Results tagged ‘ Retirements ’
Jeff Kent, who will officially announce his retirement on Thursday after 17 seasons, will provide a good test case for the voting competency of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Over the past 15 years, the BBWAA has shown little regard for the accomplishments of middle infielders in making their votes for the Hall of Fame. Yes, the writers have given passing grades to Cal Ripken, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith, but they’ve also denied Hall of Fame entry to the considerable likes of Davey Concepcion, Bobby Grich, Sweet Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, and Frank White.
I’ve already gone on record as saying that Grich, Whitaker and Trammell deserve the Hall of Fame. In a few years, we’ll see how the voting goes for Kent, who was a better hitter than all three of these high-grade middle infielders. Given their oversight of second basemen and shortstops (as if these were somehow unimportant positions), I can see the writers passing on Kent, too, but that doesn’t make it any more legitimate or understandable. A consistent and highly durable player, Jeff Kent hit more home runs than any other second baseman in history, surpassing the legendary likes of Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan. Kent slugged .500 for his career, while playing one of the most physically tiring positions on the field. He accumulated eight seasons with 100 or more RBIs. He was no less accomplished in the postseason, slugging an even .500 over the span of 11 postseason series. In his one World Series appearance, he hit three home runs. And he did most of this damage while spending the majority of his 17 seasons playing in pitcher’s parks like Shea Stadium, Candlestick Park and Pac Bell Park, and Dodger Stadium.
I know the raps against Kent. He could often be a jerk with reporters and teammates. Well, that made him no different than Hornsby, an unquestioned Hall of Famer. Kent was never a good defensive second baseman, mostly because of a lack of range. But I’ll argue that he was never bad enough defensively to convince his managers to move him somewhere else, like third base or first base. (And for all of his problems in the field, Kent had good hands and turned the double play better than the average second baseman.) Even the writers themselves seemed to recognize his overall contributions to his team, giving Kent MVP votes seven times in his career, which included four top ten finishes and one MVP Award in 2000.
Frankly, I don’t see how an objective examination of Kent’s career can produce anything other than a check mark next to his name on the Hall of Fame ballot. Now if I hear even one writer say, “Jeff Kent just doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer,” I will not be responsible for my actions. That kind of kissy-touchy argument doesn’t cut it anymore, not when we have Kent’s impressive body of statistics, coupled with the visual images of his achievements over these past 17 seasons.
In 2014, when he first becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, the Baseball Writers need to do the right thing and say yes to Jeff Kent.
When Julio Franco first made his major league debut for the Phillies at the age of 23, Pete Rose was still playing first base, Gary “Sarge” Matthews and Garry Maddox were still patrolling the outfield at Veterans Stadium, and an aging Steve Carlton was still filling the role of ace in Philadelphia. When Franco became the starting shortstop for the Indians the following season, his double play partner was Manny Trillo and the rest of the Tribe infield consisted of Mike Hargrove and Toby Harrah. Those are names from a bygone era, players who have long since retired and become managers or minor league instructors, been elected to the Hall of Fame, or been banned from Cooperstown. That’s how long ago Franco made his debut.
Franco announced his retirement over the weekend, bringing to an end an era that started in 1982, when he first wore the red stripes of the Phillies. Then it was on to Cleveland, as part of a massive five-player package the Phils sent to the Indians for Von Hayes. At the time, Hayes was considered the superstar-in-the-making, but it was Franco who would have the far better career. Let’s consider that Hayes retired in 1992, 16 years before Franco called it quits over the weekend, after his latest stint in the Mexican League. At the age of 49, Franco decided that his body had simply endured enough of the baseball diamond.
Given Franco’s advanced age, and his decision to hang on as a pinch-hitter and utility player in recent seasons with the Braves and the Mets, he had become the punch line of too many jokes. Franco’s senior citizen status made it easy to forget just how good a ballplayer he was in his prime. During his hey day from 1986 to 1996, Franco was one of the game’s hardest hitting second baseman, a line-drive machine featuring speed, above-average power, and the kind of athleticism rarely seen in the game. He did it all with one of baseball’s most unusual stances, holding his bat so high that you wondered how he ever caught up to someone’s good fastball. Yet, he did that so many times, to the point of accumulating over 2,500 hits by the time his major league career ended with the Mets and Braves in 2007.
Franco, as it goes with so many retired players, will be forgotten relatively quickly. He’ll never make the Hall of Fame. Few observers will wax poetically about how they once saw Franco play, in part because he never played long enough with any one team to develop a real fan following. But his career was still significant, in the way that he provided a lasting link to another era–the era of the 1980s–and in the way that he showed how physical conditioning and hard work can help a career last far longer than it should.
Hopefully, for those reasons, at least a few fans will remember Julio Franco.