Head-first slide costly as Lofton needs surgery

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The Independent Online

"Hey, remember what happened to Kenny Lofton?"

"Hey, remember what happened to Kenny Lofton?"

That is bound to be said on Little League fields and in major league dugouts next year any time a coach or manager sees one of his players slide head first into a base.

Lofton, the Indians' six-time All-Star center fielder, will likely have surgery on a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder that could sideline him until next season's All-Star break.

Lofton was injured while diving into first base during Game 5 of the AL playoffs against the tion, but in the past week Lofton has been told by two doctors that he has a torn muscle and will need surgery.

Cleveland was already in the market for some pitching help. Now, Lofton's injury might add a center fielder, leadoff man, base stealing threat and Gold Glove winner to their shopping list.

"This hurts. It's a setback," Indians general manager John Hart said on Wednesday. "It's a tough blow, but not a devastating one."

With the Indians' blessing, Lofton, who was told by the Indians team orthopedist he needed surgery, got a second opinion from renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr James Andrews. Andrews confirmed the earlier diagnosis and also recommended surgery.

Lofton has not yet decided when or if to have the procedure, Hart said.

"Kenny is now evaluating his options," said Hart, who spoke with Lofton for a half-hour on Tuesday. "He's really down about it. He really wants to play."

Lofton is expected to make a decision in the next week to 10 days, and the Indians will support whatever it is, Hart said. If he has surgery, Lofton would be out for a minimum of five months and a maximum of seven.

"He's going to listen to his heart," Hart said. "You can't force a guy to have surgery."

While Lofton is sidelined, the Indians could use a platoon of Jacob Cruz and Dave Roberts in center or sign a free agent. Among the players currently available are Tom Goodwin and Brian McRae.

"We may not do anything, but we're going to look," Hart said. "It's (Lofton's injury) not a full season. Fortunately, we had two guys who played there a bit last season when Kenny was out."

Lofton hit .301 with seven homers and 39 RBIs last season, but played in just 120 games because of a hamstring injury. He got off to a great start in '99, batting .386 in April, but his production fell off dramatically in the second half.

Cruz batted .330 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 88 at-bats. He was doing a nice job filling in before tearing a ligament in his right thumb sliding into second base in August.

Roberts, who has better speed than Cruz, batted .238 with 12 RBIs in 143 at-bats, and stole 11 bases.

The Indians are also now without a closer after Mike Jackson signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Hart let Jackson walk because the GM has never been willing to pay big money for a closer, preferring a balanced bullpen instead. As for next season, Hart said he would expect the team to find its closer on the current roster, with Paul Shuey or Steve Karsay likely to get the job.