Kenny Lofton had an impressive MLB career. He spent 17 seasons in the league playing for multiple teams. Lofton was a six-time MLB All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, and a five-time AL stolen base leader.
It seemed as if Lofton made the right decision to pursue a career in baseball. But baseball was not his first love. Basketball was his No.1 sport.
Lofton’s basketball career
Growing up in Indiana, Lofton played multiple sports. In high school, he played on the basketball and baseball team. He pitched and played center field on the baseball team and played point guard on the basketball team.
Lofton’s basketball success allowed him to become an all-state basketball player. He accepted a basketball scholarship to play at the University of Arizona. Lofton played with current Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr and former NBA star Sean Elliot. The Indiana native served as the backup point guard on the team that made it to the Final Four in the 1988 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
When his basketball career ended at Arizona, he left as the Wildcat’s leader in career steals, which was eventually broken. Lofton was very athletic, and his skill set made him a high-profile athlete. Bruce Fraser, a former basketball teammate at Arizona, said that Lofton could have gone pro in football or basketball.
Trying out for the baseball team at Arizona
During his junior year at Arizona, Lofton decided to try out for the baseball team. He only played in five baseball games and recorded only one official at-bat. But his speed and other skills caught the eye of some baseball scouts.
The Houston Astros ended up selecting Lofton in the 17th round of the 1988 MLB draft. He still had another year of eligibility at Arizona, so he would play in the minor leagues in the summer while completing his basketball eligibility after. The two-sport star earned his degree at Arizona while still playing in the minors.
Lofton credits some of his baseball success to his exposure as a basketball player. “In particular, it was the discipline required to play the point guard position that translated well between sports,” Lofton said in a Players’ Tribune article. “In both baseball and basketball, you’ve got to be patient and let the play develop, and you need to be able to identify what’s going to happen before it occurs.
A successful career in baseball
Though Lofton may have had an opportunity to go pro in basketball, he made the right decision pursuing baseball even though he did not have that much experience in college. He made his MLB debut in 1991 with the Astros, and after spending one season with the team, they traded him to the Cleveland Indians.
Lofton spent the majority of his career in Cleveland, and that’s where he made a name for himself. He spent 10 seasons playing for the Indians, making the All-Star team five teams as a member of the team. After his playing career was over, Lofton was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
Throughout his career, he played for 11 different teams and is currently No. 15 on the all-time stolen base list with 622 stolen bases. Though we will never know what Lofton’s career would have looked like if he pursued basketball, one thing for sure is that he made the best decision for his sports career.