The first time I saw Kenny Lofton, he was on a basketball court.
Lofton was a quick point guard for the University of Arizona, leading the Wildcats into Eugene’s Mac Court. I had no idea he also was a gifted baseball player.
Until Wednesday, I hadn’t really looked back on Lofton’s 17-year major league career. He was named an all-star six straight years, earned four gold gloves as an outfielder and led the league in stolen bases five times. He finished his career with 2,428 hits, 1,528 runs and 622 stolen bases (ranking 15th all time).
I was surprised to see Lofton was one of the first-year players on the Hall of Fame ballot who didn’t earn enough votes (5 percent) to stay on the ballot next year.
Something I’m not surprised about: Nobody was elected this year. Three of the most notorious figures of the so-called steroids era — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa — were on the ballot for the first time, and no one expected the voters to give anybody the required 75 percent vote.
I’m not a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. But even if I could vote for those guys, I wouldn’t. They were cheaters.
Former Houston star Craig Biggio came closest this year, with 68 percent. (He fell 39 votes short.) Biggio finished his career with more than 3,000 hits, an almost automatic qualifier for election.
Biggio belongs in the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris belongs there too, but he came up short for the 14th time.
Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980s. He also had the single best pitching effort in a World Series Game 7, a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout win over the Braves. Under the rules, he will be on the ballot one more time.
Morris received the second most votes Wednesday, falling 42 votes short. The next three were first-time candidates Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, and Tim Raines, who was on the ballot for the sixth time.
Raines belongs in the hall. He finished his career ranked fourth in stolen bases, behind Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock and Ty Cobb. He was, statistically, one of the best switch hitters of all time.
I don’t know that Kenny Lofton belongs in the hall, though he was one of the premier center fielders for a decade. His best years were early in his career, but he was a consistent producer until he retired.
He scored at least 90 runs every season from 1992 to 2003, and scored 86 in his final year. His career batting average was just under .300.
Unlike Raines, he’ll never get a chance to earn more votes. Neither will Bernie Williams, who was a five-time all-star, four-time gold glove winner and a clutch player on four World Series winning Yankees teams. He fell from 55 votes last year, his first year on the ballot, to 19 this year.
Another fascinating player who won’t be back on the ballot is Julio Franco. He was 48 when he played his final game for the Braves in 2007, capping a 25-year career.
Franco shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but he was remarkable.
I could use that same word to describe Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Mark McGwire. McGwire has admitted his steroid use and has accepted that he’ll never be a Hall of Famer.
On Wednesday, McGwire was included on just under 17 percent of the ballots — more than Sosa, but far fewer than Clemens (37 percent) and Bonds (36 percent).
All four will be on the ballot next year. None will be elected, unless a lot of opinions change.