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Reds Then & Now: Bret Boone

June 22, 2017

There have been some remarkable baseball families over the years. Bobby and Barry Bonds. Gus and Buddy Bell. Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. But perhaps the best example of both production and longevity is the Boone family. From Ray Boone breaking into the majors in 1948 to his son Bob

There have been some remarkable baseball families over the years. Bobby and Barry Bonds. Gus and Buddy Bell. Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. But perhaps the best example of both production and longevity is the Boone family. From Ray Boone breaking into the majors in 1948 to his son Bob playing for nearly two decades before managing and finally to Bret and Aaron taking their careers late into the first decade of the 2000s, the Boone family IS baseball.
Some kids want to branch out from their parents or siblings and choose a different path. But the Boones were a Major League Baseball family and former Reds second baseman Bret Boone wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, once he became a Red, he couldn't avoid his family if he wanted to. His dad was the Reds bench coach in 1994 and he also played alongside his brother Aaron in the infield a few years later.
"The day I got traded I got a phone call from Davey Johnson as well as the general manager and I remember after Davey welcomes me to the team he's asking if my dad is around," Boone recalls. "And I put him on the phone and next thing I know my dad's the bench coach. And I was saying I don't want my dad hovering over me, I'm in the big leagues. But it ended up being a great thing. I was pleasantly surprised at how you can balance the father-son and the father-coach. It was the best of both worlds.
"And I played with Aaron I believe for a full season in '98. I think at the time you don't think of it as being that big of a deal but looking back it was really a special thing. You get to play with your brother, he's the third baseman and you're the second baseman. It doesn't happen every day."
However, it wasn't immediately the best news learning of his move to the Queen City. He and Mariners manager Lou Piniella had formed an understanding and a true bond, and he had become a regular player there.
"My first thoughts of Cincinnati were 'Oh no.' Because you're a young kid scrapping and clawing trying to prove that you belong and finally in 1993 I kind of established myself as a second baseman in Seattle. And it was like now I kind of have to redo it again in a different city. And I was thinking I wasn't too crazy about going to the Midwest and that kind of stuff but you know what - I enjoyed my time in Cincinnati and the fans were great to me there."
While 1990 is the year that stands out from the '90s because of the world championship, the Reds had some other great teams that decade. Two of the teams were the 1994 and 1995 Reds, which featured Boone as the starting second baseman of those teams.
Most fans remember the 1995 team because they won the National League Central Division title. They swept the Dodgers in the Divisional Series before bowing out to the 1990s juggernaut Atlanta Braves in the Championship Series. As for the year before, many people forget that the 1994 season ended on August 11 because of a league-wide strike. At that time, the Reds were also in first place and primed to make a postseason run.
Boone does not forget, as tends to be the case with ballplayers. Their memories are incredible, whether it concerns individual seasons, games, players or even single at-bats.
"I think the 1994 team was every bit as good as the 1995 team, we just got cut short like everyone did. In '95 Ron Gant who came back after the motorcycle accident and I think he won comeback player of the year. But the year before that we had Kevin Mitchell who I think was hitting like .330 and 20-something homers when everything was disrupted. And we also had Tony Fernandez who was tremendous at third base that year for us and then '95 I think it was a combination of (Mark) Lewis and (Jeff) Branson at third base who did a great job.
"I think those teams were very similar, very dominant. I think '94 we were never out of first place. We were wire-to-wire before it got shut down. And '95 we just picked up where we left off. Those were two really good teams."
While the game has changed since Boone took the field, he was actually one of the pioneers of a certain move that stirs up controversy during present-day baseball: the bat flip.
Boone's offense and power elevated during his final season with the Reds in 1998. He hit 24 home runs with 95 RBIs. Signs of the bat flip could be seen but it looked to take on a life of its own soon after he left Cincinnati. It became somewhat of a trademark during the rest of Boone's career.
"Mine wasn't sit there, stare at it, walk down the line. Mine was flip, OK that's a homer, I'm on my way to first. It was naturally how I got rid of that bat, I just kind of flip it. I just added a little bit to it and I think I did that because it started with Dennis Eckersley punching me out and shooting me down. And then there was a left-handed pitcher for the Montreal Expos, a Latin pitcher that had some early success. [Writer's note: Carlos Perez.] And he would do a dance when he struck somebody out on the mound. Just throughout the years pitchers doing that, but I never took it personal. And I never meant any disrespect to pitchers. But some of the ones I see today are ridiculous. That's why the game needs to police itself."
After his career, golfing every day "got real old real fast" so he stayed busy in a number of ways. His most rewarding undertaking was a job with the Oakland Athletics in 2014 and 2015.
"I really enjoyed those times. I really like working with the young minor league guys and giving them my knowledge and what I think it takes to go from a minor league player to a big league player. So I enjoyed that but I have four kids and I didn't want to give that much time and it wasn't worth that much for me to miss my kids growing up."
Now working as a full-time dad, he also goes around doing charity events or speaking occasionally, though Boone doesn't rule out returning to the game in some capacity after his experience in Oakland.
Another big part of life after baseball was putting out a book in 2016 about his experiences before, during and after being a professional ballplayer: "Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball's First Family."
"I was the last guy on earth who was going to finish their career and write a book," he said. "But they said, 'Well how about writing a book about your family. It's unique, nobody else can really speak from what you have seen and grown up with, with your grandpa, dad and brother.' And that kind of piqued my interest. I thought that could be a clean book, I could have some fun, tell a lot of stories, and give some education on the game without talking about things from behind closed doors because those were things I would never talk about. So they ended up convincing me and I ended up enjoying the process. At the end of the day I think we came out with a pretty good product, an easy and fun read."
Boone has returned to Cincinnati a couple times over the past several years, including for teammate Barry Larkin's number retirement and last summer to sign copies of his book and throw out a first pitch. He still remembers his time here fondly, specifically citing his time playing up the middle with Larkin, winning his first Gold Glove and going to his first All-Star Game. But overall, what he misses most will resonate with true Cincinnatians:
"The ribs, the coneys and the Graeter's ice cream."