Second to None

A late-blooming slugger deserves the Hall
February 02, 2009

JEFF KENT perpetually wore the kind of grave face that made you expect the next thing out of his mouth would be, "License and registration, please." He was, in fact, the son of a cop. "Hence," he said upon his retirement last week, "the mustache." Hence, too, a baseball career born of somber earnestness, a trait not typically associated with a standing as glamorous as the Hall of Fame. Kent, however, belongs there, his workaday skills adding up to a kind of accidental Hall of Famer.

Baseball, the game and its fraternal culture, never came easy for Kent. As late as his 29th birthday, he was an unremarkable .274 career hitter with 78 home runs and was about to play for his fourth team. But in San Francisco, with Giants manager Dusty Baker as his mentor, Kent developed into one of the top slugging second basemen in history. He drove in 100 runs for six consecutive seasons and eight times in all, both unprecedented at his position. He hit not just more home runs as a second baseman than anybody else (351), but way more—27% more. (A distant second is Ryne Sandberg, who was enshrined with numbers that fall short of Kent's across the board.) Kent is one of only four players to drive in 1,500 runs while predominantly playing the middle infield. His company is extraordinary: Rogers Hornsby, Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez.

Kent played second base with the same ramrod-straight style he used as a hitter, his athleticism paling next to that of fellow Hall-bound contemporaries Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio. He always looked a couple quarts low on oil. But such rigidity made his final numbers all the more impressive, a testament to his unyielding—and sometimes unpopular—sense of purpose. Kent loathed the inter-club fraternization of modern ballplayers, was known more for battling teammates (Barry Bonds and Milton Bradley, most infamously) than befriending them, and spoke strongly against the performance-enhancing drugs of his era (although not until the culture of silence was broken by others and by drug testing).

"I'm just completely embarrassed by the steroid era," he said at his retirement news conference, an event marked by a few uncharacteristic emotional, weepy jags. Who knew? Only when the job was done, when baseball's highway patrolman hung up his aviators, did Kent let down his guard. Sandberg needed three ballots to gain enshrinement. Likewise, as happened in his playing days, it may take a few years to rightly appreciate Kent.

Up with People

NO DOUBT many a weightlifter has walked into a classic gym—say, Gold's in Venice Beach—and thought, Man, if these weights could talk. Now some can. Last week Gymbox, a fitness club in London's financial district, replaced some metal plates with human weights: people of various masses waiting to be lifted by exercisers. The liftees, who wear black leotards marked with their weights, range from a 66-pound female dwarf to a 342-pound man. "A lot of our members felt that lifting metal weights was boring and not especially motivating," says Gymbox owner Richard Hilton, who has his human plates shout encouragement to flesh-pumping customers. Finally, resistance training that isn't so resistant.

Go Figure

51
Consecutive basketball games lost by New Jersey Institute of Technology before its 61--51 win over Bryant on Jan. 21; it was the longest losing streak ever in Division I.

45
Consecutive home games won—the longest active streak in men's basketball—by Notre Dame until its 69--61 loss to No. 3 UConn last Saturday.

95
Saves by goaltender Daniel McIntosh of Division III Northland in a 4--0 loss to Adrian last Friday.

$2,900
Average cost of Super Bowl tickets at London-based ticket broker Viagogo, a 40% decline from last year.

100--0
Score by which Covenant School of Dallas defeated Dallas Academy in girls basketball on Jan. 13; on Sunday, Covenant coach Micah Grimes was fired, the same day he sent an e-mail to a paper saying he wouldn't apologize for the score.

0
Sports franchises in the world worth at least $1 billion in 2003, according to Forbes.

24
Franchises worth at least $1 billion in 2008, including 19 in the NFL and one in MLB—the Yankees.

25
Percentage increase in sales of White Sox hats since Sox fan Barack Obama was elected President.

PHOTOKIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT/US PRESSWIRE (KENT)GOOD COP A policeman's son, Kent sparred with Bonds (top) but swung a hot bat. PHOTOJOHN BAZEMORE/AP (KENT AND BONDS)[See caption above] PHOTOSTEPHEN HIRD/REUTERS (GYM)BODIES OF WORK Special machines help Gymbox exercisers press the flesh.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)