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PHILLIES Lofton takes aim on starting again



Published: Tue, February 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The former Indians centerfielder struggled last year with the Yankees.

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Kenny Lofton can't get used to sitting on the bench.

A six-time All-Star center fielder earlier in his career, Lofton is coming off his most frustrating season. He hit .275 with only seven stolen bases in just 83 games in his only year with the New York Yankees.

So it was no surprise that Lofton couldn't stop smiling on his first day in camp with the Philadelphia Phillies. He expects to get more playing time this season and is thrilled to be reunited with new Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

"It bothered me last year, because I feel I'm a guy who still could play," Lofton said Monday. "If a team don't feel I should play, they need to just send me home or send me somewhere else where I can play."

Torre conflict

Lofton, who has a reputation for being surly, blamed his inactivity last season on Yankees manager Joe Torre.

"He didn't want me to play. If he wanted me to play, I would have played," Lofton said. "I liked the situation over there, but I wasn't wanted by the manager. Certain managers you respect. Now, I'm in a more relaxed situation.

"It was a case where Joe had his core guys he wanted to play and wanted out there. You come over here to a guy who knows, understands and likes you. Charlie's a guy who I can respect as a manager.

Lofton played two seasons under Manuel, who managed the Indians from 2000-02.

Their relationship started almost a decade earlier when Lofton played in Houston's minor-league system and Manuel was a manager for Cleveland's Triple-A team, Colorado Springs.

Admiration

Manuel and Lofton engaged in friendly verbal confrontations when they were on opposite sides. But Manuel admired Lofton so much he convinced Indians general manager John Hart to trade for him in Dec. 1991.

The two are so close now that they impersonate each other.

"He can be a tough guy to get to know at first, but he's definitely not a problem," Manuel said. "He's not going to give us trouble at all about not playing every day. I have a great relationship with Kenny. I understand Kenny a lot."

Manuel plans to platoon Lofton with Jason Michaels in center field, though former starter Marlon Byrd could figure into the mix. The Phillies were interested in Lofton two years ago and again at the trading deadline last season, but couldn't work out a deal.

They finally sent reliever Felix Rodriguez to the Yankees for Lofton last December. New York is paying $1,525,000 of Lofton's $3.1 million salary for this season.

"He's tremendous," said Phillies first baseman Jim Thome, who played with Lofton in Cleveland.

"In that era, we all had different personalities, but we fit in well together.

"Kenny is very energetic. What you hear isn't what you see all the time. When we got him this winter, I was excited because there are certain guys that you play with that win games a lot of different ways and he's that guy."

Lofton, who turns 38 on May 31, appears to be in great shape as he starts his 15th season with his ninth team. Lofton's career average is .297. He has hit over .300 six times, including five straight years from 1993-97. He stole more than 50 bases six times.




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