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T.J. SIMERS

There won't be a party if this is Kent's farewell

September 02, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

Jeff Kent is scheduled to undergo surgery on his left knee this morning and spend the next few weeks listening to Scully.

You just know then it will be a speedy recovery.

If this is it, though, the knee worse than initial medical reports indicated, then it will be a cold, abrupt end to a Hall of Fame career, and a fitting farewell for time so misspent in Los Angeles.

Kent came here known best as a hard-nosed jerk, and leaves the same way, successful for the most part in convincing the world he's mad at everyone living in it.

He should be leaving as the respected pro with gaudy baseball stats behind his name, someone who reported to work every single day, playing as if every single day mattered.

Instead, he leaves as the player who bad-mouthed Scully, no way for any Dodger to go out, making it "jerk" with an exclamation point.

Kent ignored every suggestion to soften his image, and dismissed the chance to retract his Scully comments before they made it into the newspaper because he took pride in saying something no one else on the team would dare say.

For someone so smart, he sure could be stupid.

When the story lingered, he appeared dumbfounded, and yet he grew up here. The fans in Dodger Stadium booed him, got on him in Philadelphia, Washington and across the Internet.

He became more grouchy than grumpy, even sullen, complaining that it should have been a "one-day story," but Page 2 wouldn't let it drop. Check with F.P. Santangelo, and maybe he can explain.

Kent was stung by the public criticism, quick to point out, of course, that he pays no attention to criticism or booing fans or Internet gibberish, although he hears it all and reads every word.

There might not be anyone more sensitive on the Dodgers, certainly no one fighting harder to disguise the fact, and then throw in Manny Ramirez's arrival.

The young players immediately gravitated to Ramirez, each one expressing their admiration for such a great hitter.

It bothered Kent, because as the team's resident veteran, he thought every one of them should be looking up to him, clueless when it came to understanding why they did not.

"He's one of those players whose actions are supposed to make you understand what he thinks," is how Manager Joe Torre described Kent. "It's the old pro thing."

But as Torre noted, today's kids are different, and they wanted nothing to do with someone who made it appear as if he wanted nothing to do with them. He lost them a long time ago.

So might the mood change now for the better without Kent brooding in the corner of the clubhouse?

"I think there is still an air of respect for that person," Torre said. "But you can be a little hesitant from being outgoing if someone is always there correcting you or giving you a look that tells you what they're thinking without saying a word.

"These guys are free spirits, but they have been a little hesitant."

Kent declined to take a call Saturday, sending a message that he's preparing for surgery, as if he has to do anything more than lie down and point to his left knee.

The last few weeks have been painful for Kent, and they've had nothing to do with his knee. For the most part, reporters and teammates have avoided him, no reason to court misery and ruin an otherwise wonderful day.

His wife and children have returned to Texas for the school year, and it's become increasingly difficult for Kent to play on without his family.

He's already an outsider in his own clubhouse, 40 years old, his family gone, his foot in his mouth, everyone fawning over Ramirez, and now withdrawn more than ever.

As harsh as it reads, no one will probably miss him here when he leaves.

"I'm not sure he's into send-offs; that's not why he does what he does," said Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti, who also worked with Kent in San Francisco. "But deep down, it probably does matter."

It's always mattered. He cares so much about the game, it's like he's frozen in time, riding home on the school bus after a loss, the serious coach up front demanding silence.

He prepared like a fighter for a 12-round bout, but out of sight of the camera's eye, doing everything a fan would want an athlete to do should their child cross paths with one.

Most baseball fans, though, will remember him quite differently, the exclamation point misplaced because of his own stubborn doing.

"As usual, we were in our seats long before the first pitch," wrote Jim & Tess Lovett in an e-mail a few weeks back. "We got to see the cavalcade of pregame honorees run out by the Dodgers.

"When it came time for the ceremonial first pitch, they had Jeff Kent come out to shake hands with the old guys who would be involved -- I guess Danny Ardoin was busy.

"Jeff not only shook hands and chatted with those guys, he waited and took pictures with them after they came off the field. As he walked by the L.A. police officer, who was about to play the national anthem on a trumpet, he stopped for more pictures.

"Then he headed over to the group of kids who were waiting to run out on the field, shook hands and talked with each child before finally returning to the dugout. What a jerk!"

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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