The Washington Times - February 19, 2012, 11:59AM

Mike Cameron spent parts of the last 17 years playing major league baseball. He was set to begin his 18th with the Washington Nationals but the 39-year-old outfielder decided instead to call it a career.

Cameron will retire before the 2012 season, the Nationals announced Sunday.

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Cameron agreed to a minor league deal with the Nationals in December and was expected to compete for a spot in the outfield this spring, along with Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina. With the Nationals center field situation undecided, Cameron was going to have a good chance to be a part of a platoon or serve as a fourth outfielder and provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse.

None of that will come to fruition now, though, as Cameron has decided to end his career before suiting up with what would have been his ninth organization. The decision opens the door for other right-handed non-roster invitees like Brett Carroll and Jason Michaels as well as infielder Carlos Rivero to make the team’s bench out of camp.

Cameron will retire with three Gold Gloves, one All-Star selection and having twice appeared on the MVP balloting.

He sent out his gratitude via twitter on Sunday evening and offered a hint as to what retirement may hold — plenty of time with his family.

“(Just) wanna say thanks to all my family, friends, teammates, baseball world & followers for the support.. Its been a true blessing for me to put on a MLB uniform for 17 yrs!! Deuces everybody gotta go throw to son now!!”

Cameron broke into the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1995 and played 28 games that year with Chicago, as well as 11 more in 1996, but it was 1997 when he truly burst onto the scene. In a season where he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting, Cameron hit .259 with a .356 on-base percentage and clubbed 14 homers — numbers that wouldn’t be too far off from his career averages (.249 AVG, .339 OBP, 18 HR) over the course of the next 14 years.

In 1998, Cameron’s White Sox career ended as he was sent to Cincinnati for Paul Konerko, the first baseman who remains with Chicago to this day. It was the first of four career trades for Cameron, whose second trade swapped him (and others) for Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle. He made other career stops in New York (with the Mets), San Diego, Milwaukee, Boston and Florida.

Always known more for his exceptional defense and range in center field than for his bat, Cameron tied a major league record with the Mariners on May 2, 2002, when he hit four home runs in a game — against the White Sox — and barely missed a fifth. Perhaps his other best-known moment was his collision with Carlos Beltran in the outfield at Petco Park during his time with the Mets — one of the game’s scariest sights. Cameron dealt with a concussion and facial fractures after the incident. He also struggled through the steroid era when he tested positive for a second time for a banned stimulant in 2007. He was just the second major leaguer ever to be suspended for a banned stimulant.

On May 24, 2009, Cameron hit his 250th career home run (he finished with 278) and became just the 20th major leaguer to hit 250 home runs and steal 250 bases. He finished his career with 297 steals.

One of the most well-liked players among teammates, fans and media alike, the Nationals were hoping Cameron would be a strong influence in the clubhouse, especially on outfielder Bryce Harper during the spring — and if and when Harper joined the major league team this season.

His retirement likely means Ankiel and Bernadina will compete for the responsibilities in center field unless Harper becomes the team’s starting right fielder out of camp, in which case Jayson Werth would shift to center field.