I was rooting for ex-Giant/Dodger Jeff Kent to be elected to the Hall of Fame, although I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t make it on the first ballot. I loved Kent’s game. Hard-nosed. Old school. He would have fit in during any era. If Ty Cobb came at him at second base with spikes up, he would have gone right back at him. If they put the radar gun on his line drives up the middle, I’m not sure if any slugger in baseball could top the heat he put on the ball.
I was amused when Kent, according to published reports, said he wasn’t even thinking about the Hall of Fame. I don’t buy it. Kent was one of the most competitive players I’ve ever seen. He sparred in the dugout with Barry Bonds, at a time when Bonds was god-like to Giants ownership and fans. But if Kent won’t make his case, I will. If he joined the Hall of Fame right now, he would be No. 1 in home runs among second baseman in the Hall with 377, second in on base percentage at .500, and third in RBI with 1,599. Craig Biggio, a catcher who switched to second base, missed election by two votes. Kent finished 16th of 36 candidates. Kent led Biggio in average, home runs and RBI. I heard one of the most ridiculous reasons for not voting for Kent during a discussion on MLB. The point was that his offensive numbers were diminished because he often batted before Bonds, and thus got more good pitches to hit. OK, let’s get that Babe Ruth plaque out of the Hall right now, since he only got in because he had Lou Gehrig to protect him. And that Hank Aaron fella surely wouldn’t have amounted to anything if he didn’t have sluggers like Eddie Mathews and Joe Adcock batting after him. And do I even mention Willie Mays, who clearly owes his legendary status to the fact that pitchers grooved pitches to him because either Willie McCovey or Orlando Cepeda was up next.
Here is some better evidence for the voters. If you were starting a team, would you draft Bill Mazeroski, Nellie Fox, Ryne Sandberg, Red Schoendienst, Bobby Doerr or Tony Lazzeri over Jeff Kent? Now, I love all these players. They are all legitimate Hall of Famers. But Kent has more impressive numbers than all those Hall of Fame second baseman. Perhaps he was just left out this year because the ballot was so rich with so many good choices, and that he will get the nod in 2015.
On a Giants team where steroids seemed to be part of the post-game spread, and where management looked the other way, Kent played the game with respect. He didn’t succumb to the PED temptation, even it meant being second fiddle to Bonds. He played the game the right way. His numbers were exceptional. Maybe it really doesn’t matter to him. But it should matter to those who appreciate the game. Jeff Kent is a Hall of Famer. You swung and missed this year voters. I hope you make better solid contact next year, like Kent did routinely at the plate, and grant this baseball great the honor he has deserved and earned.