George Steinbrenner probably stopped being a big Bernie Williams’ fan during the 1998 off-season. That was when his All Star center fielder successfully leveraged a free agent offer from the hated Red Sox to get the Boss to reluctantly OK an eight year contract for Bern-Baby-Bern, costing about 100 million Yankee dollars. When the team won the next two World Series after that signing, Steinbrenner must have felt a bit better and in fact, Bernie continued his All Star caliber play for the first four years of his new deal. But in 2003, Williams got hurt and his numbers dropped precipitously. After Florida beat New York in that year’s World Series, it was George Steinbrenner who ordered the Yankee front-office to go out and sign free agent, Kenny Lofton because the Boss felt he was the guy who could replace Williams as the Yankee center fielder. Joe Torre, however, had other ideas.
Lofton was indeed a great player. During most of first decade as a big leaguer, he had been the starting center fielder in Cleveland, where he had won four Gold Gloves, five consecutive AL stolen base titles, and averaged over .300. He also had a much stronger arm than Bernie and though he lacked Williams power, he was a run-scoring machine.
At the time New York signed him, however, Lofton was 36 years old. He was also two years older than Williams. He had failed to hit .300 his previous four seasons and had played on five different teams during the three previous years. Kenny’s best days were clearly behind him by the time he put on the pinstripes.
Torre therefore felt justified in sticking with Williams as his starting center fielder in 2004, but when Bernie did not have the bounce back year he was hoping for, the “play Lofton” lobby in the Yankee front office and media grew louder. Lofton himself tried not to stir the controversy, insisting he would do anything he was told, even park cars at Yankee Stadium, just to be a part of the team. He kept telling reporters he joined the Yankees to win a ring. But before too long, subtle complaints about his lack of playing time were finding their way to the media.
In the end, Lofton played just 83 games during his one season as a Yankee. After the Yankees suffered their historic collapse against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, they traded Lofton to Philadelphia for a relief pitcher and probably would have traded Bernie too if they could find a team willing to pay a lions share of the $12 million they still owed him.
Kenny Lofton stuck around for three more seasons, retiring after the 2007 season. He ended his long and distinguished career with a .299 batting average, over 2,400 hits, 622 lifetime stolen bases but no rings.He was born on May 31, 1967, in East Chicago, Indiana.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2011. In 1992, Lofton finished second to a Milwaukee Brewer shortstop named Pat Listach in that season’s AL Rookie of the Year voting. Beginning in 1993, Kenny made six consecutive AL All Star teams and was never again selected to play in another mid-season classic. When he became eligible for Cooperstown consideration in 2013, he received just 3.2% of the vote which caused his name to be dropped from subsequent ballots. When asked about his low vote total, Lofton told a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter that he blamed steroids for keeping him out of the Hall of Fame, explaining that because so many of his contemporaries used PEDs to pad their lifetime statistics, his own numbers looked less significant. Here’s a lineup of former Cleveland Indians’ players who also played for the Yankees during their big league career:
1b – Chris Chambliss
2b – Joe Gordon
3b – Graig Nettles
ss – Woodie Held
c – Ron Hassey
of – Rocky Colavito
of – Kenny Lofton
of – Charley Spikes
dh – Travis Hafner
p – CC Sabathia
p – Sam McDowell
p – Luis Tiant
p – Bartolo Colon
cl – Bob Wickman
rp – Dick Tidrow
mgr – Bob Lemon
Lofton shares today as a birthday with this former Yankee relief pitcher.
|CLE (10 yrs)||1276||5767||5045||975||1512||244||66||87||518||452||611||652||.300||.375||.426||.800|
|PIT (1 yr)||84||374||339||58||94||19||4||9||26||18||28||29||.277||.333||.437||.770|
|SFG (1 yr)||46||205||180||30||48||10||3||3||9||7||23||22||.267||.353||.406||.758|
|PHI (1 yr)||110||406||367||67||123||15||5||2||36||22||32||41||.335||.392||.420||.811|
|ATL (1 yr)||122||564||493||90||164||20||6||5||48||27||64||83||.333||.409||.428||.837|
|TEX (1 yr)||84||363||317||62||96||16||3||7||23||21||39||28||.303||.380||.438||.818|
|LAD (1 yr)||129||522||469||79||141||15||12||3||41||32||45||42||.301||.360||.403||.763|
|CHC (1 yr)||56||236||208||39||68||13||4||3||20||12||18||22||.327||.381||.471||.852|
|NYY (1 yr)||83||313||276||51||76||10||7||3||18||7||31||27||.275||.346||.395||.741|
|HOU (1 yr)||20||79||74||9||15||1||0||0||0||2||5||19||.203||.253||.216||.469|
|CHW (1 yr)||93||406||352||68||91||20||6||8||42||22||49||51||.259||.348||.418||.766|
I remember the trade as if it was yesterday. It was an old-fashioned “blockbuster” deal that involved two teams and ten different players. The Yankees got the short-term benefit they needed to win the 1976 AL East pennant, but Baltimore got three players who would help make the Orioles a very tough team to finish ahead of in the standings for the next decade.
The trade took place in June of 1976. New York got pitchers Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Grant Jackson and Jimmy Freeman along with Baltimore catcher Elrod Hendricks in exchange for catcher Rick Dempsey, pitchers Rudy May, Scott McGregor, Dave Pagan and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Tippy Martinez. In his excellent biography of George Steinbrenner, author Peter Golenbock told us that Gabe Paul was completely against the deal and tried to talk the Boss out of it. Unbelievably, it had been Steinbrenner’s 12-year-old son Hank, who had convinced his old man that Holtzman would win the Yankees the pennant.
Tippy was a home grown Yankee reliever who had made his debut for New York in 1974 and led the team in saves the following season. He was an excellent complement to ace closer Sparky Lyle and together, those two had transformed the Yankee bullpen into one of the best in the league.
As Paul had predicted, the Yankees eventually regretted parting with Martinez who became a mainstay and workhorse in the Orioles’ pen for a dozen seasons, retiring with 115 lifetime saves. Tippy was born in La Junta, CA in 1950. He shares his May 31 birthday with this former Yankee center-fielder.
|BAL (11 yrs)||52||40||.565||3.46||499||0||298||0||0||105||752.1||665||320||289||49||366||585||1.370|
|NYY (3 yrs)||3||2||.600||2.67||44||2||20||0||0||10||77.2||59||28||23||3||55||44||1.468|
|MIN (1 yr)||0||0||18.00||3||0||2||0||0||0||4.0||8||9||8||1||4||3||3.000|