Kent retires after 17 seasons

Updated: January 23, 2009, 1:29 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Jeff Kent always kept his emotions bottled up during his outstanding, 17-year major league career. He couldn't put a cork on them Thursday, when he tearfully announced his retirement.

His watery, red-rimmed eyes and frequent pauses to collect himself were in stark contrast to the gruff public demeanor Kent maintained for years, which led to his image as a surly sort.

I believe I've played this game right and I believe I'm leaving this game right.

-- Jeff Kent

He attributed that to his competitive nature.

"I don't get how you can go up to an opposing starting pitcher, give him a hug and say, `How you doing?' and then go out there and try to hit a gapper," Kent said. "I tried to separate the emotions from the game.

"If you allow yourself as a player to get emotionally involved in every little thing that happens, I don't think you can stay as consistent as you ought to in this game. I wanted other people to perceive me as a guy who was level emotionally."

But that facade came undone during a farewell news conference at Dodger Stadium, especially when Kent looked over at his wife, Dana, daughter Lauren, and three young sons. His 12-year-old daughter wiped her eyes at times.

"We're glad to see him home," Dana Kent said.

At 40, retirement beckoned because Kent said he'd grown tired of life on the road and being away from his family in Austin, Texas, for much of the year.

Kent leaves as the career home run leader among second basemen with 351 -- 74 more than Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. A five-time All-Star and the 2000 NL MVP, Kent made his only World Series appearance with San Francisco in 2002, when the Giants lost to the Anaheim Angels in seven games.

"Being a Game 7 loser is the worst feeling that I've ever had as an athlete, but the participation in those games and being able to play alongside my teammates have put to peace any resentment of not being a World Series winner," he said. "I'm OK with it."

Kent had a .290 career batting average with 377 homers, 1,518 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage. He was drafted by Toronto in 1989 and also played for the New York Mets, Cleveland, San Francisco and Houston.

"Half of my playing career I was able to get on a team and then make the playoffs, and what a special feeling that is to be part of," he said. "The reasons why I was able to do such things is because of my teammates."

Former Dodgers shortstop Jose Vizcaino stopped by to wish Kent well, along with team owner Frank McCourt, general manager Ned Colletti, former Dodger greats Duke Snider and Don Newcombe, and much of the team's front-office staff. Messages from some of Kent's former teams were read.

Colletti described Kent as "a no-nonsense player, someone you will never see lead a talkathon, but whose 1-on-1 counsel was invaluable."

Kent's famous intensity led to clashes with teammates, including Barry Bonds when they played with the Giants from 1997-2002, and the two once scuffled in the dugout for all to see. In 2005, Kent tangled with then-Dodgers teammate Milton Bradley, who claimed Kent couldn't deal with black players.

"Those two guys were teammates of mine and we won," Kent said. "I had run-ins with other teammates. Was it me having a run-in with those guys or them having a run-in with me? It doesn't matter, we were all teammates."

Kent said he was proud of his integrity in baseball, although that was called into question in 2002, when he claimed he injured his wrist while washing his truck. It later came out that he got hurt while riding his motorcycle, which violated the terms of his contract. The injury landed him on the disabled list to start the season.

Kent criticized players who used performance-enhancing drugs while endorsing improved testing.

"The integrity of the game has been jeopardized for so many years and I'm just so embarrassed about the steroid era," he said.

Kent thinks the sport has made great strides against steroids.

"Baseball has created a drug policy that is on the right path, that has brought the game to a better level playing field than it ever was," he said.

Kent said he applied a motto to his career that his police officer father taught him: If you're going to do a job, do it right.

"More than likely I would've been a cop when I grew up, hence the mustache," he said, drawing laughter. "Yet when we were kids, we fantasize about being an athlete. I wanted to be a baseball player. For 17 years, I got to live a fantasy and I'm truly, truly grateful for that."

Kent thanked the fans because, he said, "without them, I wouldn't have a job."

"I've learned to love and appreciate the fans and even the Jeff Kent haters out there most of all," he said. "Those are the people who motivate you."

Kent hit .253 during the first half of last season, improved to .353 in August, then injured his knee on Aug. 29 and had surgery four days later. He returned to make the postseason roster, but was relegated to a bench role. He went a combined 0-for-9 with four strikeouts during the two playoff series and became a free agent in November.

He'll be replaced at second base by Blake DeWitt, who took over when Kent was sidelined.

Kent plans to oversee the three motorcycle shops he owns in Austin, and he just bought a golf course there.

He said he walks away with no regrets.

"I believe I've played this game right and I believe I'm leaving this game right," he said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press