02/23/10 1:51 PM EST
Playoff hero Boone announces retirement
Player whose homer sent Yanks to '03 Series joins ESPN
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
The former infielder will end his career with a .263 batting average, 126 homers and 555 RBIs. Boone's grandfather, Ray Boone, was an All-Star in 1954 and '56 for the Detroit Tigers. His father, catcher Bob Boone, was a four-time All-Star and a manager of two teams, and brother Bret Boone was a three-time All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners.
"This is a very exciting day for me, one I feel like I've been working on here all offseason," said the youngest Boone as part of a conference call on Tuesday. "In a lot of ways, although I'm retiring from the game, I feel like it's just another step in the game. I went from being drafted to making the big leagues to being an everyday player to being a role player, a bench player. And now to be an analyst -- although I'm taking my uniform off, in a lot of ways, it doesn't feel like I'm retiring."
Boone, who was drafted and developed by Cincinnati, broke in as a starter at third base in 1998 and held that position for several seasons. He hit 14 home runs in '99, kicking off a string six straight years with double-digit homer totals. Boone played under his father from 2001-03, but the Reds relieved the manager and dealt the player just before the Trade Deadline.
And though Boone was an All-Star with the Reds that season, he made his biggest impact in October. The former third-round draftee had slumped in the Division Series, but he broke Boston's back by blasting an 11th-inning walk-off homer in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series, a shot that lifted the Yankees into the World Series against the Marlins.
"People obviously know me for the home run and ask me about it all the time," Boone said. "My recollection of that, as I've told many people, is very hazy and not one of those vivid photographic memories. I think the biggest memory that I have that's clear in my mind -- I can see it like it was yesterday -- was taking the field in 1999 in the one-game playoff with the Mets. It was a cool, drizzly, hazy night, and I'll never forget running onto the field at Cynergy Field and just a sea of red. That playoff weather. It was the neatest feeling I've ever had running onto the field, but unfortunately the game ended by Al Leiter dominating us that night.
"That was one of those clear memories, and all my teammates, just the great friends I made. Also, getting to play in an All-Star Game and having my grandfather there, my dad there and my brother also in the game. That was a special week for my family."
Boone, who will turn 37 in March, missed the entire 2004 season after injuring his left knee in an offseason basketball game. The Yankees wound up replacing him with iconic third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Boone ultimately came back in '05 and spent two years with the Indians, then played out single-season tours with Florida, Washington and Houston. Boone's last stop -- a 10-game stint with the Astros in '09 -- came just five months after he had open-heart surgery to replace a bicuspid aortic valve.
Boone didn't manage a hit in those 10 games with Houston, but he is believed to be the first player to return from open-heart surgery and play in the Major Leagues. Ed Wade, Houston's general manager, talked Tuesday about Boone's legacy.
"Terrific guy, terrific playing career, which gets somewhat overshadowed -- at least in the Houston market -- by what he went through last year," said Wade. "Tremendous courage, great baseball family.
"And I certainly hope that over the course of the next 50 years that he fills a multitude of roles in baseball. I think he'd be a terrific broadcaster, I think he'd be a terrific GM at some point in time. ... I've known his dad since 1977, and I take pride in the fact that we were a part of his successful battle last year. I think we created an environment for him to do exactly what we promised him -- to get back on the field in September."
Boone said he virtually knew his career was over when the season ended, and he said he never really considered taking some time off before beginning his next endeavor. Boone, who will work on ESPN's Baseball Tonight program, also said that he never really wanted to be a coach or a manager and that he's coveted the role of broadcaster since he was a kid.
"I think in a lot of ways, today, although different, is almost just as exciting," he said. "This is something I've always pictured myself doing, envisioned myself doing. As a little kid, going to bed at night listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn call Phillies games, it left a lasting impression on me. I can't wait to get going at it. I think the one thing I'll miss is my teammates and that camaraderie you get from them and from competing against the best, but this is something that's a different challenge."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.