Kent: Bonds 'dogged' for keeping 'bad company'

Updated: February 26, 2005, 6:18 PM ET
Associated Press

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Jeff Kent once fought in the dugout with Barry Bonds. Still, Kent believes his former teammate should be cut some slack as talk of steroids ripples through baseball.

Barry Bonds

Jeff Kent

"Barry tries to do his best, as we all do, to shed light on issues that he has and we all have in our lives," Kent said from the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training camp.

"I understand he has a lot he can't talk about; I understand he has a lot of anger at the media," Kent added. "I have a lot of respect for Barry. He is one of the best players ever to play the game. I know in time things will work themselves out. Barry tries. Because of what he's done and who he is, he's a lot different than most of us."

Bonds was defiant at a recent news conference dealing mostly with steroids. He called reporters liars in his first public comments since his leaked grand jury testimony was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in December.

Bonds testified in December 2003 that he used a clear substance and a cream given to him by a trainer who was indicted in a steroid-distribution ring, but said he didn't know if they were steroids, the newspaper said. Prosecutors believe the substances were two steroids at the center of the BALCO scandal.

"He's getting dogged right now. The media's pushing him to the wall because he kept bad company," Kent said, referring to BALCO.

Kent and Bonds played together for six years on the San Francisco Giants. He said they got along better than many think.

"We respected each other. We complemented each other very well," said Kent, the NL MVP in 2000. Bonds won the award the past four years.

"We fought each other, and 30 minutes later we hugged each other," Kent said. "I get so tired of people saying we had a bad clubhouse. We played well together."

Bonds enters the season with 703 homers, trailing only Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). Kent knows something of home runs as well.

A four-time All-Star who signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Dodgers in December, Kent is baseball's leading home run hitter for a second baseman with 278. He is one ahead of Ryne Sandberg, who was elected to the Hall of Fame last month.

While Kent was willing to speak about Bonds, he declined comment on the steroid debate.

"There are too many good things happening in this clubhouse," he said.

Kent, who turns 37 next month, joined the Dodgers for two reasons -- he grew up in the Los Angeles area, and he believes they can win.

"I'm looking for an excuse to retire," he said. "Winning a championship, that would probably be it. That's all I play for. I've played for my contracts, I've played in good cities. There's nothing like playing in the World Series."

Kent did that in 2002 when the Giants lost to the Angels in seven games. He's still haunted by Game 6 in which the Giants led 5-0 entering the last of the seventh inning before losing 6-5. The Angels won the seventh game 4-1.

"I wish I would have started a fight in the locker room with Barry or somebody to take away the attention," Kent said. "I wish I would have done something stupid to draw the attention away. We didn't have anything left for the seventh game. Our heads were so flustered, so compressed with emotion."

Kent spent the last two seasons with the Houston Astros. He hit .289 with 27 homers and 107 RBIs last season -- driving in more than 100 runs for the seventh time in eight years.

Dodgers manager Jim Tracy already has said Kent will bat cleanup.

"You can't teach a guy to want to be up there time after time with the game on the line," Tracy said. "That's a quality that not everyone possesses. He does."

Outfielder J.D. Drew, who also joined the Dodgers during the offseason, added: "He's always been a tough out. Some guys on other teams, you don't worry a lot about. Him, you do."

Kent disagrees with those who say he represents a drop-off defensively at second base now that Alex Cora is gone.

"I take pride in my defense," Kent said. "I'm a really good defensive player. For some reason, I've been criticized for my defensive skills."

Kent nearly reached the World Series a second time last October. His three-run homer in the ninth of Game 5 gave the Astros a 3-0 victory over St. Louis and a 3-2 lead in the NL championship series. But the Cardinals won the next two games.

"There's probably only two or three times in my career when I've let go emotionally," Kent said, recalling his broad grin while the Astros awaited his arrival at home plate. "And then I've come up short with what I really wanted to do -- win a championship."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press