Seeking HOF push, Kent played game 'right way'

January 1st, 2017

NEW YORK -- After Jeff Kent retired from baseball in 2008, Dusty Baker -- his manager for six years when both were with the Giants -- approached him and said, "I expect you to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame."

One could understand why Baker thinks highly of Kent. A five-time All-Star, Kent hit 377 career home runs, and is the only second baseman to have six consecutive seasons with 100 or more RBIs. (He reached the mark eight separate times). His .290 career batting average is higher than Hall of Famers such as Ryne Sandberg and Joe Morgan.

And who can forget Kent's best season, which occurred in 2000? He won the National League MVP after hitting .334/.424/.596 with 33 home runs and 125 RBIs. He also posted a 7.2 WAR, per, that year.

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Kent played for six teams during his 17-year career, and most of his success came with the Giants. During his six years in San Francisco, Kent and Barry Bonds were a powerful 1-2 punch in the middle of the Giants' lineup.

"It's what you see is what you get when you talk about Jeff Kent," said Baker, who now manages the Nationals. "There is nothing phony about him. I enjoyed having him on the team. He played hard for me. Jeff Kent, he is the man."

Kent may be "the man" in Baker's eyes, but the Baseball Writers' Association of America sees him differently. Since becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2014, Kent hasn't come close to the 75 percent of votes needed for induction. In his first year of eligibility, Kent received 15.2 percent of the vote. In 2015, he fell to 14 percent of the vote, before rising to 16.6 percent in 2016. The 2017 Hall of Fame class will be announced Jan. 18.

"I've tried to eliminate a lot of drama from my life," Kent said. "I don't know why [the vote total isn't higher]. I don't get it. They come up with these WAR numbers, which I don't understand and they never had before. … It gets me to scratching my head. I don't know. I'm out having fun. I'm coaching kids. I'm building a sports facility for kids out here in Texas."

There are two possibilities as to why Kent has not received enough votes. One is that he didn't have the best relationship with the media.

"It should have nothing to do with whether he deserves it or not," Baker said. "Members of the media are human beings. Sometimes, like or dislike goes with the equation."

Kent acknowledged that he wasn't the most outgoing person toward the media. He cared more about his teammates and winning ballgames.

"Yes, I was a [smart alec] now and then, but if you looked at a lot of media that talked to me, there are plenty of people who said if you wanted a good honest source, you go to Jeff Kent. If you wanted a [dishonest] answer, go to somebody else," Kent said. "But you better watch out for Jeff Kent though. If he is having a bad day, he may not want to talk to you, and that was right because I took the game seriously.

"I really love the game. I cared about the game. I kept the game close to me, and a lot of the media wanted to get close to me. I kind of pushed them away. I really didn't want to talk to the media sometimes. So did that build up to a frictional relationship? Probably."

Kent also never won a Gold Glove. According to FanGraphs, he was a below-average defender with a 1.2 career defensive WAR. However, former teammate F.P. Santangelo said Kent always made the plays he needed to, but was never flashy while doing the job at second base.

"He was a lot better second baseman than people ever gave him credit for," said Santangelo, who is now a broadcaster for the Nationals. "He really worked hard on his defense. People always talk about his offensive numbers as a second baseman. People say he was all right at second. I thought he was better than all right.

"He really worked hard to go from a below-average shortstop, when he was first called up by the Blue Jays, to make himself an average-to-slightly-above-average second baseman. He really hung in there on the double play. He had great range going up the middle, throwing across his body because he had the shortstop arm strength. He made all the plays. He was really consistent."

Asked to describe his 17-year career in the big leagues, Kent said, "I loved the game. I played the game the way it was supposed to be played. I played it with honor, respect and I played it the right way."