The son of standout catcher Bob Boone, grandson of former infielder Ray Boone, and brother of Reds third baseman Aaron Boone, Bret became the first-ever third-generation major leaguer in 1992. But Boone eventually made a name for himself in Cincinnati with solid power and steady fielding at second base.
As a youngster, Bret became an infielder because his father — well-acquainted with the wear-and-tear of playing behind the plate — had forbidden him to play catcher. Seattle drafted him out of USC in 1990, and in the Mariners’ minor-league system Boone played with catcher Jim Campanis, the son of former major-league catcher Jim Campanis, Sr. and grandson of former Brooklyn Dodger Al Campanis. Their good-natured race to become the first third-generation ballplayer in the majors ended when Boone was called up by the Mariners on August 19, 1992. Campanis never made it to the major leagues.
Boone split time between Seattle and Triple-A the following season, but made the most of his major-league experience by swatting 12 homers in just 76 games. Even so, the Mariners sent him to the Reds with starter Erik Hanson in November for reliever Bobby Ayala and catcher Dan Wilson.
While Seattle began the season with Rich Amaral at second, Boone inherited the same position from Bip Roberts and went on a tear, hitting .320 with 12 homers and 68 RBIs before labor unrest prematurely ended the 1994 season. He maintained similar power numbers over the next two years, but his batting average slipped to .267 in 1995 and to .233 in 1996. Boone’s free-swinging nature at the plate brought him power but also caused streakiness and escalating strikeout totals, problems exacerbated by a series of nagging injuries.
It all collapsed in 1997. Boone’s average hovered at the Mendoza Line through the first two months of the season, prompting a brief demotion to Triple-A, and he finished the season with a .223 average, 101 strikeouts, and just seven home runs. The only good news came in the field, where Boone made just two errors — setting a new major-league record for fielding percentage by a second baseman.
Nevertheless, Boone’s first Gold Glove didn’t come until 1998 — a season in which a new stance helped his power return even as his strikeouts persisted. Smacking a career-high 24 homers and driving in 95 runs, Boone joined Joe Morgan as the only second basemen in franchise history to top the twenty-homer mark.
Despite his resurgence, Boone’s days in Cincinnati were over. With phenom Pokey Reese the heir apparent at second base and the Reds in desperate need of pitching, Boone was dealt to the Atlanta Braves in November for Denny Neagle, Michael Tucker, and Rob Bell. That same day, the Reds named Bret’s brother Aaron as their everyday third baseman.
Boone continued to hit for power in Atlanta, but his all-or-nothing approach to hitting prevented him from becoming the type of table-setter manager Bobby Cox envisioned when he decided to bat Boone second in the lineup. It was the first time in Boone’s career that he had batted at the top of the order on a regular basis, and he set a new career high with 112 strikeouts. Adjusting to Turner Field’s natural grass also proved troublesome for Boone, who committed a career-high 13 errors.
A tense relationship between Boone and Cox worsened when Boone was benched for Keith Lockhart in Game Two of the World Series. Boone considered demanding a trade in November, and a month after deciding against it he was dealt to San Diego as part of a six-player deal for Quilvio Veras, a speedier second baseman who had more experience at the top of the order.
The trade reunited Boone with Padres third baseman Phil Nevin, a teammate of his at El Dorado High in Placentia, California, but Boone was ecstatic about the deal for another reason. “Most importantly, I can go back to hating the Braves’ guts,” Boone jokingly announced in his first meeting with San Diego beat writers.
After returning to the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in 2001, Boone’s impact was nothing short of amazing. He experienced an incredible power resurgence and became the offensive leader of a team trying to cope with the loss of phenom shortstop Alex Rodriguez. With career highs in batting average, runs batted in (leading the league for a stretch during the season), home runs, triples, runs, and hits, Boone teamed with rookie extraordinaire Ichiro Suzuki to lead the Mariners to the AL West crown, boasting the best record in the major leagues. Fans acknowledged Boone’s stellar season by selecting him as the starting second baseman for the 2001 All-Star Game.