Former major league outfielder Kenny Lofton fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility in 2013, getting only 3.2 percent of the vote, a bit below the five percent threshold needed to remain. Lofton was certainly underrated by the voters, as he accrued 68.3 WAR according to Baseball Reference. Of the 61 Hall of Famers who spent at least 65 percent of their games in the outfield, 38 of them had less career WAR than Lofton, including Andre Dawson (64.8), Dave Winfield (64.2), Richie Ashburn (63.9), and Vladimir Guerrero (59.4).
Six years later, Lofton is still upset about being snubbed in Hall of Fame voting, Peter Botte of the New York Post reports. Lofton blames a ballot stuffed with performance enhancing drug (PED) users. He said, “I was expecting to do better. But I’m a realist. I look back at the situation, and at that time, I think what happened for me was I came out on the ballot in the wrong year. There was so many people on the ballot, and so many people who had a potential situation with the performance-enhancing drugs. I felt a lot of voters wanted to keep those guys on the ballot, and that was votes taken away from me.”
Lofton said about the electorate, “They know the era I played in and all the things I was dealing with. I played against steroids guys and I still was competing during that time. At my position, I felt like I stood out. I just feel like the Veterans Committee should look at my defense and my offense and what I did on the base paths. Even though I felt good to see that Harold Baines got in, he played one position, or one side. He was a hitter. Baseball is about two sides of the field. I felt like I helped my teams on both sides of the field. Hopefully that will be looked at differently now.”
2013 was the first year since 1996 in which the BBWAA did not elect a single player to the Hall of Fame. Eight players — Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, and Alan Trammell — would go on to eventually become Hall of Famers. But Lofton’s hypothesis doesn’t hold up. Players suspected of using or known to have used PEDs didn’t fare well in 2013, as Roger Clemens got 37.6 percent of the vote, followed by Barry Bonds with 36.2 percent, Mark McGwire with 16.9 percent, Sammy Sosa with 12.5 percent, and Rafael Palmeiro with 8.8 percent. Furthermore, voters who tended to vote for players suspected of PED users were also more likely to vote for Lofton. Those who don’t view PEDs as a limiting factor also tend to be more brushed up on analytics. Of the five ballots on which Lofton appeared, Bonds and Clemens were on three of them. Many ballots didn’t utilize the maximum 10 votes, either, so it wasn’t like voters were hemming and hawing between a PED user and Lofton for the 10th vote and ultimately deciding on Lofton.
The BBWAA electorate, even just six years ago, was a lot older and a lot less fluent in analytics than it is now. I believe that if Lofton were on the 2019 ballot, he would have fared a lot better, certainly enough to make it on the ballot next year. Aside from his stolen base totals, Lofton’s traditional stat sheet doesn’t stand out. When one digs into things like on-base percentage, stolen base success rate, defense, and positional adjustments, Lofton’s case becomes much better and much more obvious. Hopefully, the Today’s Game committee takes Lofton into much greater consideration than the BBWAA did and puts him in the Hall of Fame where he belongs.