In his first season of candidacy, Kenny Lofton failed to garner the necessary 5% of votes to remain on the ballot for next season.
There are so many parts of Hall of Fame voting that come under scrutiny, but in a season where the big questions have revolved around The Steroid Era one of the overlooked issues is the ridiculous rule that BBWAA members can only vote for ten players. The result is that in situations like this season, where so many all-time greats were on the ballot, players like Kenny Lofton have poor results.
I would concede that a guy with Lofton's credentials might seem a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame; the black ink and the grey ink aren't there and his greatest asset was his speed. But there was a whole lot to love about him, too. The league leader in steals for five consecutive years (1992 through 1996); a four-time Gold Glove winner with a strong arm as well as breath-taking range; a six-time All-Star; a career batting average of .299 and on-base percentage of .372. From 1992 to 1999, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better center fielder and leadoff hitter in the game, and in that frame averaged 5.7 wins above replacement.
He played until he was 40, and it was a surprise when he wasn't still playing at 41. In his last three seasons be batted a combined .308/.371/.410 while averaging 26 steals and just five caught-stealing. It's not like he just "hung in there" at the end of his career. We need to cross out his 1991 cup of coffee, but he still put together 16 very good seasons.
Even going back to the beginning of his career, Lofton should have been the American League Rookie of the Year in 1992. But for some reason Pat Listach, who in no way had a better season than Lofton, took the award home.
Looking at other center fielders in the Hall of Fame, the JAWS rating system sees Lofton as roughly an "average" Hall of Fame center fielder. Of the top 7, only Ken Griffey Jr. is not in the Hall; Lofton is ranked number 8. Directly below him, in order, are Andruw Jones, Richie Ashburn, Billy Hamilton, Carlos Beltran, and Andre Dawson. Kirby Puckett is ranked 21st. See this list for yourself.
Maybe Lofton is a Hall of Famer and maybe he isn't. I happen to think he is. Whatever the case, he certainly deserves more than to be brushed off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, lumping him in with guys like Ryan Klesko, Jeff Conine, Rondell White, and Jeff Cirillo.
Limiting BBWAA's ability to vote to just ten players is arbitrary, and punishes players who merit more consideration. Of all the things that are wrong with the Hall of Fame, and Hall of Fame voting, this one is a pretty damned easy fix.