A love letter to the most assuredly not racist Bad Lieutenant, by Bill Plaschke in Sunday’s LA Times (link courtesy Baseball Think Factory) :

“I don’t see why you need to say hello to someone 365 days a year,” Jeff Kent says. “Shouldn’t once a week be enough?”

“I don’t know if I ever really liked baseball,” Kent says. “If I had my druthers, and could do something else, I’d probably be doing it.”

First, he doesn’t emerge from the shower until nearly an hour after the game. He’s almost always the last player to leave because he spends so much time watching tapes or taking midnight swings.

“I may not like the game, but I respect it, and too many young kids don’t,” he says

Second, he carries a huge cooler to his locker, filled with ice and water for an outing with his children. The beach? An amusement park?

“The motorcycle races,” he says. “But don’t worry, I ain’t gonna ride one.”

This life-as-motocross personality has been misinterpreted by many, most recently Bradley, when he became the first player of color in Kent’s 14-year career to refer to him as a racist.

Not even Bonds, who physically tangled with Kent in the San Francisco Giant dugout and who has been unafraid to talk about race relations, has ever claimed Kent was prejudiced.

“When Milton said that, it was the first time in my career that my wife Dana has read something and cried,” he says. “That hurt. That really hurt.”

Yes, he has a perpetual farmer’s tan and sometimes wears white socks with blocky black tennis shoes and is considered completely un-hip and hopelessly un-cool.

And, yes, he blows off even those with three World Series rings. Just listen to Ricky Ledee.

“I always thought spring training was a time for a team to get closer, but when I first saw Jeff this year, he didn’t even acknowledge me,” Ledee says. “I thought, that’s really strange.”

When Kent sternly approached Bradley about his lack of hustle, Kent figured he would understand.

“I only push players to point of need, and, right then, we really needed Milton,” Kent says. “We needed all of Milton, and I told him that. He can be a great player, but we needed his best, we needed everybody’s best.”

Bradley was so upset with Kent’s comments, a couple of days later he lashed back, even against Tracy’s order, accusing Kent of being racist.

The funniest thing about Bradley’s midafternoon tirade was that he wondered how come Kent had not arrived at the park yet.

This guy who disappears for weeks talking about a guy who shows up more than anybody.

“I wasn’t mad at Milton, I’m still not mad at Milton,” says Kent, who noted they haven’t spoken since. “I still wish the best for him; he can be a great player.”

Who knows whether Kent will have a chance to be a great player for the Dodgers next year? Who knows whether he will even want that chance?

The only thing certain is, after spending a summer watching the curious one, the Dodgers have been the lucky ones.

“Hey, I’m getting ready to close on two motorcycle shops down in Texas, I’m good,” Kent says just before midnight, grabbing his cooler and his dirt-caked dreams and walking away.