SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, who frequently hit back-to-back as Giants teammates, are again in lockstep as both inched upward in baseball's 2016 Hall of Fame balloting announced Wednesday.
The vote total for Bonds, who was in his fourth year on the ballot, indicated that the stigma of his link to performance-enhancing drug use could be fading. Bonds, the Major Leagues' all-time home run leader, received a 44.3 percent share of ballots cast (195 of 440). That fell far short of the 75 percent required for induction but still exceeded his previous best -- the 36.8 percent figure (202 of 549) he compiled last year.
Bonds, the seven-time National League Most Valuable Player, has six more years of eligibility remaining on the Hall ballot. All candidates may appear on the ballot for a maximum of 10 years.
Bonds could derive hope from favorable voting results involving catcher Mike Piazza and first baseman Jeff Bagwell, fellow subjects of PED-related scrutiny. Piazza gained entry to Cooperstown with an 83 percent plurality, while Bagwell lacked only 15 votes to achieve election.
Momentum certainly appears to favor Bonds. Three respected, influential reporters -- ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal and the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea -- recently wrote columns explaining why they cast their first Hall of Fame votes for Bonds and right-hander Roger Clemens, who also has lived under the cloud of PED suspicion.
Bonds also can benefit from the pedestal of being actively involved in the game. Last month he accepted a position as a Miami Marlins hitting coach. His everyday interaction with people surrounding baseball could help repair his image. Moreover, Bonds no longer faces legal hurdles. The perjury and obstruction of justice charges he faced in the government's BALCO investigation were dropped and have become distant memories.
Kent, whose 351 homers as a second baseman established a big league record, improved his vote percentage to 16.6 (73 of 440) from last year's 14.0 (77 of 549).
"I'm on my way!" Kent jokingly said. "Maybe we ought to go celebrate tonight."
It's debatable whether Kent will encounter significant opposition from other Hall of Fame infield candidates in future votes. Edgar Renteria is the only middle infielder appearing on the ballot for the first time in 2017 who could siphon votes from Kent. But competition could intensify when Omar Vizquel and Michael Young join the ballot in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Kent acknowledged his Hall of Fame perspective has changed somewhat. Having expressed nonchalance about the subject in previous interviews, Kent admitted regarding his Cooperstown candidacy, "It's mattered."
Being elected, he said, is "something that would be neat, but it's something I can't control." Revealing that he has gained 20 unwanted pounds, Kent added, "I'm more worried about losing 10 pounds than I am about a Hall of Fame vote."
Since Kent ranks at or near the top of numerous offensive categories among second basemen, the relative lack of balloting support he has received is curious, at least.
"Maybe some people say I [hacked] too many people off because I was mean to the media and which I think is a farce, because there were plenty of bigger [jerks] than me who played the game that are in the Hall of Fame," he said.
Without prompting, Kent cited criticism of his defense.
"I think that's a farce, too," said Kent, who led NL second basemen in assists in 2001 and double plays in 2002.
Perhaps his itinerant career, and the resulting lack of identification with one team, didn't help. He played for six clubs -- unlike Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who played 15 full seasons with the Cubs yet was eclipsed in many offensive facets by Kent.
Ill-informed voters might assume Kent benefited unduly from batting in front of or behind Bonds during their 1997-2002 collaboration as Giants. Yet after leaving San Francisco, Kent thrived for Houston (.293 batting average, 49 homers, 200 RBIs, .870 OPS in 2003-04) and the Dodgers (.291, 75 homers, 311 RBIs, .847 OPS from 2005-08).
"I don't need the drama or the debate," Kent said. "You could sit there and argue over a six-pack of Dr Pepper forever" about his struggle to attract votes.
Outfielder Randy Winn, whose 13-year career included a 2005-09 stint with San Francisco, received zero votes and will not appear on subsequent ballots, having fallen short of the 5 percent minimum to remain eligible. Former closer Lee Smith, a roving Minor League pitching instructor for the Giants, collected 150 votes, 34.1 percent, in his next-to-last year on the ballot.