- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Bret Boone, a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner in 14 major league seasons, has decided to retire after a comeback attempt with the Washington Nationals failed to lead to a big league job.
Boone, 39, hit .189 for the Nationals in 12 Grapefruit League games. He accepted an assignment to Triple-A Columbus to begin the season, but left the Clippers on April 17 and returned home to his family in San Diego.
While Boone said he might have continued to pursue his comeback if a contending club had expressed interest, the lack of opportunities and the physical demands of staying in baseball shape finally convinced him to retire.
"I had no idea how hard it is when you get to be a certain age," Boone told ESPN.com. "My whole life, when the older guys would tell me, I would laugh at them -- like, 'That would never happen to me.' Now I know what 39-year-old middle infielders feel like playing every day. Wow -- it's very hard."
Boone posted a .266 career average with 252 home runs for Seattle, Cincinnati and three other clubs. His best season came in 2001, when he hit 37 homers and drove in 141 runs for the Mariners and finished third in the American League MVP balloting. That season, Seattle won 116 games, an American League record.
He initially retired in 2006, citing a lack of "passion" for the game upon leaving the New York Mets' spring training camp. But Boone decided to try again this spring in Washington, where his father, Bob, is assistant general manager and his brother Aaron is a backup infielder for the Nationals.
Upon arrival at Washington's camp, Boone revealed that he had an alcohol problem during his peak seasons in Seattle. He told reporters that he spent 26 days in a treatment facility in San Diego, and hadn't had a drink since the summer of 2007.
Boone hit .261 in 13 International League games in April, and made a road trip that included a seven-hour bus trip from Columbus to Charlotte. But he told Columbus manager Tim Foli that he would not be making a second trip.
"It was enlightening, it was educational, and I found out where I was as a player," Boone said of his minor league stint. "I can still play. But I'm definitely not where I was five or six years ago, and it helps me mentally to know that. I've come to grips with it and I'm fine with it.
"When I walked away the first time, I had a lot of issues going on and I wasn't in a good place. I came back with a clear mind and a clear head, and I know where I was as a player at this stage of my life. I'm glad I made the decision."
Boone retires as the sixth-leading home run hitter among second basemen behind Jeff Kent, Ryne Sandberg, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan and Joe Gordon. His four Gold Gloves at second base tie him with Craig Biggio and Bobby Grich for seventh place on the career list.
Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.