NEW YORK -- It’s Tuesday evening in Texas. Former Major Leaguer Jeff Kent was working on his ranch when he was informed that he fell short of being elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In his eighth year of eligibility, Kent garnered 32.4 percent of the ballot, up from 27.5 percent in 2020. No player on the 2021 ballot received the 75 percent required for election.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America has two more chances to put Kent into Cooperstown. If the BBWAA doesn’t vote him in, Kent’s last chance will be the Today's Game Era Committee.
“There is not a whole lot I can control. I didn’t lobby for myself,” Kent said via telephone. “There is still confusion on the overall ballot. I think people are still scratching their heads on what they want to do with steroid guys or guys that gave political opinions. … I think it is crazy how people debate it one way or the other. Maybe that’s why I have a cold view of it right now. It’s been debated enough.”
There shouldn’t be any debate that Kent had a stellar career, primarily with the Mets, Giants and Dodgers and including short stints with the Blue Jays, Indians and Astros. He played hard and played the game right. He utilized every bit of talent that he had. He was a player who played smart and walked away from the game with no regrets. During his 17 years in the big leagues from 1992-2008, Kent hit 351 of his 377 home runs as a second baseman, which is tops at the position. His power and run-production numbers are without peer among second basemen. At a position not known for power production, Kent has a legitimate case as the greatest run-producing second baseman in baseball history.
Kent reached the century mark for RBIs eight times, better than some of the all-time great second basemen -- Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Paul Molitor and Charlie Gehringer. As great as Roberto Alomar was on both sides of the ball, he drove in 100 runs just twice in his career. Kent’s .290 career batting average is higher than Hall of Famers like Sandberg, Morgan and Craig Biggio, who never hit 30 home runs in a season.
Using wRC+, Kent is among the all-time greats at his position. The stat is adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is Major League average and 150 would be 50 percent above MLB average. Rogers Hornsby leads all second basemen at 173 wRC+, followed by Nap Lajoie and Eddie Collins at 144, then Jackie Robinson and Morgan at 135. Hall of Famers, one and all. Gehringer, another Hall of Famer, stands at 124, with Kent right behind him at 123. Alomar is at 118, as are Lou Whitaker and Chase Utley. Sandberg is at 115.
“I produced runs because I wanted my team to win,” Kent said.
Kent was not known as a stellar defender, but he does rate -- according to FanGraphs -- as about MLB average, with a 1.2 career defensive WAR. Kent believes he was better than what defensive analytics say. Never once did Kent blow a big game because of his defense.
“I was one of the better defensive second basemen in the game for a long time,” Kent said. “I think radio guys think that a 6-1 dude playing up the middle is probably slow. I didn’t have the luxury of playing in the long grass at Wrigley Field. But I played on some awesome fields. I think I did a pretty good job. In my era, Gold Gloves and things like that were given to the most popular player. Even All-Star appearances were given to the most popular player in those days. I wasn’t one of the most popular players, but I played the game, kept my head down and didn’t complain or moan about it. That’s why I don’t have any regrets.”
Asked if he needed to make himself available to the public in order for the voters to realize how great he was on the field, Kent said, “Maybe. I feel like I was available throughout my entire career. There were probably only a few times where I hurried up, took a shower and left. I felt I was accountable and answered questions. Some people probably didn’t like the answers, but I think if you talk to the quality reporters that were in my era in the locker room, I was accountable, answered questions, had conversations.
“Was I a smartass sometimes? Yeah, probably. Was I standoffish and not wordy when I talked to people at times? Yeah. I liked to keep my house clean and stay focused on the game. When I got out of the game, I’m not self-promoting. [I feel I don’t] have to get on a soapbox and say, ‘Hey, look at me.’”