Oct. 24, 2012
Athletics Communication Services
To hear Kenny Lofton describe it, the choice seemed simple. If the postseason was the sporting pinnacle, then he was going to do his all to strive for that goal.
With Major League Baseball's World Series set to begin tonight, few players have had as many trips to the postseason as Lofton's 11, including two appearances in the Fall Classic.
"I was a competitor," he said. "When I was young and found out that the postseason was the highest level you could go, I knew that I wanted to compete in it."
Lute Olson, his college coach agreed.
"Obviously, Kenny is a great athlete, but he is also a competitor with a great work ethic and a passion for everything he does."
He certainly found the postseason often, and managed to reach it on practically every level imaginable.
As a basketball player, Lofton led his East Chicago (Ind.) Washington High School squad to the 1985 state finals. He also was a key member of Arizona's memorable 1988 Final Four team.
When his career path veered towards baseball, the postseason success didn't slow, as he was a part of the Tucson Toros' 1991 AAA championship prior to his run of MLB postseason appearances.
Possibly more impressive than the 11 postseason appearances during his 17-year Major League career, is the fact that Lofton made the postseason with six different organizations: Cleveland (1995, '96, '98, '99, 2001, '07), Atlanta (1997), San Francisco (2002), Chicago Cubs (2003), New York Yankees (2004) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2006).
Lofton saw action in 95 career postseason games, appearing in 20 total series and was on the winning end nine times. His teams advanced to seven League Championship Series and he made World Series berths with Cleveland in 1995 and San Francisco in 2002.
"It was awesome," he said of his postseason experience. "When I got through it the first time (in 1995), I knew it was something that I wanted to be part of every year. The fun and excitement I experienced was unforgettable."
A career .299 hitter in his regular-season career who was a six-time All-Star, Lofton often rose to the occasion in the postseason, hitting .300 or better in six different series with a best of .458 (11-of-24) with five stolen bases in the 1995 ALCS against Seattle.
He doesn't cite a desire for postseason heroics, just the simplicity of doing his job on a daily basis.
"I always felt the most important thing in every situation is to do your part because if you do that and let everyone else feel the same way, then the team will be successful," Lofton said. "I tried to stick to that philosophy my whole career because if I did my job as a leadoff hitter and did my best, then that was going to help my team get to the next level. I couldn't do it by myself, but I had teammates who also did their jobs."
That attitude was prevalent and perhaps forged in McKale Center, as Lofton and his UA teammates helped to build a championship basketball program in Tucson. In his four seasons at Arizona, the Wildcats won 105 games, the school's first three Pac-12 Conference championships and made the first trip to the Final Four. Individually, he averaged 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game in 129 career appearances. He set a school record with 67 steals in 1988-89 and still ranks fifth on UA's career steals list with 200.
"We have a very strong bond," he said. "To this day, we know we were part of something special, and it keeps us close.
"The first thing was we had great camaraderie; we respected each person," Lofton continued. "The thing you have to understand first is the concept of team. Once you put team first and everything else second, then that is how you win. Our team thought about the team. We were friends on and off the court and enjoyed each other's company, and it showed on the court."
Success seems to follow that 1988 Wildcat club, as six of its players went on to play in the NBA and win nine championship rings. Others have succeeded in entertainment and private business.
Lofton's UA teammate Harvey Mason, himself a six-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter, record and movie producer, credits the creative environment shared during those practices and games guided by Olson.
"We learned a lot from Coach Olson," Mason said. "Everyone on the team was young, very impressionable and very sharp. We were open to learning and being around players and coaches like Coach Olson, Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott; everybody influenced everyone else, and those types of positive things rubbed off onto all of us."
Mason says there is a kind of competitive pride that goes into seeing your teammates achieve their goals.
"It meant everything to me to see my teammates win a championship or play in the playoffs," said Mason. "On the flip side, when I accomplished something great, my motivation would be the same. For me, I looked at my teammates as mentors, even if they were the same age as me, because they inspired me and I wanted to make them proud."
When asked to compare playing in the World Series to the Final Four, Lofton identified the sudden-death nature of the NCAA Tournament as something unique when pitched against a best-of-seven scenario.
"The opportunity to get to the Final Four is very limited," Lofton said. "In this perspective, getting to the Final Four is something really special, even more special than playing in the World Series because it's win or go home and not a series. When I played in the Final Four, it was an experience that I can't even describe because it was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me at that point in my life."