Former Mariner Bret Boone has co-written a book about his family and its life in baseball, “Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family.” But the most important aspect of it might turn out to be Boone’s acknowledgment of the alcohol problem he fights to this day.

Share story

Bret Boone likes to joke that he’s only read two books to completion. One is “King Kong.” The other is the one he just wrote.

It’s called “Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family,” co-written with Kevin Cook, and it’s a lively and at times poignant recounting by one of most charismatic Mariners ever. The last time the Mariners were really, really good – before now — Boone was smack in the middle of it all.

He called himself “The Boone” in those days, though Boone reveals that teammate Mark McLemore actually coined that term. It came to identify the cocky, in-your-face dude who flipped his bat after home runs and was the go-to guy for every media member who stepped into the M’s clubhouse from 2001 through 2004, his glory years.

“It was a role I played,” Boone said. “Everyone looked at me to be ‘The Boone.’ You knew it was a shtick, but my teammates expected it. If I was anything than that, my teammates would go, what’s wrong with him?”

That was 15 years ago. The Boone who sat before me last week, in the midst of a book-promotion tour, is without bluster or bravado. He tells me he wrote the book in part to honor his family, the first to produce three generations of major-leaguers (the Bells, Hairstons and Colemans eventually followed).

He also wanted to tell some stories about his career (many involving Lou Piniella, whom Boone calls “my favorite” and “the most interesting man in the world”) and give his thoughts on the current state of the game. I told him I was amused that he came down against excessive celebration: “Another thing that chaps my ass,” he writes, “is how we accept showboating.”

Isn’t that The Boone calling the kettle black, I asked him?

“Other than the bat flip, I really didn’t show emotion,” he countered. “I busted my ass every day of my career. My only thing was the bat flip. But I didn’t stand there and smirk. I hit it and then I ran. I never was pumping my fist and jumping up and down and spotlighting.

“I’m not saying you can’t do that. Dennis Eckersley was one of the greatest closers ever, and he used to shoot me when he struck me out. I just think it’s very excessive now.”

For the record: Boone continues to deny, in the book and in person, he used steroids, despite rampant speculation that his dramatic mid-career uptick in production – peaking at 37 homers and 141 runs batted in during the 2001 season – was chemically induced.

“It’s false,” he told me, while admitting that the suspicions will never go away.

But the most important aspect of the book might turn out to be Boone’s frank acknowledgment of the alcohol problem he now concedes led to his retirement in spring training of 2006 with the Mets, and which he fights to this day.

“If I could help one young kid not go through what I went through, then my job is done,” he said.

Boone told me his grandfather, former major-leaguer Ray Boone, struggled with alcoholism but conquered it to remain sober the final 43 years of his life. Once, early in his career, Ray Boone saw Bret drinking a beer during the offseason and told him, “Be careful with that beer, kid.” When Boone questioned what he meant, Ray Boone replied, “Runs in the family.”

Boone told his grandfather he wasn’t like him – “and at the time, I wasn’t,” he said. “But it’s a progressive thing. It’s still a day-to-day battle for me.”

Boone said he always liked to have a beer with the boys after a game, but began drinking to excess late in his career. The Mariners traded him to the Twins in July 2005, but he was released three weeks later after going 9 for 53 (.170) with no extra-base hits in Minnesota. The drinking had become too much, Boone admits.

“It kind of ripped the passion out of me,” he said. “I’d had a really good career, made a lot of money, and I said, I don’t need this anymore … just didn’t have it here (tapping his heart) anymore.”

Boone quit baseball at age 36 and enrolled himself in The Promises, a rehab center in Malibu, in 2007 and became clear-minded, he said. In 2008, he embarked on a comeback with the Washington Nationals, where his father, Bob, was an executive. Boone started the year in Class AAA and was offered a chance to join the Nationals early in the year but opted to decline. This time, he retired for good.

Boone had realized during his minor-league stint “I was a shell of myself,” but adds, “I was fine with it, because I finally had closure.”

Now, after a rewarding stint as an instructor in the A’s organization, Boone is taking the year off to promote his book, spend time with his four kids (son Jake, a high-school junior, has designs on being the fourth-generation Boone in the majors). He’s also a co-owner of Suit Club VIP, which offers custom suits.

Sobriety is a battle Boone fights every day, he says, and not always successfully.

“I’m definitely going to be honest about that,” he said. “It’s not like I got sober and I haven’t had a drink since. No. I’ve had several relapses, and they’re real. Once you get to a certain point, you can’t just go out and have a couple of drinks with the guys. Because a couple of beers turns into 15.

“I’m in a good place right now, but I still have to do my work. I know I’m one drink away from relapsing again. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be there for my kids, and be in a good place so I can give back and help another young guy.”

Which is The Boone that might be the best one of all.