Jeff Kent, the best hitting second baseman of the San Francisco Giants era, failed to get 75% of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in this tenth and final year of his eligibility on the ballot. Kent hit .297/.368/.535 with 175 home runs in exactly 900 regular season games for the Giants, racking up 30.9 fWAR. Unfortunately, he was on the same team as Barry Bonds, so his candidacy had to die.
The baseball writers have been consistent with their position that STEROID GUYS shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame —
BBWAA elects David Ortiz to Hall of Fame. https://t.co/9vbPonj43r— BBWAA (@officialBBWAA) January 25, 2022
— have been mostly consistent with their position that players who saw success in the steroid era and did not rally their hometown teams after national tragedies should not receive election on their ballots. That doesn’t mean that Kent can’t get in some time down the line from the whatever committee of veterans, writers, and executives.
But for now, it means that Kent’s 56 wins above replacement after playing with the Mets, Giants, Astros, and Dodgers, his 377 home runs — most all-time for a second baseman — and 2,461 hits all-time (56 behind Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, and ahead of Hall of Famers Red Schoendiest and Ryne Sandberg) aren’t good enough for enshrinement in Cooperstown. He winds down that part of his baseball career with the seventh-most votes on the 2023 ballot that did see one player elected: Scott Rolen, a player with fewer career hits, home runs, RBI, and OPS.
But Rolen played third base, a premium position. And he played it well. Kent was a premium bat but an average — at best — up the middle defender. He also had a prickly personality. He also played in the same clubhouse as core members of BALCO, so even if he wasn’t a customer at the STEROID LAB — and he was never linked — his association by way of the lineup was enough. Or else the voters really thought Bonds transferred his HGH powers to Kent via something akin to fentanyl mist during their dugout fight in 2002:
You would think that being attacked by Barry Bonds would’ve endeared him to the voters! Instead, he’ll appear on this list without the HOF distinction:
Tom Verducci broke down Kent’s career for MLB Network and to say that he overwhelms with stats would be underselling the segment.
A key section:
“... first base production at second base [...] played more than 2,000 games starting at second base. Only ten players in baseball history started more games at second base than Jeff Kent! Folks, they don’t give away jobs at second base!”
As Jeff Young notes:
Jeff Kent's stats among 2B since 1950 (Min. 5,000 PA)— Jeff Young (@BaseballJeff1) January 25, 2023
OPS - .855 (1st)
OPS+ - 123 (6th)
Hits - 2,461 (6th)
2B - 560 (3rd)
HR - 377 (1st)
Runs - 1,320 (6th)
RBI - 1,518 (1st by a lot)
He also has the third-highest OPS of second baseman with at least 1,000 plate appearances. But there’s a case to be made — and the BBWAA voters appear to be making it (largely out of the public eye) that Kent’s exploits were merely the result of his proximity to Bonds in the batting order. His peak years did coincide with this time with the Giants, and those years with the Giants were the only time performance enhancing drugs were used in the entire history of Major League Baseball, so it at least seems to be a workable theory.
It’s another example of voters looking at something and deciding that the cause of those numbers is what’s at issue and not the player’s candidacy, despite no evidence beyond their own guts. By all normal measures, Jeff Kent is a Hall of Fame second baseman. But the relevant measure — indeed, the sole measure — is proximity to PEDs, and in that case there’s no denying that Jeff Kent was proximal.
We can only hope the voters’ ethics are consistent when it comes time to vote for fellow writers and broadcasters from the steroid era. Of course, as Giants fans, we’re free to think whatever we’d like about their process just as we are free to recall Jeff Kent’s performance and big moments on some great Giants teams.