Baseball Card of the Week: A Villain's Farewell

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Yesterday, Jeff Kent, who just happens to be one of my absolute least favorite ballplayers in the whole wide world, hung up his spikes.

For that, he receives a farewell gift from the baseball world. It is known as the Card of the Week, and it may be the single highest honor a player can be given.  What we have here is an autographed Jeff Kent card by Score. 

BASEBALL-ALMANAC.COM
  • baseball-almanac.com
Jeff Kent was never a player that I liked, from the very beginning. Of course, I'm sure that's also the way he would have wanted it. After all, this is the man who famously said that he hoped he finished his career in baseball without making any friends

More than any of the sound bites, or the nasty spats with teammates, though, what I shall eternally despise Jeff Kent for is two at-bats.

That's right, out of the 8,498 at-bats that Jeff Kent took in his life, there are only two that I really care about. Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of other at-bats where he burned the Cardinals. But these are the two that stick with me. 

The first came in the early days of the 2003 season; the eleventh day of April, to be exact. Matt Morris was pitching that day against the Houston Astros, and he was twirling a gem. Enough of a gem, in fact, that he was still out there in the bottom of the ninth inning, with a 2-1 lead. Three batters came to the plate that inning, and here's how it went down: 

  1. Jeff Bagwell hits a long, long fly ball to the wall in right field. Probably five feet shy of a home run. 
  2. Lance Berkman hits a laser-beam line-drive to first base; Tino Martinez can't quite come up with it. 
  3. Jeff Kent steps in to the batter's box. 
Now, at this point, I was screaming for Tony to take Matty Mo out of the game. For the love of god, Tony, take him out! Kent had been a bugaboo for Morris pretty much from the start, and this at-bat would be no different. 

The ball landed about 450 feet away, in left center field. Sadly, it was a statement both about the fact that Jeff Kent just looooved Matt Morris, and also about the way Tony La Russa was going to manage his pitching staff that year. You may remember 2003 as the Summer of the Bad 'Pen, Part I; Isringhausen began the year on the DL, and with no veteran closer to lean on, TLR badly mismanaged both his bullpen and his starting rotation. The pitchers were awful, and Tony only made it worse by leaving guys out there far too long, scared to bring in someone else. Sound familiar? 

The second at bat took place a year and a half later, again in Minute Maid Park. The date was 18th October, 2004. Game five of the National League Championship Series. The 2004 series would go down as the week that Carlos Beltran earned his contract, but there was one other man on the field who did his part to try and wreck the Cards' dream season, too: Kent. 

The series was tied at two games apiece, and the Cardinals sent Woody Williams, the maestro himself, out to the mound that night. And, as he seemed to do so many times, Woody pitched brilliantly, going seven innings, giving up only a single hit, and not a run in sight. The only problem was that the Houston pitcher that night, a then-unknown converted outfielder by the name of Brandon Backe, was just as good. The Cardinals' offensive juggernaut was silenced by Backe, who allowed just one hit of his own. He left after eight innings, giving way to Brad Lidge. Lidge struck out Larry Walker and Albert Pujols in a scoreless ninth inning, and the 'Stros came to bat in the bottom of the frame. 

Jason Isringhausen was on the mound, having already thrown a scoreless eighth inning. Carlos Beltran, hitting second, led off the inning. He singled to right field, and the groans began. It's funny; we now think only of Izzy being scary in 2006 and then last year, but I distinctly recall even back in '04 we were all afraid of Izzy's performance. Too many baserunners, just didn't seem to strike many guys out, etc. 

Jeff Bagwell was up next; Izzy got him to fly out to Jim Edmonds. Lance Berkman -- already a terror in the minds of Cardinal fans -- came up to the plate. Beltran, continuing to torment the Cards, stole second base. Tony sent up the four fingers, and Berkman trotted down to first base. 

He came to the bat, then; the man we all loved to hate so very much. Kent, with his shitty little mustache and his wraparound shades. (Alright, so he wasn't wearing the shades then, since it was a night game. It's still how I picture him! You want to write this thing?) 

If anything, the shot Kent hit that night off Isringhausen was even more majestic than the bomb off Morris the previous year: it was high, wide, and handsome off into the night the second he hit it. Minute Maid went crazy; I knew at that moment the Cardinals were going to lose that series. Jeff Kent had done it to us again. 

Of course, the Cards did manage to win that series, thanks largely in part to two of the best days of baseball I've ever seen from a player when Jimmy Baseball won both games six and seven pretty much single-handedly, and St. Louis was off to Boston, to be the fall guy for 86 years of pissed off. 

That's what I'll remember about Jeff Kent. He was a son of a bitch. He was arrogant. He was abrasive. He was downright nasty at times. If you were looking for a bigger tool in the game of baseball, you had to look awfully hard. Jeff Kent is, to me and thousands of other fans out there like me, a complete and total bastard. 

But sweet Jesus, the man could play baseball. 

And you know what else? In the end, maybe he wasn't such a bad guy, after all.

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