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Seattle’s Bret Boone Matures As An All-Around Performer

Seattle’s Bret Boone Matures As An All-Around Performer

Danny O’Neil

Mariners second baseman has emerged as one of the game’s best defensive players while improving his productivity with the bat

BRET BOONE SWAGGERED INTO Seattle’s clubhouse in 1993 with a personality as strong as his swing.

He was a 24-year-old whose 12 home runs in half a season set a franchise record for second basemen.

“He was really cocky and a very confident kid,” Jay Buhner said. “He knew he could back it up.”

Boone, now a 32-year-old veteran, has become bigger for his second stint in Seattle. He added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, his always-big forearms ballooning toward Popeye proportions as he fills a bigger role in the middle of the Mariner lineup. As the No. 5 hitter, he drove in 80 runs in his first 80 games through July 1, ranking first in the American League.

But Boone is a bigger person, too, his confidence tempered by nine seasons in the major leagues, though not completely tamed.

“I’ve just grown up a lot,” he said. “It’s a humbling game, and you never take it for granted. I realize how tough it is, so it’s something that I don’t take for granted. I think when I was younger I did because I didn’t have much adversity, but sometimes I see a lot of young guys who are like that.

“It’s funny because that’s how I was.”

It’s the second time Boone has grown up in baseball. First, he was a child following his father around big league parks. First-hand lessons started in 1992, when he was called up by the Mariners and became baseball’s first third-generation major leaguer.

Grandpa Ray Boone was a two-time All-Star with the Tigers and the 1955 American League RBI champ who begat Bob Boone, Bret’s father. Bob was a seven-time Gold Glove catcher who won a World Series ring with Philadelphia in 1980. Bret was 11 years old when he celebrated on the Veterans Stadium field with his dad and then was on a float for the victory parade the next day.

It’s a story that has been told too many times for Boone’s taste, his rise to the big leagues detailed as a rite of passage, his career characterized as if it were an inheritance.

Family pedigree didn’t prepare him for a 29 at-bat hitless streak in 1997 when he was demoted to the minor leagues for three games. He changed his batting stance that season, opening up to change.

“You go through a lot of things in this game,” Boone said. “When you’re young, you’re just very naive. You don’t know what’s in front of you. I’ve had some great years and some tough years. I’ve had my share of struggling.”

Confidence has helped carry him through, a belief in his talents that put him on USC Coach Mike Gillespie’s list of favorite players.

“He was just an amazing competitor,” Gillespie said. “He was never too sick, he was never too hurt, and he had supreme confidence.”

As a sophomore, Boone batted third. During a fall game he came up with runners on second and third and no outs. He was given a sign to wait for a pitch outside, and he responded with body language that made it clear he expected to swing away. After hitting a triple, Boone was told to talk to his dad.

“Maybe he would have some more credibility with him,” Gillespie said. “I thought that would be the last we would hear of it.”

Two days later, Boone came back to say his dad thought Gillespie was right. Bret still wasn’t buying.

“My dad couldn’t hit,” Bret told Gillespie. “My dad ought to be the one trying to move runners. I ought to be able to hit away.”

He remains an aggressive hitter who’s also among the game’s best second basemen. In 1997, he set a record for fielding percentage by second basemen. In 1998, he was named an AllStar and earned his first Gold Glove. A year later, he played in the World Series, and last season was headed for his third straight 20 home-run season when a bruised right knee sidelined him after 127 games and derailed any big-contract plans.

“I wasn’t going to get out of free agency which I was planning on getting midseason last year,” Boone said.

He gave his agent instructions that he wanted to play for a contender as well as a chance at another contract soon.

“Sign a one-year deal or whatever it may be and then go out and play like hell,” Boone said of his intent.

The plan looks perfect so far. Boone has continued his excellence defensively, committing only five errors in his first 376 fielding chances this season.

He was batting .328, a hot start for a player who hasn’t hit better than .270 the past six seasons.

And the knee feels better than Boone expected; about 90 percent, he said.

“I wasn’t as quick in the field with my first Step as I normally was in the first half of the season,” Boone said. “But I got stronger and quicker as the season went on. By the time I reached the All-Star break, I was 100 percent.”

Boone’s more honed physique will help, too. He hired a personal trainer two years ago and last season played at about 175 pounds, which he decided was too skinny for a full season.

“I felt the stronger I could be, the better my body would hold up to the day-in, day-out grind of the season,” Boone said. “I wanted to feel as strong in the final month of the season as I do at the start of the year.”

Second Basemen With 100 RBI Seasons, (1900-2000)

Year Player, Team RBI

1901 Nap Lajoie, A’s 125

1904 Nap Lajoie, Indians 102

1912 Bill Sweeney, Braves 100

1916 Del Pratt, Browns 103

1921 Rogers Hornsby, Cards 126

1921 Del Pratt, Red Sox 100

1922 Rogers Hornsby, Cards 152

1922 Marty McManus, Browns 109

1923 Frankie Frisch, Giants 111

1925 Rogers Hornsby, Cards 143

1926 Tony Lazzeri, Yankees 114

1927 Rogers Hornsby, Giants 125

1927 Tony Lazzeri, Yankees 102

1929 Rogers Hornsby, Cubs 149

1929 Tony Lazzeri, Yankees 106

1929 Charlie Gehringer, Tigers 106

1930 Frankie Frisch, Cards 114

1930 Tony Lazzeri, Yankees 121

1930 Johnny Hodapp, Indians 121

1932 Tony Lazzeri, Yankees 113

1932 Charlie Gehringer, Tigers 107

1933 Tony Lazzeri Yankees 104

1933 Charlie Gehringer, Tigers 105

1934 Charlie Gehringer, Tigers 127

1934 Odell Hale, Indians 101

1935 Charlie Gehringer, Tigers 108

1935 Buddy Myer, Senators 100

1936 Tony Lazzeri, Yankees 109

1936 Charlie Gehringer, Tigers 116

1938 Charlie Gehringer, Tigers 107

1939 Joe Gordon, Yankees 111

1940 Joe Gordon, Yankees 103

1940 Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 105

1942 Joe Gordon, Yankees 103

1942 Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 102

1946 Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 116

1948 Joe Gordon, Indians 124

1948 Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 111

1949 Jackie Robinson, Dodgers 124

1949 Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 109

1950 Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 120

1976 Joe Morgan, Reds 111

1979 Bobby Grich, Angels 101

1985 Tommy Herr, Cardinals 110

1987 Juan Samuel, Phillies 100

1990 Ryne Sandberg, Cubs 100

1991 Ryne Sandberg, Cubs 100

1992 Carlos Baerga, Indians 105

1993 Carlos Baerga, Indians 114

1997 Jeff Kent, Giants 121

1998 Jeff Kent, Giants 128

1998 Damion Eastey, Tigers 100

1999 Edgardo Alfonzo, Mets 108

1999 Jay Bell, Diamondbacks 112

1999 Jeff Kent, Giants 101

1999 Roberto Alomar, Indians 120

2000 Jeff Kent, Giants 125

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