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Friday, 03 April 2020 16:28

Kent Couldn't Escape From The Mets Black Hole

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Most Mets fans remember that General Manager Sandy Alderson stunned the fanbase when he traded away Cy Young Award Winner R.J. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for a young catcher named Travis d’Arnaud. Included in that deal was a flamethrower named Noah Syndergaard. D’Arnaud would never live up to expectations, but Syndergaard, turned out to be the gem in the deal, regardless that he is out due to Tommy John surgery.

Some years earlier, another GM, Gerry Hunsicker, in an attempt to rebuild, surprised many when he traded away ace David Cone to get a couple of young prospects, infielder Jeff Kent and outfielder Ryan Thompson. Kent arrived first and immediately was slotted into the lineup at third base, and Thompson came some weeks later, and was thought to be the five-tool superstar that the Mets coveted to play centerfield. Thompson was one of a number of those “five-tool hopefuls” the Mets would acquire like Alex Ochoa and Steve Henderson who would never live up to those expectations.

 

Kent was never expected to be anything special. The Mets management focused more on the excitement a special talent like Thompson would bring. Kent was going to be another in the revolving door that was third base, until incumbent Willie Randolph’s illustrious career began to disintegrate in Queens. Kent was then moved to second base where he was chastised for his lack of range in the field, and regardless of how well he hit, he was never well-liked by management, and was actually disliked by the media. In just over four years, he averaged .279 with 16 home runs and 65 runs batted in. Not bad for a second baseman. But during the 1996 season, yet another Mets GM, Joe McIlvaine, decided to flip Kent for Cleveland Indians All-Star second baseman Carlos Baerga. Kent would go on to a career in which he hit .291 and slammed 366 homers and drove in 1,467 runs, while Baerga, well, we’ll delve into that later.

Kent was a dominant force at the plate, and served as the protection for Barry Bonds in the San Francisco Giants line-up for a number of years. He played for multiple teams and was successful wherever he put on a uniform in what should have been a Hall of Fame career. During a nine-year span with the Giants (six seasons), with the Houston Astros (two seasons), and his first season with the Dodgers, Kent dominated at the plate when he hit for a .295 average with 28 home runs and 110 RBI. He won four Silver Slugger Awards, he was selected to play in five All Star Games, and he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2000. Given his numbers, given his longevity, given his quiet yet hard-nosed, old school approach every game, every season, it’s a wonderment as to why Kent is being snubbed by the HOF voters.

What is noteworthy, with all of his success throughout his career, is his subdued performance while in a Mets uniform. Could it be because he was in the black hole that is the Mets second base position? Because it seems that every star the Mets acquire to man the position turns into Superman befallen by Kryptonite.

An early Mets All Star, Ron Hunt, appeared to be the first true star of the team, but he didn’t truly emerge as a player until after he emerged from Queens and had a nice career with the Giants and the expansion Montreal Expos. One of my favorite Mets, the player who made me want to wear Number 12, Ken Boswell, was known as a proficient hitter. His teammate and roommate, Art Shamsky, still professes how good of a player Boswell was, but he could never stay healthy, and could never play enough to stay in a groove, before giving way to Felix Millan.

Millan (1973-1977) was a three-time All Star with the Braves. He was a pretty good “punch and judy” hitter before flopping…actually his “flopping” was more of a body slamming by the Pirates’ Ed Ott, breaking his collarbone and ending his career. Randolph (1992) had a highly productive career and was a six-time All Star. But his skills suddenly vanished and he was through after 90 games. Baerga (1996-1998) was a three-time All Star and two-time Silver Slugger with the Indians. His production greatly dropped off after joining the Mets and never matched the success he achieved in Cleveland. Roberto Alomar (2002-2003) had a Hall of Fame career and gained entrance. He played in 12 All Star games before joining the Mets, won 10 Gold Glove Awards, and 4 Silver Slugger Awards. However, his short time with the Mets saw him with numbers vastly below his career numbers. He hit 44 points below his career batting average and his on base percentage was 55 points below his career numbers. Even Luis Castillo (2007-2010) of the infamous dropped ball against the Yankees was a three-time All Star and won three Gold Glove Awards with the Marlins. He actually had one good full season, but never matched the production he displayed with Florida and, oh, that dropped ball.

Current General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, trying to make a splash early on in his new career as a baseball executive, acquired Robinson Cano from the Seattle Mariners in order to get flamethrower Edwin Diaz. We are all aware of Diaz’s first year flop. But Cano was on a path to a Hall of Fame enshrinement (if the voters forget about his 80-game suspension) before coming to the Mets. However, he was a mere shell of himself, except for his knack for a lack of hustle at times, and he was on the shelf with injuries. He was so happy to return to New York that he may have been unaware that he was entering the black hole for all-star second baseman.

So maybe it’s that black hole that is keeping Jeff Kent from entering the Hall of Fame?

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About New York Mets Mania

Alan Karmin is an award-winning journalist and author. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and spent most of his life growing up in the New Jersey suburbs. Alan's family were avid Brooklyn Dodgers fans and when the Dodgers moved west, the Mets became the team to root for. The Mets have always been a true focal point, Alan even wrote a term paper in high school to analyze what was wrong with the Mets. While at the University of Miami, Alan honed his craft covering the, gulp, Yankees during spring trainings in Fort Lauderdale for a local NBC affiliate, as well as the Associated Press and UPI. He broadcasted baseball games for the University of Miami, and spring training games for the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos. New York Mets Mania is a forum for Alan to write about his favorite team and for baseball fans to chime in and provide their thoughts and ideas about New York's Amazin' Mets.