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Jeff Kent denied Hall of Fame entry in final ballot appearance

(Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Jeff Kent, Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman, fell well short of the required 75% of ballots to get inducted into Cooperstown. 

Kent appeared on 181 of 405 ballots — 46.5%. Scott Rolen, an all-around third baseman, earned 76.3% of votes was the only player elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America in this cycle. Rolen will join Fred McGriff in the Hall’s class of 2023.

Kent finished with 2,461 hits and 371 home runs. His 55.4 career WAR is much less than the average of Hall of Fame second basemen (69.6). 

Three of Kent’s five All-Star seasons came when he played for the Giants at the turn of the century. He spent more time in San Francisco than any other organization during his 17-year career that included stops with the Mets, Dodgers, Astros, Blue Jays and Cleveland. 

Hitting cleanup, one spot behind Barry Bonds, Kent won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 2000. That year, he drove in 125 runs and slashed .334/.424/.596. 

Three-hundred and fifty-one of Kent’s home runs came when he was playing second base. No second baseman has ever hit more homers or driven in more runs (1,428) at the position. 

The southern California native also elevated his game in the postseason. He slashed .276/.290/.621 in the 2002 World Series against the Angels and has a career .840 OPS in the playoffs. 

But Kent was never a strong fielder, and gave back much of his production at the plate outside of his prime offensive years. He finished with less than 3.0 WAR in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 2003, 3006, 2007, and 2008.

Injuries also prevented Kent from contributing — often at key times. In 1998, the year San Francisco lost a Game 163 chance at the playoffs, the Giants went 11-13 when Kent was sidelined with a June knee injury. 

Kent also developed a reputation for being tough to deal with. He clashed with Barry Bonds, once saying they get along on the field, “but off the field, I don’t care about Barry and Barry doesn’t care about me. Or anybody else.” One spring training, Kent injured his wrist doing a wheelie on his motorcycle. He criticized young players on the Dodgers late in his career. 

“He wasn’t always the most approachable guy,” longtime Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow said Tuesday on KNBR. “He was a bit of an island in the clubhouse. But the guy had his own program and he showed up every day…Kent was one of those guys, he was as tough as anyone I’ve come across.” 

And although Kents’ gaudy counting numbers suggest a strong Hall of Fame case, he racked up stats in an era in which offense was aplenty. As Fangraphs’ Jay Jaffe noted, Kent’s career 123 OPS+ — which accounts for park factor and adjust for the league average — ranks ninth among players who have played half their careers at second and have logged at least 7,000 plate appearances. 

Earlier this week, Kent’s former manager, Dusty Baker, lobbied for his induction.

“Man, this cat should be in the Hall of Fame,” Baker told MLB.com. “I’m not pushing for him because he played for me, I’m pushing for him because my daddy told me to do what’s right.”

Kent’s Hall of Fame chances were improving, debuting with 15.2% of votes in 2014 and eventually reaching 32.7% last year. But even that steady increase didn’t get Kent anywhere close to the threshold 75% threshold. 

The best Kent could do on this ballot, realistically, was continue gaining legitimacy in hopes that the Contemporary Era committee takes up his case. But Bonds showed in December that a different path to Cooperstown isn’t necessarily any easier.