Cooperstown Bound: Jeff Kent

Next week, the Baseball Hall Of Fame will induct four new members. On July 26, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will all be honored on Hall Of Fame weekend. While all are deserving including Biggio who is a member of the 3,000 hit club, there will still be attention on who’s not.

That includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. All passed up due to being suspected of using performance enhancing drugs. Along with Alex Rodriguez who continues to perform at a high level with his 19 home runs giving him 673 for his career, they’ll likely never make it. Labeled as cheaters by hypocritical baseball writers who made money off them to sell papers and books, they’ll pay the price.

Another former player fell way short in his second year of eligibility. Jeff Kent finished a disappointing 15th receiving only 14 percent of the vote from the BBWAA. A former 2000 National League MVP, Kent is the all-time leader among second basemen with 371 home runs. That’s seventy-six more than all-time great Rogers Hornsby. Biggio finished third with 291 even though he also played catcher and outfielder.

For most of his 17-year career, Kent was a second baseman who also played third and first. Unlike Biggio, he didn’t play with just one team starting out with the Blue Jays before moving to the Mets for David Cone. It was Kent and Ryan Thompson for Cone, who helped Toronto win the World Series. Despite hitting at least 20 homers twice in five seasons in Flushing, Kent was sent to the Indians for former All-Star Carlos Baerga. He only lasted 39 games the rest of 1996 before getting packaged to the Giants for Matt Williams. Another All-Star who helped the Indians reach the 1997 World Series which they lost to the Marlins in seven.

Finally on his fourth team, Kent became a star. In six seasons with San Francisco, he slugged 175 homers and drove in 689. Forming a strange 1-2 punch with Bonds in the Giants lineup, they went to two postseasons including 2002 when they lost the World Series to the Angels in seven. They despised each other and weren’t media friendly. That didn’t matter as both were great players who made San Francisco better. Even if he never makes the Hall Of Fame, Bonds will go down as one of the all-time best winning a major league record seven MVP’s including four in a row (2001-04). Before that streak, he was beaten out by Kent who in 2000 hit .334 with 33 dingers and 125 RBI’s. He finished with an OPS of 1.021 combining a .424 on-base percentage with a .596 slugging. That was good enough to outdistance his teammate who hit 49 homers and had 106 RBI’s with a .306 average.

After spending six years in the Bay Area, Kent signed with the Astros. In two years with Houston, he totaled 49 long balls with exactly 200 knocked in. In 2004, the Astros reached the NLCS before losing to the Cardinals in seven. Kent had three home runs and seven RBI’s. Identical numbers to his World Series performance for the Giants in ’02. He spent his final four seasons with the Dodgers. That included his final 100-RBI year when he drove home 105 with 29 dingers at age 37 in ’05. For his career, Kent had eight seasons of 100-or-more RBI’s. His 1518 runs batted in are third all-time among second basemen trailing Hornsby (1584) and Nap Lajoie (1599).

With Roberto Alomar elected in his second year of eligibility garnering 90.0 percent of the vote in 2011, Kent should soon follow suit. Alomar is considered one of the best ever second basemen winning 10 Gold Gloves and helping the Blue Jays win consecutive World Series (’92, ’93). He was an All-Star for a decade and had one top three MVP finish at age 31 with the Indians when he batted .323 with 24 home runs, 120 RBI’s and 37 stolen bases in ’99. He was a complete player which explains why he was such an easy choice despite struggling towards the end of his career with the Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks.

Kent has the gaudier numbers. He wasn’t the defender Alomar was and didn’t have the elegance of Ryne Sandberg. But he definitely belongs. Kent deserves much better than how he’s been treated. But this is the same media who have shunned Mike Piazza who also is suspected of PED’s. But nothing has ever been proven. He never showed up on any lists. Next year will be his fourth year on the ballot. After receiving 69.9 percent, the all-time home run leader among catchers should make it in 2016. How long will it take Kent? That remains to be seen.