Kent's relentless approach up for Hall consideration
Homer, RBI, slugging and doubles leader among 2Bs on ballot for first time
SAN FRANCISCO -- The advice traveled directly toward Jeff Kent as if it were a line drive and stuck to him like pine tar.
The wisdom came from manager Dusty Baker when both were with the Giants. Employing if-it-were-this-easy-everybody-would-do-it logic, Baker mentioned to Kent that if he could accomplish just one on-field task each game, the individual efforts would result in a productive season.
Kent incorporated this outlook into his basic approach.
"I took that even beyond, to, if I do just one thing every day for my entire career, then I'm going to have a pretty good career," he said in a recent interview.
This step-by-step philosophy may lead Kent along the path to Cooperstown -- if not this year, then someday. The former infielder is among the top first-year candidates for election to baseball's Hall of Fame. Voting results will be announced Wednesday exclusively on MLB Network and simulcast live on MLB.com at 2 p.m. ET as part of a three-hour live show beginning at noon. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 11 a.m. ET.
Given the deep, crowded pool of possible enshrinees, including fellow newcomers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina as well as holdovers Craig Biggio and Jack Morris, Kent's a long shot to gain induction. That requires receiving votes from at least 75 percent of the ballots cast by tenured members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. If Kent's not elected to the Hall, he'll remain on the ballot for as many as 14 years.
Since Kent never concerned himself excessively with how he was perceived during his 17 Major League seasons, it should come as no surprise that he's not obsessing over his Hall of Fame fate.
"I guess [given] my lifestyle, I really don't stop and contemplate or think about history as it relates to me personally," he said. "Every now and then, it gets brought up by people who want to talk about it. Or sometimes I've got friends who bring it up and say, 'Hey, aren't you eligible?' And that's about the extent of the conversation. I really haven't given it any deep, serious thought. Because of that, my emotions just haven't been all wrapped up into it."
If Kent allowed himself to contemplate his candidacy, even he would have to admit that his performance compares favorably with the game's best.
He's the all-time leader among second basemen with 351 home runs, 1,389 RBIs, a .509 slugging percentage and 508 doubles accumulated while playing that position (his overall career totals include 377 homers, 1,518 RBIs, a .500 slugging percentage and 560 doubles). Kent's .866 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) as a second baseman ranks third behind Jackie Robinson's .905 and still-active Chase Utley's .876.
From 1997-2005, Kent hit .296 while annually averaging 28 homers and 110 RBIs with a .365 on-base percentage and a .529 slugging percentage. He won four Silver Slugger awards and ranked among the top 20 in Most Valuable Player balloting seven times in that span, capturing the trophy in 2000 with San Francisco.
"He was by far the most prolific offensive second baseman in the era that I played in," said left-hander Kirk Rueter, a Giants teammate of Kent's.
Kent also remained one of the game's most productive clutch hitters during his career. His lifetime .300 batting average with runners in scoring position eclipsed his overall figure of .290. He was particularly impressive with runners on third base and less than two outs, batting .407 in those situations. Kent demonstrated his situational-hitting skill by leading the NL in sacrifice flies in 1998 and 2001.
"At one point, I wanted him up more than any guy on that team when it was an RBI situation," said left-hander Shawn Estes, another ex-Giant.
Kent, now 45, began his career as a vagabond of sorts. He played for four different teams -- the Blue Jays, Mets, Indians and Giants -- in his first six seasons. But he wasn't an afterthought. Rather, he was involved in trades featuring premier players each time he switched teams. Kent helped the Blue Jays fetch right-hander David Cone from the Mets. Three-time All-Star Carlos Baerga departed Cleveland when Kent arrived there. And slugger Matt Williams was the biggest name in the six-player trade that sent Kent to San Francisco, where he became one of the game's most formidable hitters. Kent later played for the Astros and Dodgers.
"I can look [at] myself in the mirror and be most proud that I played baseball for a long time, and because I played for a long time I was good enough," Kent said. "... I can tell you that I took what Dusty said and multiplied it out."