Wednesday marked the end of an era, and the final out for one of baseball's least finest men, Jeff Kent. Retiring after 17 seasons and 377 round-trippers, Kent's career has been one highlighted with five All-Star Game selections and an MVP award.
Although the former slugger leads all second basemen in career home runs, that is not a reason to elect him into the Hall of Fame.
Second basemen historically and theoretically are not supposed to drive in runs, albeit knock balls out of the ballpark. If you elect a guy into Cooperstown solely on the fact that he hit more homers than his peers at second like Morgan and Sandberg, than you have no understanding of the game.
You don't put players into the Hall of Fame because they have a single record that defines them as a player. You elect players who played the game in a way that is best exemplified as superior amongst the games' greatest ballplayers, and the men that they played against during their careers. Jeff Kent is neither.
Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg were not just great players at their position, but great players in general. Kent is a player that only is spotlighted when you look the position he played. He is not a prototypical second baseman, hence the power, and neither was he one of the games best players in his era, hence just five trips to the Mid-Summer Classic.
Had Kent been on the same level of the stars of his generation, guys like Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Ken Griffey Jr., then we wouldn't be having this discussion. But the truth of the matter is that Kent was just an average star player for most of his career.
If you compare Jeff Kent as a player to Hall of Famers, Cooperstown snubs, and average Joes, you can find any information you'd like if you just look at his stats. Although Kent's 351 homers as second baseman trump Ryne Sanberg's 277, what that stat does not tell you is what each player meant to his team.
Aside from the Andre Dawson years, Sandberg was the man in Chicago for much of his career. Kent on the other hand was never the leader of his team. In New York he was out shadowed by Bobby Bonilla, Bonds in San Francisco, Bagwell and Berkman in Houston, and finally the leadership and spunk of Nomar Garciaparra in Los Angeles.
While in San Francisco, Kent benefited from the presence of Barry Bonds, as the juice man himself provided Kent with more opportunities to drive in runs and get better pitch selections.
In Houston, Kent was just one of the boys. He was lost amongst the stars around him. Kent wasn't even the best second basemen on his team, as Craig Biggio roamed center field at the time.
Despite the sexiness of the home run record, it does not tell the story of Jeff Kent. That single stat leaves out the fact that he never won a Gold Glove, and was not recognized as a Silver Slugger at second base until he was 32.
Sandberg's nine Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger awards make more of a case for a title as best second baseman of all time than Kent's rather bare shelf. Also take into account that Craig Biggio played just two-thirds of his career at second base and amassed more runs, hits, and walks while grounding into just more than half the amount of Kent's double plays and still striking out less.
Biggio was the heart of his team throughout his career, Kent was heartless for much of his. Biggio played every play like it was his last, Kent lacked hustle. Biggio became one of baseball's most loved players, Kent was one of the league's most hated men for much of his career.
By no means am I putting public image before a player's record on the field. Ty Cobb holds more records than Michael Phelps, yet no player was hated more during his tenure in baseball than the Georgia Peach himself.
But while Cobb was hated by most ballplayers, he played the game with heart and passion. Jeff Kent however will never be on the same level as those who played the game like it was meant to be played.
No matter where Kent stands in the record books home run wise, there is no way he should enter the Hall of Fame solely because he out slugged players who were more all-around players, and justified Hall of Famers like Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, and Eddie Collins.
If Jeff Kent enters Cooperstown, then we might as well bring in guys like Jason Kendall (leads all active catchers in stolen bases), Woody Williams (most sacrifice flies of any active pitcher) and Mickey Vernon (most triples by a first baseman since integration in 1947).
Jeff Kent in the hall would just be an insult to the legendary snubs of Cooperstown: Ron Santo, Andre Dawson, Gil Hodges, and Roger Marris.