’s Jerry Crasnick catches up with unemployed Bret Boone at the GM meetings, as the former Mariners 2B hustles for another chance.

Why did Boone experience such a drop off in 2005? His father, Bob, now a front-office executive with the Washington Nationals, thinks he got into a bad mechanical funk and could never extricate himself from it. The worse Bret played and the harder he tried, Bob Boone theorizes, the bigger a hole he dug for himself.

Bret Boone was also the subject of steroid rumors after being mentioned in Jose Canseco’s tell-all book last spring. Canseco recounted a spring training conversation in 2001 in which Boone seemed to imply that he was using steroids. Canseco claimed the conversation took place around the bag after he doubled in a Cactus League game between Anaheim and Seattle. But Canseco’s credibility was called into question when media research found that he never reached second base against the Mariners that spring.

Still, Boone knows the drill. He denies using steroids without a trace of anger or defensiveness in his voice.

“I’ll deny it right now — I’ve never taken them,” Boone said. “But nowadays, even if a guy works out and busts his ass, everybody’s attitude is, ‘Oh, he must be on steroids.’

“I don’t even think about that. If somebody mentions me in a book based on speculation, what am I going to do — go on ‘Larry King Live’ and fight it? What’s that going to do?”

Boone knows the best revenge is to grind his way back to prominence. He’s hired Tim Michaels, the trainer who worked with him before his 141-RBI season with Seattle in 2001, to whip him into the best shape of his life.

Still, skepticism abounds within the industry. Boone’s age and precipitous decline last year make scouts and front office people wonder if he’s finished. If Roberto Alomar’s skills could erode that quickly, it can happen to anyone.

“When a guy shows you a decline, it’s one thing,” said a National League scout. “When he bottoms out, it’s something else.”