NEW YORK -- It's December, and former second baseman Jeff Kent is not surprised to be getting calls from sports reporters about his National Baseball Hall of Fame candidacy.
Baseball writers are voting this month on who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July, with the 2019 electees to be announced on Jan. 22. In the past five years, Kent has fallen well short of the 75 percent vote required for election -- in January 2018, Kent was named on only 14.5 percent of ballots.
In his first year of eligibility in 2014, Kent received 15.2 percent of the vote. The next year, he fell to 14 percent of the vote, before rising to 16.6 percent in '16. In '17, he got up to 16.7 percent before trending down again in last year's voting.
"It's so much crap," said the 50-year-old Kent by telephone. "I don't really think about it anymore, unless if it's in my face, as you are talking about it to me now."
A five-time All-Star, Kent hit 351 of his 377 career home runs as a second baseman, which is tops at the position. He is also the only second baseman to have six consecutive seasons with 100 or more RBIs; he reached the century mark eight times. His .290 career batting average is higher than Hall of Famers like Ryne Sandberg and Joe Morgan.
And who can forget the year 2000, Kent's best season? He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award after hitting .334/.424/.596 with 33 home runs and 125 RBIs. He also posted a 7.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference.
Kent played for six teams during his 17-year career, and most of his success came with the Giants. During his six years with San Francisco, Kent and Barry Bonds were a powerful one-two punch in the middle of the Giants' lineup. To New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden, who has a Hall of Fame vote, there is no doubt that Kent belongs in Cooperstown.
"I look at people like Jeff Kent, who in my opinion was one of the all-time great second basemen. He certainly dominated the game during his time," Madden said.
Experts will bring up the fact that Kent was a below-average infielder. According to FanGraphs, he has a 1.2 career defensive WAR. But Kent, who has a .980 fielding percentage, said he was better than what defensive analytics say. As he put it, he may not have been as graceful as Roberto Alomar, but, "I believe I was better than guys like Sandberg and guys like Chase Utley."
It should be noted that Sandberg (.989) and Utley (.982) both have higher fielding percentages than Kent.
"That's another stigma I can't leave," Kent said. "The [baseball critics] sit there on their couches and say, 'Well, he is a [6-foot-2] power hitter, so therefore, he didn't have range up the middle.' That is such a farce. I don't think there is anybody that could turn the double play better than I did in the era that I did. I played with some great shortstops. We were able to be [one of] the best double-play combinations. Jose Vizcaino was my favorite. I want people to understand that as much as I loved to hit and drive in runs, it disappointed me more when I made errors. I really cared about defense."
Said Madden: "… [Kent] shouldn't be hurt by analytics. They try to claim he was a lousy second baseman, and that's not true. He was an adequate second baseman -- maybe even more than adequate. He didn't make a whole lot of errors. He was very good at turning the double play. He had this reputation, and I guess it's reflected in his WAR. The defensive metrics are hurting him."
Kent wasn't an outgoing person toward members of the media. The reputation started during the summer of 1992, after the Blue Jays traded him to the Mets for right-hander David Cone.
Kent acknowledged that he had his problems with the media. As he put it, he cared more about his teammates and winning ballgames. Kent played in New York for almost five years, but no matter where he went after that, the negative reputation never left him.
"I played on what the New York media calls the 'Worst Team Money Could Buy.' I was right in the middle of that mix, traded for David Cone, who was a beloved East Coast guy. Heck, I love the guy, too," Kent said. "I'm a guy that came from Berkeley, Calif., and stood up for what I thought was right.
"… Why haven't I been able to kick [the bad reputation]? I don't know. Probably because I haven't cowed down to the pressure. I haven't cowed down to the bullies [reporters] who told me, 'I could make or break your career.' But if you ask the best reporters out there, they know I was respectful. I spoke the truth. I tried not to hide behind my bad play by leaving the locker room early. Sometimes, when you take it, you get beat up."
Kent's stats are not going to change, but he is proud of what he accomplished on the diamond.
"People say, 'He was the best hitting second baseman ever, but' … What's 'but'? I don't understand what the 'but' is. That's what's laughable," Kent said.