|Wednesday, March 5
Updated: March 7, 2:53 PM ET
Kent taking his place among all-time greats
By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine
For the past six years, Jeff Kent has taken the position of second base, and all that it once represented, placed it on a batting tee and whacked it all over ballparks across America.
Now the question can be asked: Where does Kent rank among the all-time greats at what used to be called the keystone sack?
He'll never be better than Rogers Hornsby -- lifetime .358 batting average and the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. In 1922, Hornsby batted .401, slugged .752, had 250 hits, 42 home runs and 152 RBIs -- the best season ever by a second baseman. From 1920-25, Hornsby averaged .397 and led the National League in hitting, on-base percentage and slugging every year.
Kent will never be better than Joe Morgan, whose speed, power, defense, plate discipline and back-to-back MVPs land him in the top four at the position.
Kent can't beat you in as many ways as Jackie Robinson, his hit total isn't halfway to Eddie Collins' 3,315, his .288 career average is nearly 30 points below Rod Carew's, and he can't play defense like Roberto Alomar.
Still, these last six years have moved Kent into the top 20 at a position known historically for defense, not RBIs. Kent isn't in the top 50 in games played among primary second basemen, but he's the only one to drive in 100 runs six years in a row; Hornsby's longest streak was two, Morgan had one 100-RBI season in his career. If Kent drives in 100 this year, he will have more RBIs in seven years than Hall of Famer Nellie Fox had in 19.
Granted, Kent has accumulated these numbers in arguably the greatest offensive era of all time. The protection provided by Barry Bonds has helped, also. But Kent played the last three years at Pac Bell Park, the most favorable park for pitchers in the major leagues, and he has still raised his career slugging percentage to .503 -- second-highest to Hornsby among second baseman.
Morgan slugged above .500 twice in his career. Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri, who played in a marvelous offensive era (1926-39), slugged .467. And Kent won an MVP in 2000, one of nine second basemen to win the award since its inception in 1931.
Defensively, Kent isn't Bill Mazeroski, Alomar, Morgan or Ryne Sandberg. Still, he's only slightly below average (he led NL second baseman in double plays in 2002), and he's playing in an era in which defense at second base isn't the priority it once was. Alomar has been a terrific offensive player, but it's his defense that makes him the best active second baseman and among the top 10 ever.
But Alomar won't be able to match Kent's offensive numbers -- if Kent keeps up his current pace. And who says he can't? With the Astros, Kent will thrive in a ballpark that is highly conducive to hitting. He might hit 40 homers there. Kent has 229 homers as a second baseman; soon, he'll break Sandberg's record of 277.
What if he has three more seasons like the last six, making nine straight with 100 RBIs -- more than the combined totals of Hornsby, Morgan and Jackie Robinson? What would we do with Kent then?
We'd put him in the top 10. And we'd put him in the Hall of Fame.