During his historic career as a second baseman, Jeff Kent inspired respect by how much he produced and frustration by how little he said. Both were by design. On a conference call Monday primarily with Bay Area media members, Kent conceded that "I told you only what you needed to know -- or what I felt you needed to know." Retirement has loosened Kent's grip on baseball, and also loosened his lips.
One of the most honest, most forthright and least pretentious individuals to play baseball regaled and, at times, astonished reporters with his frank reminiscences and opinions during a 50-minute call on which he opened up about his perceived feud with Barry Bonds, his controversial Spring Training motorcycle mishap and his "embarrassment" over having played in baseball's steroid era. The electronic news conference was arranged by the Giants to advance Kent's induction on Saturday as the 44th member of the team's year-old Wall of Fame. Such an imminent welcome back into the Giants family stoked strong emotions in the hard-shelled, grateful 41-year-old. However, the affection he expressed for the Giants and their fans was less revealing than his candid answers to questions about: Bonds, with whom a strained relationship manifested in a 2002 dugout shoving match captured by TV cameras. "There was always ... not friction, that's a bad word ... and not a wall ... what's the opposite of 'relationship'? It was not good, not bad between us, but it worked. We pushed each other, and it just worked and we won. He needed someone to push him in order to play better, and I took the role of the guy who stuck a nail in his shoe every now and then, to make him jump. "I took pride in that. He helped me, too. So many times it frustrated both of us that so many people wanted to make such a big deal of it, two of the better players on the team not being good friends. It just didn't matter to us; we didn't care about it. "Does Barry have any close friends among baseball players? I've got a few. We were in our own worlds when we played the game, just didn't hit it off for some reason. We just didn't click. We got after each other, on TV that one time, but there were a bunch of other times, too." Steroids, and the list of 104 positives during the 2003 survey testing which still haunts baseball. "You'll never find all the cheats who used steroids. To think they're all on that list is wrong, I can guarantee you that. I'm offended by players who cheated this game, and am embarrassed by the era in which I participated because of steroids. If you cheated the game you ought to be punished, because so many people get away with cheating each other or businesses, and too often people turn a blind eye and let go. "Without the help of the media and the government, the game would not be as clean as it is, without you guys getting involved, and for that I'm appreciative." The circumstances of how he suffered a broken wrist during Spring Training 2002, washing his truck or falling off his motorbike. "You will never know the truth. And you know why? Because it doesn't matter. If you can document that it had any bearing on my performance ... well, it didn't." (Kent went on to play in 152 games that season, his 37 homers and 108 RBIs helping usher the Giants into the postseason.) Making his final AT&T Park appearances in the uniform of the nemesis Dodgers: "Showing up in the most hated uniform and getting booed was actually a sign of respect. It brought a smile to my face. They also hated the fact I'd wear them out, the fact that I was beating them up. [In four seasons as a visitor in Dodgers gray, Kent hit .301 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in AT&T Park.] The booing helped elevate my game." Walking away from the game, proud and upright: "I'm thankful for the time I had as a Major League player, but I'm grateful my career is over. I don't miss it. I'm satisfied I played the game the right way, and to be able to run away, rather than just go away, brought a ton of satisfaction to me. "It was a great opportunity for me to let go. I had such a tight grip on the game. I was so tightly wound ... I've given everything to this game, and being in shorts and a T-shirt in Texas while sending my kids off to school, and to be able to say I have no desire to go back, is very satisfying." Being welcomed "home," and completing the circle: "The bridge probably burned when I went to Los Angeles, but to be able to come back to San Francisco is overwhelming. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to build the bridge back. "The San Francisco Giants took a shot when they traded for me [with Cleveland, following the 1996 season], and the six years in San Francisco was the most fun I had in my entire career. That is where I started to elevate my career, and I'm very thankful for that opportunity. It was very special to me, the meat of my career." Kent began his 17-year career as somewhat of a journeyman, with stops on three different teams in the first five seasons, and altogether played for six teams. But his glory years were the six spent with the Giants from 1997 to 2002, when he made his greatest impact and flourished into one of history's greatest second basemen, one worthy of Hall of Fame talk. Those six seasons yielded both personal and team glory. Kent totaled 175 home runs and 689 RBIs, topping 22 and 100 each season, while the Giants' 547 wins translated into two National League West titles and a 2002 World Series appearance as the NL Wild Card representative. Kent reigned as the league MVP in 2000, when he batted .334 with 33 homers and 125 RBIs, and was a factor in the MVP vote in four of the other five seasons in San Francisco. The most glaring entry in his career resume is the all-time record of 351 homers (of his total of 377) by a second baseman. Beyond all the other qualifications, that could be his Cooperstown deal-maker. And if elected, how would he like to enter the hallowed Hall? "As a Giant, absolutely," said Kent, nearly seven years removed from his last game in that uniform. "I've played for six teams, but am very proud to wear the Giants hat now. Kids often ask me where was my favorite place to play, and the answer is always, 'San Francisco.' "It's where I gained my accomplishments and respect, and where I left my passion and heart."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.