He may have been a part of one of the best outfield units to ever grace the grass at The Jake, but Tribe Hall of Fame speedster Kenny Lofton is not making many friends with the current crop of Wahoos.
Lofton has long been a defender of his era, ensuring that Indians fans remember that, as good as times are today, they were way better back in his day. And, in a column filed by former Tribe beat writer Anthony Castrovince, several of the guys in uniform today have taken exception to Lofton’s words, taking things as far as nearly going to blows.
For a little insight into the pride and passion of this current Cleveland Indians club, consider a scene from the bowels of Progressive Field in January.
It was there, behind the backdrop of the otherwise peaceful setting of Fan Fest, that the Indians’ first baseman of the present confronted their center fielder of the past about some disparaging remarks the latter had made about the Tribe’s 2013 run. What followed was an intense exchange in which Nick Swisher and Kenny Lofton were, according to one onlooker, almost nose-to-nose at one point, like an umpire and manager arguing a call.
This was a verbal battle, a semantical struggle, all relating to the meaning of the word “playoffs.”
On one end, you had Lofton insisting, as he had done in a sitdown with reporters a short time earlier, that the 2013 Indians were not a playoff team, because, in Lofton’s eyes, one Wild Card Game dropped at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays does not a traditional postseason entry make.
“A playoff is a series, not one game,” Lofton had said. “It’s not the Super Bowl.”
And on the other end, you had Swisher, living up to the leadership role he signed up for as a free agent a year earlier in a manner that went beyond anything he contributes on the field.
When word spread of Lofton’s remarks, reliever Vinnie Pestano took to Twitter to say there was “no need to cheapen” what Cleveland had accomplished, adding the hashtag “SitdownKenny.”
Swisher took it a step further. He sought Lofton out at the event, got in the grill of the member of the team Hall of Fame, and told him, in so many words, that the Indians are trying to build something special, and that if Lofton didn’t want to be a part of it, he ought to board the first flight back to Los Angeles.
Per Castrovince, Lofton’s “up hill, both ways” demeanor has lost him a few friends in the team’s clubhouse. His last stay in Goodyear, Arizona was a short one as he isn’t received as warmly as some of his past teammates have been.
Lofton, nevertheless, won’t back down on the definition of “playoffs.” When reached for comment for this column, he, in a text message, stated that Castrovince should seek out others to “back him up.” To the former outfielder’s point, the Indians played in what was dubbed “postseason” baseball (as opposed to “playoffs”), as it was in October and, well, was in addition to the 162-game regular season. That said, the Indians had the fourth-best record in 2013 and would have qualified for postseason (or “playoff”) play regardless of the format which changed prior to last season.
Semantics being what they are, it appears that Swisher will get the final word on the matter.
“Rregardless of what happened to us in that game, that was something the city of Cleveland hadn’t had in a long time,” Swisher said. “So to just get that momentum and kind of get over that hump, it gave us a lot of comfort here. We take a lot of pride in that.”
(Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images)