Wednesday’s news was reserved for grumbling about Barry Bonds. Thursday is for quietly grousing about Jeff Kent, who wasn’t the best hitter we will ever see. He was certainly one of them, though, and I’m pretty sure he’s a clear Hall of Famer. He should be inducted with Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker in a special second baseman’s edition of the Hall of Fame next year. With special guest Barry Bonds.
But how close or far away is Kent from being voted in? He’s finished with 14.5 percent of the vote, which isn’t ideal. This was his fifth year on the ballot, which means he has five more. He should have had 10 more, but the Hall of Fame switched the rules to screw Bonds and Roger Clemens, which is a totally normal thing for a museum to do, and that will affect Kent’s chances.
The question today is this: How many people who finished with less than 15 percent in their fifth year eventually made the Hall of Fame?
A whole bunch. But there’s a catch. After the Hall of Fame started inducting players in 1936, the voters were INCREDIBLY stingy. Joe DiMaggio didn’t get in until the fourth ballot. It took Jimmie Foxx — career OPS over 1.000, with 534 home runs — seven ballots. This put a lot of pressure on the Veteran’s Committee in subsequent years, and sometimes that worked (Johnny Mize deserved to be in, even before taking his WWII service into account) and sometimes it doesn’t (George Kell was a less entertaining Hunter Pence).
There were 19 different players from the 1951 ballot, for example, who finished below five percent and eventually made the Hall of Fame. There was a logjam because of the decades when baseball existed but the museum didn’t, and it isn’t a great analogy to what Kent’s trying to do. There’s a logjam now, but it’s not quite as messed up.
No, there are only four cases that I would describe as remotely similar to Kent’s. The best comp is the most recent one.
- Alan Trammell, 13.4 percent in 6th year of balloting (Veteran’s Committee)
- Ron Santo was close, getting 16.8 percent in his sixth year.
- Bill Mazeroski, 6.7% in 5th year (Veteran’s Committee)
- Richie Ashburn, 2.8% in 5th year (Veteran’s Committee)
- Bob Lemon, 16.5% in 5th year (elected seven years later)
Trammell was a forgotten man on the ballot, even though he shouldn’t have been. It took the Veteran’s Committee (or the Vintage-Modern Hall Voters, LLC, or whatever it’s called now) to get him in. They did it quickly, and good for them.
So there’s a chance. You can see up there that there’s even a chance for Kent to get voted in, as shown by Bob Lemon. But he’ll probably need the help of the Veteran’s Committee. They’ve come to the aid of poor would-be Hall of Famers before.
Except what you’re not seeing there are all the people who didn’t get in and probably won’t. A great comparison might be Dale Murphy, who was at 11.7 percent in his fifth year and never got higher than 18.6 again. Don Mattingly was at 11.4 percent in his fifth year, and he peaked at 17.8 percent after that. Dave Parker had seven All-Star appearances and one MVP, but after 16.3 percent in his fifth year, he never had a higher percentage.
Kent actually dropped a little bit this year, going from 16.7 to 14.5, but that probably has to do with the slowly changing logjam and 10-player maximum on the ballot. There’s a chance with a wide open ballot — which should be coming — in the next few years, and maybe that will help him.
I’m thinking it’s the Veteran’s Committee show at this point, though, and they are an inscrutable bunch. The one thing in Kent’s favor, though, is that he has a pretty sweet record: Most home runs by a second baseman. That’s the kind of thing that would tickle a Veteran’s Committee, I would think.
On the other hand, Robinson Cano is 76 home runs away, and he’ll be paid $144 million over the next six years to try for those 76 home runs. That’s just under 13 a year for those six years, so there’s a chance that Kent won’t get a chance to appear before the Veteran’s Committee as the all-time leader for second base dingers. Considering that one of his problems is that he’s looked at in the context of his high-offense era, it wouldn’t be a good look for another player to pass him so soon.
There’s still a chance. It’s not a great chance. It should be a better chance. But there’s a chance. My guess is that he’s more Don Mattingly than Alan Trammell, but that’s just me being a cynic. The results from Wednesday, though, weren’t as encouraging as they could have been, and there isn’t a lot of recent history that suggests the Veteran’s Committee is too interested in the modern players who have fallen off.
It could be a while. Hopefully, it won’t be.