Cal Baseball: Another Year Goes By and Still No Hall of Fame Nod for Jeff Kent

Kent hit more home runs than any second baseman in MLB history
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In his eighth year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Jeff Kent again fell substantially short of induction.

The man who hit more home runs than any second baseman in history may never fulfill former manager Dusty Baker’s prophecy that he’ll be a Hall of Famer.

In fact, no new members were added to the Hall on Tuesday when the 2021 voting results were revealed. Candidates must be approved by at least 75 percent of voters to earn a plaque at Cooperstown.

Kent, who played at Cal from 1987 through ’89, got the nod from 32.4 percent of voters this year, an improvement from 2020 when he appeared on 27.5 percent of the ballots. But it’s still nowhere near what he needs and he has just two more chances before he drops off the main Hall of Fame ballot.

Here are the complete results of the 2021 BBWAA vote:

Curt Schilling (285 votes, 71.1%)

Barry Bonds (248, 61.8%)

Roger Clemens (247, 61.6%)

Scott Rolen (212, 52.9%

Omar Vizquel (197, 49.1%)

Billy Wagner (186, 46.4%)

Todd Helton (180, 44.9%)

Gary Sheffield (163, 40.6%)

Andruw Jones (136, 33.9%)

Jeff Kent (130, 32.4%)

Manny Ramirez (113, 28.2%)

Sammy Sosa (68, 17.0%)

Andy Pettitte (55, 13.7%)

Mark Buehrle (44, 11.0%)

Torii Hunter (38, 9.5%)

Bobby Abreu (35, 8.7%)

Tim Hudson (21, 5.2%)

Aramis Ramírez (4, 1.0%)

LaTroy Hawkins (2, 0.5%)

Barry Zito (1, 0.2%)

A.J. Burnett (0)

Michael Cuddyer (0)

Dan Haren (0)

Nick Swisher (0)

Shane Victorino (0)

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Kent’s uphill climb toward induction is intriguing. The two biggest knocks on his credentials appear to be that he had a sometimes difficult relationship with baseball writers and that he was just an average defensive player.

The latter shouldn’t be an issue, although we all understand it is. Barry Bonds is alleged to have emptied the medicine chest on his way to breaking Hank Aaron’s career home run record, but just as big an issue blocking his induction is that he was a 24/7 jerk to so many people around him.

Bill Ladson of MLB.com, writing “The Case for Jeff Kent to reach the Hall of Fame” in 2019, let Kent address the issue:

“Why haven't I been able to kick (the bad reputation)? I don't know. Probably because I haven't cowed down to the pressure. I haven't cowed down to the bullies [reporters] who told me, 'I could make or break your career.' But if you ask the best reporters out there, they know I was respectful. I spoke the truth. I tried not to hide behind my bad play by leaving the locker room early. Sometimes, when you take it, you get beat up.”

What about Kent’s defense? If he were a first baseman or outfielder, I’m convinced fielding would not factor as heavily in the minds of voters. Those are positions that yield big offensive numbers, but second basemen are expected to be defensive standouts above all.

Nellie Fox, who played for the White Sox in the 1950s and ’60, batted .288 and hit 35 career home runs. But he was an All-Star in 12 different seasons and was a three-time Gold Glove winner. He’s in the Hall.

The Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski was the National League counterpart to Fox in that era — an All-Star in seven seasons and an eight-time Gold Glove winner. But he was a .260 hitter known primarily for one huge moment — a walk-off home run that beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

Kent is not the defensive equal of either Fox or Maz, but no one is accusing him of being the second base version of first baseman Dick Stuart, a great hitter whose fielding issues earned him the nickname, “Dr. Strangeglove.”

Most of the 20 second baseman in the Hall are well-deserving. No one would argue that Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby and Jackie Robinson have far greater career credits than Kent. I’m not qualified to judge the merits of Bid McPhee, who was born before the Civil War began and batted .272 with 53 home runs in the 19th century — before the invention of the World Series and the All-Star Game.

Kent’s offensive numbers alone would seem to qualify him for inclusion.

He was a four-time top-10 finisher in the National League MVP voting, and won it in 2000 when he batted .334 with 33 home runs, 114 runs, 125 RBI and a .596 slugging percentage.

He hit 20 or more home runs 12 times. He compiled at least 100 RBI eight times, including every season a six-year span (1997 through 2002) with the Giants when he averaged a .297 batting average, .535 slugging percentage, 29 homers and 115 RBI.

Along with his 377 home runs — 351 of which came in games he was playing second base — Kent drove in 1,518 runs. Only Nap Lajoie had more RBI as a second baseman — 1,599 — than Kent.

Lajoie was voted into the Hall of Fame 84 years ago. It may not happen for Jeff Kent.

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Second basemen in the Hall of Fame

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo