SAN FRANCISCO -- Welcome back, Jeff Kent. All is forgiven. That was the widespread sentiment Saturday among fans who helped celebrate Kent's induction into the Giants' Wall of Fame, a distinction reserved for the most accomplished and longest-tenured performers in San Francisco history. Not a boo was heard from the 500 or so fans attending the afternoon ceremony in which the plaque honoring Kent was unveiled on AT&T Park's King Street wall, joining the 43 others representing last year's charter class of inductees.
Maybe a handful of fans hooted at Kent when he took a bow for the AT&T Park crowd in the middle of the second inning. But any catcalls were drowned out by the standing ovation he received from the packed house, which also was treated to a video tribute featuring Kent's exploits as a Giant. Kent returned the salute by waving and tipping his cap -- a Giants cap, naturally. Odds are, at least some of these spectators booed Kent when he returned to San Francisco following his 2002 departure from the Giants. The volume of verbal abuse, particularly when he moved from the Houston Astros to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005, was almost deafening at times. But Kent probably guaranteed that he'll be cheered forever by Giants fans as he professed his undying love for the club he played with for six years, the most time he spent with any of the six teams that employed him. "The only place I ever cared about and gave my heart to was San Francisco," said Kent, whose 351 home runs and 1,389 RBIs as a second baseman rank first in Major League history. Kent seconded that emotion later in his speech when he remarked, "The one thing I regret in my life is losing Game 6." He didn't have to specify that he meant Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, when the Giants' come-from-ahead defeat scuttled their chances for a title. Kent, who almost never stopped smiling throughout the 20-minute ceremony, even thanked Peter Magowan, the Giants' former managing general partner, with whom he publicly differed on a variety of issues. The current managing general partner, Bill Neukom, lavished praise upon Kent, who retired after the 2008 season. "Make no mistake: By hindsight, we let this guy go too early," Neukom said. Speakers poked fun at Kent's ornery tendencies. Duane Kuiper, who shared hosting duties with fellow broadcaster Mike Krukow, recited an unofficial "scouting report" that followed Kent when he arrived from Cleveland. Prompting laughter, Kuiper recalled, "Didn't have very good hands at second base, wrong; didn't have a whole lot of range, wrong; tough time turning the double play, wrong; a little grumpy once in a while, well, that one was right." J.T. Snow acknowledged that none of Kent's opponents liked him. Snow manned first base alongside Kent with the Giants after playing against him from high school through the Major Leagues. "And the reason we didn't like him was because the guy was good," Snow said. Referring to baseball's steroid era, Snow noted that Kent lacked artifice on and off the field. "I know a lot of times not everybody agreed with what Jeff said, which is OK, because he spoke his mind," Snow said. "... And in an era where there's lots of question marks about the way guys played, I can honestly say that Jeff Kent played the game clean, he played it fair and he played the right way." Kent's Wall of Fame plaque, which many believe will be someday replicated at baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., legitimized Snow's remarks. "If you don't look at the name," Kent jokingly said, "the mustache will tell you that it's mine."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.