Nick Swisher and Kenny Lofton are both right in MLB playoff debate

Nick Swisher Kenny Lofton Rocky 3

The good news is that the Cleveland Indians are coming off a season in which they made the playoffs! The bad news is that one of the most popular Indians of the past 20 years not only looked to invalidate that in the press this off-season, but might have alienated himself from these new Cleveland Indians in the process. Anthony Castrovince uncovered the tale of playoffs, current Indians leader Nick Swisher and the archetype Cleveland Indians center fielder, Kenny Lofton and it reads a bit ugly for someone like me who always wants everyone to get along. The thought of Swisher and Lofton being at odds when the Indians seem set on potentially doing something good in this new Terry Francona era makes me sad. It’s especially sad to me when I think they’re both right in their own way.

We all heard when Kenny Lofton invalidated the one-game playoff as a playoff. If I remember correctly, at the time, I just fluffed it off as an old school baseball player being critical of the newer MLB arrangement. Apparently, Nick Swisher had no such patience to just let it go by. Swisher sought out Lofton and got in his face, seemingly telling him “You’re either with us or you’re against us, and there’s the door if you’re against us.” On the one hand, good for Nick Swisher. He’s got a job to do right now as a highly paid player and leader in the Indians clubhouse.

That doesn’t mean I don’t understand where Lofton is coming from because I know all too well what kind of runs the Indians were on during my formative years as a baseball fan. I understand what it means to feel a little old school too as the game changes around us. We’ve all debated the merits of a one-game playoff even as we relished the opportunity to see the Indians play in front of an epic sold out crowd in downtown Cleveland. I will speak glowingly of that playoff game forever in one breath and still criticize the idea of a one game “series” in the next. For fans it can be complex.

QUOTEFor Nick Swisher it’s not complex. He’s the leader of a team that is looking to continue to build something in 2014. It’s much easier to build something on a foundation of success like, you know, a playoff appearance. I don’t blame him for not having the time or patience for a former player who seems intent on taking that foundation and slapping a bundle of TNT on it.

Lofton’s message is one being spoken in the wrong venue. If he wants to philosophize on high about MLB and how they enact their competitive playoff structure, he needs to do so outside the realm of the Cleveland Indians. He needs to say that it’s good that the Indians had a shot in the playoffs, but that an old guy like him can’t get with Bud Selig’s new format. If spoken like that, I even agree with him. I think baseball superiority is decided horribly with regard to the one-game battle.

Regardless of my philosophies regarding MLB playoffs, the practical fact is that everyone knew the system on the way into the year. Everyone knew that the Indians would be better served by winning their division. They tried to do that and failed, so regardless of some kind of inequity, the Indians were responsible for where they ended up. To Kenny Lofton’s point, they weren’t responsible that it happened to be a one-game home playoff contest because that structure was out of their control.

Even if Lofton had a point, I’ve learned over the years that being “right” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be especially in the face of having a job to do with real goals. Kenny should know better than to continue to harp on the issue and try to prove that he’s right as he did yesterday on Twitter. Kenny stood by his statements and even kept harping on the fact that he “gave 110%” for the city of Cleveland as a player, which was never at issue. What Lofton needs to understand is that even if he is right, he’s wrong because of where and when he said these things. He’s wrong in saying something that has an impact in this time and place against the fortunes of the people with which he’s trying to be affiliated.

I find it unfortunate that Lofton put himself in a position to receive the “cold shoulder” treatment from current Indians upon his visit to spring training this year, but it all makes sense. In this case, Kenny probably should have just excused himself as an old man, apologized and tried to be a part of building what Nick Swisher and Terry Francona are building here in the present where playoff appearances do occur in a single game.

Image whipped together by Scott Sargent/WFNY

  • Pat Leonard

    Solid commentary, Craig. And I definitely agree that Lofton should have congratulated the achievement for the Indians while condemning MLB for changing to an expanded playoffs, as MLB is the real culprit.

    I love Kenny Lofton. He’s one of my all-time favorite Indians. I remember him stealing home in the 1995 playoffs. I remember how he let his hat sit high on his head so that it would blow off every time he was chasing down a fly ball. He was the real life equivalent of Willie Mays Hayes. I swear he even started out a season with an accidental base hit (although that may just be my mind playing tricks on me). But make no mistake about it, Kenny Lofton has a lot of bitter feelings about coming up just short twice in the World Series. He also has a lot of pride about how good those Indians teams were. His comments come out of pride and bile related to his own team, not the team the Indians put on the field last year.

  • RGB

    C’mon Kenny, don’t be That Guy.

  • Keith
    It’s too high, what do you mean it’s too high??

  • BlueDog

    I hate to have the unpopular view here, but lets call it what it is, a Play-IN game. We weren’t in the playoffs, it sucks but its the truth. Look at the NCAA tournament, they have play-in games to make the tourny, those teams aren’t actually in unless they win and sadly that’s how it ended for the Indians.

  • Natedawg86

    He needs glasses

  • mgbode

    the Indians would be better served by winning their division. They tried to do that and failed

    It still blows my mind that we went 4-15 against Detroit but only came up 1 game short in the standings.

    Detroit Tigers 93 69 .574 —
    Cleveland Indians 92 70 .568 1.0

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    Those Play-In games are the first round of the tournament, so yes they are part of the tournament.

  • Steve_Not_Chad
  • Jason Hurley


  • The_Real_Shamrock


  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Great photo and I agree Craig 100%!

  • LaundroMat

    You’re wrong. A play-IN would happen if there’d been a tie in the wild card #2 seeding and those teams played for the right to be the second wild card team.

  • LaundroMat

    It wasn’t even a play-IN. It was a playoff game. It was a one-game playoff series, if a series can be comprised of one game.

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    I was referring to the NCAA tournament.

  • Steve_Not_Chad


  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Nothing BROWN about me son!

  • LaundroMat

    I was replying to BlueDog.

  • Steve

    “He’s wrong because of where and when he said these things. He’s wrong in saying something that has an impact in this time and place against the fortunes of the people with which he’s trying to be affiliated”

    And this is all it really comes down to. Lofton is brought back every spring and sometimes during the summer because the fans like him, and he can bring some goodwill. Unless he’s imparting some secret wisdom on how to outrun some odd routes in the outfield, he’s really there just to promote the team to a still skeptical fanbase. If he can’t do that, he need not be invited back.

  • MrCleaveland

    The Indians were the fourth-best team in the A.L. For years and years, the top four teams made the playoffs. It’s not the Tribe’s fault that Selig added a fifth team and made us win an extra game. Selig screwed us out of a legitimate playoff series.

    So go pound salt, Kenny.

  • mgbode
  • Pat Leonard

    And you were both correct.

  • Pat Leonard

    Me too… it’s kind of unbelievable as we played basically the same schedule as the Tigers. The Tribe just couldn’t do anything with that team.

  • Toddyus

    Looking at this very far from the outside (I don’t follow baseball closely anymore), Did someone say the 2013 Indians team was similar or better than the 90’s Lofton, et al teams? Was there a comparison made that Kenny was reacting to? That’s what I seem to be missing. If no one compared them, then why is Lofton saying anything? Is this a case of “if you don’t have something nice to say..?”

  • Fair point. And don’t overlook the bitterness over his recent results in HOF voting also. The cumulative effect of all of this has him lashing out in several directions. I fully agree with his argument, and he has every right to make it, but I’m not sure he goes about it this way if circumstances were different in those other areas.

  • Until Swisher does (select one of the following):

    1. Lead the Indians to the World Series
    2. Lead the Indians to the AL Championship Series
    3. Lead the Indians to an actual playoff win
    4. Hit over .300 even once in his career (Lofton did it 5 times with the Tribe)
    5. Make more than one All-Star Game (Lofton made 5)
    6. Win even one Gold Glove (Lofton has 4)
    7. All of the above

    he needs to shut his pie hole and worry about getting ready for the season.

  • Steve

    Nick Swisher, World Series winner, as a current leader in this clubhouse needs to make sure everyone is paddling in the same direction. Kenny Lofton, looking to make a bit of extra scratch going around gladhanding the fans, needs to understand how to properly promote the franchise, as is his only job.

  • Steve_Not_Chad


  • I think telling Lofton to shut up is part of him getting this team ready.

  • MLB considers it part of the playoffs. The stats, scores and records all go under “playoffs.” Danny Salazar started 10 games and one playoff start.

    The opinion that the Wild Card game isn’t part of the playoffs is factually incorrect. There’s no * next to any of the World Series winners that go into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

  • Nice work, Craig. I wouldn’t call Lofton “right” (as he’s incorrect), but I like (and agree with) what you say here – if Kenny’s problem is with MLB’s playoff system, he needs to use a different forum (and word-choice) for his complaint.

    But Lofton being bitter and difficult doesn’t seem to be anything new for him.

  • Good article Scott. I’d encourage you to read my recently posted article over at I think Lofton was only reflecting the same feeling the fans felt about the one game playoff. Doesn’t mean it was right, but just because he was wrong doesn’t mean the Indians should let Swisher and Pestano stomp on him, either.

  • It comes across as more like Swisher interjecting himself into a story for no reason other than to draw attention to himself.

  • mgbode

    Kenny likely has something to say to SI. Both writers picked Cleveland as the most likely team to miss the 2014 playoffs from among the AL teams who made the 2013 playoffs

  • I don’t see that; Swisher plays here. Lofton was the one popping off (and continuing to talk, ugh). Perhaps it’s not Swisher’s place to tell him to shut up, but I’d argue that if it’s not his place, whose place is it? Swisher definitely assumed a leadership position on the team last year, that he took issue to any slight on his teammates isn’t a huge shock to me.

  • With that caveat that he has every right to be pissed about being snubbed for the HOF, it’s quite silly he’s letting that bitterness seep over to the Indians, an org that has pretty much given Lofton whatever the heck he wants for almost 20 years (other than, y’know, a contract after 2007, but nobody else did anyways so screw him).

  • Pat Leonard

    Lofton should reflect it towards MLB if that is the case. The guys on the team don’t have any control over the playoff format. Also, FYI… Craig wrote the article.

  • Absolutely. Nice read, Craig. But Pat, I think you’re missing the point. Swisher and the current Indians shouldn’t be so touchy. Did it feel like the Indians made the playoffs to you? It surely didn’t for me. In either event, it is up to the front office to keep these things in check.

  • I agree that it is odd he continued to push the envelope when contacted after the fact. Maybe there is some history there that we don’t know about?

  • CB Everett

    Yeah I saw that too. That would mean something for CLE if Corcoran or Jaffe were ever actually correct in their predictions. In 2013, Corc picked the Blue Jays to win the east and Detroit to win the WS. Jaffee had the Jays too, and the Nats winnig it all. Neither even had BOS as a wild card.

    Since they both failed to correctly pick the Indians to get a wild card last yr, I guess they’re just doubling down here.

  • Cynic

    To me, Swisher comes off looking like a huge punk here (shocking!). What kind of jackhole goes out of their way at a FAN-FEST to stir up something that’s months old and ruin the vibe of what’s supposed to be an enjoyable family friendly event? Why are people overlooking this critical piece of context? Rule #1 of being a mature, grown man – don’t instigate infront of children. I find it quite disturbing that there are some whose level of respect for swisher increased after this incident. How foolish.

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    Please stop with the grown man rule book. Parents argue in front of children all the time, and yes sometimes it gets heated.
    It’s pretty evident that you already have a problem with Swisher, so this article was just a chance for you to take your petty shots at him, and of course, us fools that don’t have a problem with what he did.

  • Pat Leonard

    Yep, it felt like it to me. Was I disappointed that the Tribe got the 4th best record in the AL in the first year where they have to play a 1-game playoff with another wild card team? Sure. But I’m certainly not going to lash out at the team about it. The Indians have zero control over that. Again, I think Lofton’s touchy comment should have been aimed at MLB… didn’t mind Swisher firing back at all. I didn’t see a need to keep it in check at this point.

  • You’re making a MASSIVE leap to infer that Swisher and Lofton were arguing in front of children. Not sure you’re rule #1 of being a “mature, grown man” was actually violated.

  • Lofton’s had a history of disparaging the team (or at least feeling it was better “when he was playing”), which on its own, is pretty meaningless (pretty sure he’s had some tweets saying his teams were better than the 2013 team), but as it’s continued it’s becoming obvious he’s still got some ax to grind.

  • Steve

    Are you kidding? Did you watch that game? Sure, it was only one night, but when that stadium gets packed and rocking, there’s no feeling like that. Playoff baseball in this town is freaking awesome.

  • I get it. Perhaps I place greater weight on the playoffs of the nineties because they represent a magical time. I remember distinctly being frozen in my seat in the 1997 playoffs.