Monday, December 5, 2016
Into the Sunset, Pt. 33: Kenny Lofton
(Note: I'm thinking of moving my frankenset posts from Mondays to sometime over the weekend.
Vote totals have taken a sharp dip since the frankenset tournament ended, so go ahead and get your vote in on the first page of new frankenset contestants if you haven't already!
Now let's return to your regularly scheduled programming with a reboot of my "Into the Sunset" theme.)
I know I'm on the younger end of the card collecting spectrum, but that doesn't mean I can't still feel old sometimes.
I'm sure every sports fan has probably experienced that dreaded Gosh-I'm-getting-old moment at some point. It comes with the territory. For me, it came when some of the most hallowed ballplayers of my youth began to retire, one by one. The first of those retirees I can recall was Kenny Lofton, a man so fast that not even a parachute could stop him.
I'm not quite old enough to remember Lofton on those great Cleveland teams of the '90s, but following his baseball career during my baseball adolescence made him one of my all-time favorite ballplayers, a title he retains to this day.
But the sad fact of the matter is that even the best in the game have to retire sometime.
One of the first things that drew me to Kenny Lofton was how often he switched uniforms. He played for a whopping eleven clubs in his 17-year career, and amazingly, he spent a year or less with ten of those teams. Unlike some other well-traveled ballplayers, however, I think it was more of a case of other teams wanting him as opposed to teams being desperate to unload him.
Lofton played ten of his 17 seasons with the Indians over a course of three separate stints with the club, the last of which came during his sunset campaign of 2008 when he was dealt from Texas to playoff-bound Cleveland at the trade deadline.
I don't count subset issues as official sunset cards, but these two are worth mentioning since Lofton's 34th career postseason stolen base secured a record that still stands.
Kenny Lofton received three sunset issues from a card market that was quickly dwindling.
The first comes from probably the most disappointing design of my collecting lifetime: 2008 Topps. I use the word disappointing because this design could have been so great, but it ended up being a dud.
It was nice of Topps to insert Lofton into their 2008 checklist following the speedster's retirement the year prior, because you know what that means...
...complete career stats!
Lofton's stats are among my favorite to read because of the stellar numbers and the sheer overload of teams he played for. Look at those accolades. A .299 career average. Over 2,000 games played. Not to mention his 622 career steals, which ranks 15th all-time.
I'm not sure if Lofton is a Hall of Famer, but I sure as heck believe he deserved better than the 3.2% of votes he got in his only year on the ballot (2013).
Though the shot is almost exactly similar to Lofton's Flagship issue, Topps also inserted him into their Heritage checklist in '08.
It was a great time to have a sunset card in Heritage, since Topps honored one of its top-tier designs that year: 1959.
I probably opened more packs of Heritage in 2008 than any other single year since because of how much I enjoyed the look of it.
But in the end, Upper Deck provided the finest farewell to Mr. Lofton, at least in my opinion.
Most collectors seem to agree that 2008 UD is the brand's last great set. They'd be out of business just two years later, but the greatness of their 2008 edition remains to this day: an all-around fantastic mix of stellar photography and simplistic design.
Upper Deck captured Lofton in the joyous huzzahs following (what I assume is) Cleveland's division-clinching win in 2007, with an anonymous teammate lifting the 40-year-old veteran from behind.
Even with a fantastic sunset card, it's hard to be neutral when a beloved ballplayer like Kenny Lofton retires. It hurts. It sometimes feels like a part of me has gone missing. Many of my favorite players of my youth are out of the game by now, and what's more: many of baseball's brightest young stars are actually younger than I am.
Here's hoping the Ichiros and Bartolo Colons of the baseball world can hang on for just a few more years.