BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Mike Piazza, who has been out of baseball this season, has decided to start "a new chapter" in his life.

Piazza, a graduate of Phoenixville High School who was drafted in the 62d round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, is retiring from baseball after a 19-season career in which he became one of the top-hitting catchers in history.

The 39-year-old Piazza, who was born in Norristown, became a free agent at the end of last season after batting .275 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs for the Oakland Athletics, but he did not sign with any team this season.

"After discussing my options with my wife, family and agent, I felt it is time to start a new chapter in my life," Piazza said yesterday in a statement released by his agent. "It has been an amazing journey. . . . I walk away with no regrets.

"I knew this day was coming, and over the last two years, I started to make my peace with it. I gave it my all and left everything on the field."

Piazza batted .308 during his career with 427 home runs and 1,335 runs batted in. His 396 homers as a catcher are the most ever by a player at that position, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, well ahead of the 351 hit by second-place Carlton Fisk.

Piazza made the National League all-star team 12 times, 10 of them in succession.

Piazza played with the Dodgers, the Florida Marlins, the New York Mets, the San Diego Padres and the Athletics.

Piazza said the eight seasons he spent with the Mets allowed him to "take a different look at the game of baseball.

"I wasn't just a young kid that was wet behind the ears anymore. I was learning from other veteran guys like Johnny Franco, who taught me how to deal with the pressure of playing in New York, and Al Leiter, who knew what it took to win a world championship."

Piazza was not available to further discuss his decision, according to a spokesman for his agent, Dan Lozano.

Piazza's father, Vince, grew up in Norristown with longtime Dodgers manager and coach Tommy Lasorda. Mostly as a courtesy, the Dodgers selected Mike Piazza very late in the June 1988 draft.

He worked hard to learn how to be a catcher, attending the Dodgers' camp for Latin prospects in the Dominican Republic and playing winter-league baseball in Mexico.