CLEVELAND (AP) — Of the 11 uniforms Kenny Lofton has worn during a 17-year odyssey around the majors, there’s only one he never wanted to take off.
He’s wearing it once more.
Lofton returned for his third stint with Cleveland — and another playoff run — on Friday as the Texas Rangers traded the 40-year-old outfielder to the Indians for minor league catcher Max Ramirez.
“I missed being in Cleveland,” a beaming Lofton said after arriving at Jacobs Field. “It’s the city that got me going.”
The Indians, who entered the weekend 1 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central and leading the wild card race, had been in the market for a left-handed hitter with speed for the past few weeks as the July 31 non-waiver deadline neared.
Lofton was a five-time All-Star in nine seasons (1992-96, 1998-2001) in Cleveland, the leadoff catalyst for the Indians, who dominated their division throughout the 1990s but haven’t made the playoffs since he left as a free agent following the ’01 season.
The Indians believe Lofton can help them get back to the postseason. With David Dellucci on the disabled list and Trot Nixon slumping, Cleveland needed another outfielder. Lofton was having a solid season — his 17th in the majors — batting .303 with seven homers and 23 RBIs for the Rangers.
“It’s amazing what he can still do,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, who had Lofton batting second and in left field for Friday’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins. “He brings a lot to our lineup and a great deal of experience to our clubhouse.”
Dealing Lofton could be the first of several moves by the Rangers, who are again in last place in the AL West. There had been plenty of interest from contending teams in Lofton and also Mark Teixeira, their 27-year-old switch-hitting slugger who has won two Gold Gloves at first base.
Atlanta, the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly the most interested teams. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels wouldn’t speculate on Teixeira.
“We’ve had conversations with a lot of clubs,” Daniels said Friday, without elaborating.
Any team that acquires Teixeira would get more than a rent-a-player for the rest of this season. While he will be eligible for salary arbitration after making $9 million this season, he can’t become a free agent until after 2008.
The Indians acquired Ramirez last season from the Braves in exchange for closer Bob Wickman.
With Lofton gone, Marlon Byrd will become the regular center fielder. The Rangers recalled corner outfielder Nelson Cruz from Triple-A Oklahoma, where he hit .352 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 45 games.
“This gives us an opportunity to evaluate Marlon Byrd in center, a question we need to answer going forward,” Daniels said. “We can also bring back Nelson, another question we have to answer.”