuries derailed his career and to this day he’s a tremendous presence in the clubhouse, but he was on the ballot as a token candidate. What does the fact that his most similar player is Bengie Molina tell you? Once you answer that, how insane is it that he basically finished equal to Lofton in an election for the Hall of Fame?
I’m not saying Lofton is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, and in an election with more than 10 qualified candidates on the ballot I can understand leaving him off out of necessity. But I’m at a complete loss as to how he failed to get even 5 percent of the vote. It’s a shame that his Cooperstown hopes have been dashed so soon.