Jeff Kent announced his retirement from professional baseball today, ending an outstanding career as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kent has always brought out mixed feelings in me, and a lot of memories were dredged up today as I heard the morning guys on KNBR radio in San Francisco talking about him.
I first noticed Kent when he was playing for the New York Mets, and I considered him a hack. Why — who knows? I never saw him play anywhere but on TV, and only rarely. I had no rational basis on which to form an opinion.
Kent came to San Francisco by way of Cleveland in a stunner of a trade for Matt Williams, who at the time was one of my favorite Giants. So I didn’t exactly warm to Kent right away.
But what a run he had with the Giants. As Murph and Mac pointed out on KNBR, the Giants went from losers to winners as soon as he arrived, which didn’t happen when Barry Bonds came to The City a few seasons earlier. The team hasn’t been the same since Kent left. Of course, he left and later ended up with the hated Dodgers, and every time I’d see him in Dodger blue I’d seethe with rage.
For any good reason? Not at all. But as a Giants fan, I figure my DNA requires that I hate anybody wearing Dodger blue, especially somebody who turned on the Giants. And especially somebody as talented as Kent, who always seemed to get a key hit and wreck whatever the momentum the Giants had.
Now, in the middle of winter, I’m taking a mellower, more rational approach. What entitles us sports fans to decide that any particular player is a hero or villain? We don’t know these athletes, and the closest most of us will ever get is brushing past them as they walk off the field at the end of a game while we head from the cheap seats to the parking lot.
Kent was a fine player. Who am I to begrudge him getting a better deal for himself and his family by leaving the Giants for the Dodgers, or any team for another?
Here’s wishing Jeff Kent well in his retirement from playing. Whether in the role of hometown hero or archrival villain, he added to my enjoyment of baseball. His play is worthy of the Hall of Fame, in my judgment, and I hope he gets elected.
As for whether he should go into the hall with an “LA” or “SF” on his cap, don’t push me. I haven’t quite fully forgiven his move to Chavez Ravine.