Kendall ranks among big names

Jason Kendall hit a real milestone last night:

    ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Jason Kendall of the Milwaukee Brewers singled in the second inning Monday night for his 2,000th hit, becoming the eighth full-time catcher to reach that milestone.
    The 34-year-old Kendall is primarily the eighth-place hitter for Milwaukee. He singled up the middle off Kyle Lohse of the St. Louis Cardinals with one out in the second, his third hit in two games.

    Ivan Rodriguez of the Houston Astros is the leader among players with at least 1,000 games at catcher with 2,636, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Kendall, the only other active player on the list, is 48 hits behind Johnny Bench for seventh place.

    Others on the list are: Ted Simmons (2,472), Carlton Fisk (2,356), Yogi Berra (2,150), Mike Piazza (2,127) and Gary Carter (2,092).

One might reasonably wonder why Simmons isn't in the Hall of Fame, but that's probably a discussion for a cold winter's day. Most of these names are those of Hall of Famers, though, and so we might reasonably wonder what Kendall's doing among them.
Well, Kendall reached the majors 13 years ago when he was 21, and he's been playing regularly ever since, with the only interruption coming in 1999 when he missed half the season with a broken ankle. Kendall did come back strong the next season, but really he's never been the same since. Before that injury, Kendall had become a leadoff man, and in the two-and-a-half prior seasons he'd swiped 66 bases in 80 attempts. In the three seasons after the injury, he stole 50 bases in 84 attempts.

It's hard to blame Kendall's decline on the ankle, though. He set a career high in homers in 2000. He batted .325 in 2003 and .319 in 2004. At that point -- at the end of the 2004 season -- Kendall was still on something like a path to Cooperstown. He was only 30, his lifetime batting average was .306 and he'd already collected more than 1,400 hits.

But then he lost his power: one home run in the next two seasons.

And next he lost his batting average: .243 in the next three seasons.

The only thing Kendall's got left is walks. He drew 50 of them last season, which is roughly what he's done for his entire career, and he'll probably draw around 50 again this season. Really, though, the walks aren't enough to keep him in the lineup because he's just an absolute zero otherwise. At least with the bat. It's clear that his defense is valued, and one can't really argue with the Brewers' success this season. And if Brad Ausmus has taught us anything over the years, it's that if your defense behind the plate is valued, you can play regularly long, long, long past the point at which your bat would suggest otherwise.

Don't look back, Yogi; someone might be gaining on you.*

* In a technical sense, Kendall has already passed Berra, along with Bench, Carter, Piazza, and Simmons, too.

Of Kendall's 2,001 hits, 1,966 of them have come when he was in the lineup as the catcher.

Oddly enough, Piazza finished with 1,906 hits as a catcher, Carter 1,907, and Simmons 1,908. Bench is well behind, with 1,644 hits as a catcher. And while we don't have splits for Yogi's entire career, we do know that more than 200 of his hits came as an outfielder.

At this moment, then, Kendall is actually No. 3 on the list that matters, behind only the two Pudges, Fisk (2,145) and Rodriguez (2,547). Not bad, and a pretty good trivia question the next time you want to stump someone.