Jeff Kent adds an interesting element to the Hall of Fame conundrum.
This San Francisco Chronicle article piqued my interest, mainly because it raised some interesting observations about former Blue Jay/Met/Indian/Giant/Astro/Dodger Jeff Kent — a somewhat odd figure whom you could never quite figure out, even when you thought you might actually be close to cracking the code.
The one thing we — reporters who covered him, front offices who employed him, ballplayers who played with him — all knew to be true was that Kent didn’t care what people thought of him. He said what was on his mind, political correctness be darned. In an era where pro athletes are increasingly more diplomatic as they choose their words, Kent was having none of that. If he had an opinion, and you asked him about it, he’d unload.
That characteristic alone might help his Hall of Fame chances later this year, when his name appears on the ballot for the first time. More on that later.
Kent had a few different personas. He was well-known for his complete disinterest in getting close to his teammates on any level, treating them, and his profession, in the same manner as the decision makers in the front office. This was a business, the clubhouse was his office, and his teammates were nothing more than coworkers with whom he had one thing in common: they played baseball for a living.
Before one particular road game in California while he was playing for the Astros, Kent was debating with a teammate on a random topic, and the teammate joked, “Careful. We may not be able to be friends anymore.” Kent shot back, “We’re not friends.” The teammate gave one of those half-laughs, the kind you use when you’re not quite sure how to react. Kent said, again, stone-faced, “No. Really. We are not friends.”
That was just how Jeff Kent was. He wasn’t mean-spirited; he was just blunt, and a little strange. What else was he? An amazingly talented baseball player who had an intolerance for losing and stupidity. He fumed after losses. When games were lost because of mental mistakes, he’d sit at his locker after, silently stewing with such intensity you could practically see the steam coming out of his ears.
That’s also what made Kent so respected. His teammates didn’t get him, but they liked him. They didn’t dare invite him to dinner, ever, but they admired him for his work ethic and absolute disdain for losing. Maybe he wasn’t the guy you’d grab a brewskie with after a day game in Chicago, but he be at the top of anyone’s list as a desired teammate on club with a chance to win a championship.
Kent had another side to him as well, but it was one he mainly liked to keep hidden while he was working. A lot of his weird-guy persona, in my opinion, was simply a ploy to keep people guessing, as well as prevent anyone from getting too close. In truth, he’s a nice guy. Bright. Insightful. Even, at times, gracious. (During one particular conversation when he was scowling and purposely being difficult, I threatened to out him as a nice guy. He laughed, briefly, and then put his “I’m so annoyed by you reporters” steely-gazed face back on.)
After two years of covering him, I really grew to appreciate him, even like him, save for the two or three times I wanted to throw things at him.
Anyway, the fact that Kent could not have cared less what anyone thought of him during his career as a ballplayer makes him a somewhat intriguing figure now, for two reasons: he was one of the few players who, while active, railed passionately about his disdain for performance-enhancing drugs, and he’s eligible for election to the Hall of Fame next year.
As cited in the aforementioned San Francisco Chronicle article, Kent lobbied for steroid testing while his union was fighting it and later fought for tests for amphetamines and blood testing for human growth hormone. Kent wasn’t the only one with this stance, but he was certainly one of the few who not only wasn’t afraid to say it out loud, but also invited reporters to ask him about it.
I always wondered why Kent’s outspokenness on the subject didn’t garner more attention. Or Lance Berkman’s, for that matter. Puma also would rail to anyone who wanted to talk about it. He used unique tactics to get his point across, ranging from putting a sign above his locker for reporters at Spring Training that said, “Knee good. Steroids bad” to sticking his arm out and saying, “Here. Take my blood, weekly if you want to.”
Kent’s career stats suggest he will be a Hall candidate worthy of serious consideration. He compiled a .290 batting average with a .356 on-base percentage and 377 home runs over a 17-year career. He was one of a handful of second basemen that in many ways redefined the position that used to be acknowledged more by its defensive importance.
(He’s also the only Major Leaguer in history whose name, if Googled, will appear next to Lisa Welchel in the category of “People also searched for.” So there’s that.)
In a time when Hall of Fame voting has become more controversial than conversational, Kent’s mere presence on the ballot might provide some solace for the voters. While no one can say for sure who did or didn’t use, Kent’s probably as close to a sure thing on the list of players who didn’t. Will that help him? His numbers were great, but maybe not great enough for the voting body to determine he is worthy of the Hall of Fame. Or were they? Will the fact that he presumably played clean in the heart of an era that most feel was anything but help him?
And, as this article states, will the voters have a soft spot, perhaps even an appreciation, for Kent for being on the seemingly “right” side of the PED argument?
While it’s highly unlikely Kent will be voted in his first time on the ballot, it will be interesting to see what kind of percentage he receives. I’m guessing it’ll be significantly higher than a lot of his contemporaries whose stats deem them more worthy candidates for the Hall.