This Hired Gun Is No. 2 With a Bullet
Watching Kenny Lofton take batting practice is like watching a point guard run a fastbreak.
He drives to the left. He dunks to the right. He bounces up the middle. He drops a no-look bunt.
“Hey, I have Clipper season tickets,” he says with a smile.
Listening to Kenny Lofton take batting practice is like listening to the soundtrack from “Bull Durham.”
“Put your clothes on the rack!”
“Check out the prices of those clothes!”
“I’m gonna swing it where I see it!”
Talking to Kenny Lofton in the clubhouse after batting practice is like talking to any other Los Angeles dude who works out at Sports Club/L.A.
He loves basketball but breathes baseball. He lives by the water but works in the city. He is cool enough to own a movie post-production house but still gets wide-eyed when the “American Pie” band camp girl walks past him at the gym.
He’s not a leading man, he’s a character actor, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t stay up nights dreaming of a statuette.
“Anymore for me, it’s not about anything else,” he says, repeating what he recently told the team during a morning speech. “I’ve gotten close, but it ain’t been the whole cigar. I’ve got to win.”
Nine division series. Five league championship series. Two World Series. Zero titles.
Eighty-one postseason games, 336 postseason at-bats, zero world championship moments.
When Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti was looking for a veteran No. 2 hitter whose baseball intuition was matched only by his championship impatience, he knew exactly whom to call.
Problem was, Kenny Lofton, 38, was on the verge of signing with Arizona at the time.
“So I was like, ‘What’s going on, you guys trying to win? You got guys with attitudes that want to win? You got guys who know how to win? If you got all that, I’m there,’ ” Lofton recalls.
Colletti convinced him. The Diamondback folks couldn’t.
“The Dodgers were like, ‘Yeah!’ ” Lofton says. “The Diamondbacks were still unsure.”
So here he comes, the former University of Arizona point guard, a current L.A. resident, returning home with a one-year, $3.85-million contract that requires him to do two things.
Move Rafael Furcal around the bases.
Push everyone else to October.
Playing for his seventh team in five years, coming off his best season in several years, hit .420 last September, good for about 110 games in center field, he arrives with the most honest of titles.
“He’s a hired gun,” Colletti says.
Four seasons ago, he was acquired by Colletti’s San Francisco Giants at the trading deadline, and wound up with the hit that put them in the World Series.
A year later, he was dealt by Pittsburgh to the Chicago Cubs at the trading deadline and helped them reach the National League championship series, where they imploded after the infamous Steve Bartman incident.
In one of his last acts on that team, Lofton reportedly called out the nonchalance of Sammy Sosa in the Wrigley Field clubhouse, which is sort of like calling out the president in the Oval Office.
Although no Dodger will publicly admit it, if Lofton can light the same fire under J.D. Drew this year, he will be worth every penny.
“He is a player that wins games, a player that every championship club needs, both on the field and in the clubhouse,” Colletti says.
He’s aging, but he hasn’t been on the disabled list in five years.
You would think his bat and eye would be slowing down, but he hit .335 last year in 367 at-bats with a .392 on-base percentage.
He may no longer wow opposing pitchers, but he can still work them, and that’s all the Dodgers ask.
“It’s like, if you want me, you know what I’m going to do,” Lofton says. “If you’ve got a hole, and I can fill that hole, that’s cool, let’s roll.”
It’s a hole that he fills loudly in the clubhouse, as he is unafraid to push and prod those who aren’t playing smart or hard, with a history of being the kind of enforcer that the Dodgers have been lacking.
“I just try to put my two cents in to help the cause,” he says.
It’s a hole that he attempts to fill smartly on the field, where he still has an ability to move a runner with a bunt or a grounder that are as impressive as his hits.
“I may not get a hit, but you’ll see me playing hard,” he says. “You see my outs, they will be quality outs.”
It will be baseball poetry if the Dodgers are winning.
It will be obnoxious noise if they aren’t.
It’s the sort of season in which Kenny Lofton could work his way into Dodger memories forever, or be gone by July 31.
“Teams that need pieces to put them over the top, that’s me,” Lofton says. “Teams that still have pieces all over the place, no.”
The point guard has the ball. A full court awaits.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.