Posted By Jeff Fletcher on January 23, 2009 12:16 pm
OK, perhaps I was a little hasty in suggesting that Jeff Kent’s offensive numbers shouldn’t be taken in context of his position because he was so bad at his position. I had a conversation with A’s assistant GM David Forst about it on Thursday, and he suggested to me that while Kent was slightly below average at second base, he was by no means horrible. If he were really horrible, teams wouldn’t have kept throwing him out there year after year after year.
So now I’m thinking that Kent probably is a Hall of Famer after all. He’s no Robby Alomar — the best second baseman of the post-Sandberg era — but he’s certainly No. 2 on that list. He’s also probably not a first-ballot guy, but I’ll vote for him. (Of course, I’ve already changed my mind once in the past two days, and I have five years to go, so all bets are off.)
While I’m on the topic, just wanted to share a little behind-the-scenes Kent stuff with you.
Most of you would probably be shocked to know that in 2000 the Bay Area chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted Kent as winner of the “Bill Rigney Good Guy Award.” It’s an award we give every year to one player from the Giants and one from the A’s for his cooperation with the print media. Kent may have been a little prickly at times, but he always got points with the beat writers because he was one of the few players who really understood the difference between a beat writer who is there all the time, and a columnist or a back-up writer or a feature writer who shows up once in a while. If something big was going down, Kent would almost always talk to the beat writers, because he knew he could trust them and he knew the job they had to do. What pushed Kent over the top for the award in 2000 was that he was the guy who stood up after every game of the 2000 NLDS against the Mets and answered for his team, explaining why they couldn’t hit.
Kent was great about challenging the cliches, rather than spouting out all the normal pabulum. Classic example: In 1999, after Barry Bonds hurt his elbow and everyone else was saying stuff like “We all just have to do a little more to pick up the slack.” Kent was saying, and I’m paraphrasing: “We all should be giving 100 percent with Barry and 100 percent without Barry. There is no ‘picking up the slack.’” He’d be the guy to say that one game was not bigger than the other, that there were no must-wins, no momentum, no messages to be sent, etc. His idea was every day you do all you can do to win that game. Regardless of the outcome, you’re going to do it again tomorrow.
He was also good if you could get him talking about something other than baseball. The best interview I ever had with the guy was when I wanted to talk him one time in spring training about how a kid from Orange County became a cowboy raising cattle in Texas. He loved that so much that he actually called me back to his locker to finish it after the day’s workout.
Unfortunately, all of the good things about Jeff Kent vanished in the spring of 2002. That’s when the infamous “truck washing” incident took place. Kent was ticked off that Henry Schulman of the Chronicle bothered to do his job and look for the truth. He was ticked off that the Giants had him start the season on the DL, even though he felt he was ready. For most of that year, he was more difficult to handle.