Aaron Boone swept through his first season of managing the Yankees without even a scrape on his image. Upon further review though…
The accolades came swiftly when Aaron Boone was appointed the new manager of the Yankees by Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner. Boone’s hiring came in the wake of a somewhat disingenuous parting of the ways between the Yankees and Joe Girardi, a move that didn’t sit too well with a good number of fans.
At the same time, Aaron Boone came into his job with a resume that was blank on the baseball side of his career, other than as a player who played just long enough with the Yankees to register his name in the lore of Yankees history, by hitting a home run in the 7th game of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox, catapulting the Yankees to the World Series.
Plucked from the broadcast booth of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, Boone was widely heralded as an excellent communicator who would immediately follow the latest fad in baseball of managers who can “relate” to their players.
100 wins later, and Aaron Boone was still out of range for any notable criticism. But the needle moved dramatically with the Yankees scrubbing by the Red Sox in the ALDS. What might have been whispers in the YES announcers booth between innings, became full-blown on-the-air questions about Aaron Boone’s strategy throughout the series, especially with regards to the handling of his starters.
Despite the bitter taste left by the Yankees sudden departure by those Red Sox again, the criticism pretty much dissolved on its own as everyone’s attention turned to the offseason and all the hooplah surrounding the inevitable signing of Manny Machado.
In retrospect, though, Aaron Boone’s outshining by Alex Cora, also a rookie manager with the Red Sox remains a nagging reminder that the Yankees failed as a team when it counted the most. And that with the exception of Aaron Judge and possibly Miguel Andujar, no one in the Yankees lineup showed up.
Throughout the second half of 2018, Aaron Boone forever exhibited an air of confidence in his team. The word on the tip of his mouth was always “upside.” Paraphrasing, he would say, “Yeah, I know he’s been struggling. But I also know his upside. He’ll be there for us when we need him.”
Oddly, I witnessed the same thing myself in 2016 when ESPN asked me to interview Aaron Boone by phone as a promo for a Sunday telecast involving the Yankees. In return, I would write a column the next day featuring the conversation.
My questions immediately turned to the state of the Yankees starting pitching, which at the time included Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi, all of whom were struggling and not contributing.
Boone would have none of it, especially with regards to Pineda, even though at that juncture of the season he had yet to put together two consecutive quality starts. Steve, you do not see the upside this guy has.
Well, we can say Aaron Boone was one for two as Eovaldi finally put it all together last year for the Red Sox, while Michael Pineda has disappeared off the baseball map.
My point still is, though, that upside at some point can only be measured against production. These are professional ballplayers who are paid well to produce – today. And how does this relates to Aaron Boone as the Yankees manager?
Be honest with your players. When Giancarlo Stanton digs himself a hole by flailing at the first two pitches, give him a strong reminder that he’s a .653 hitter when the count is 2-0. That’s right; I couldn’t believe it either – .653! And when Gary Sanchez is assigned another passed ball, make sure he stays after school to watch the video of how slow his footwork was. In short, Aaron Boone must make his presence known by holding his players accountable.
After all, Aaron Boone was not hired to be a cheerleader. John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman have that well under control.
I’m not suggesting that Aaron Boone is holding onto his job by a thread because clearly, he has the Yankees brass trust, and for a second-year manager, that’s fine.
But let’s also make it plain that Aaron Boone, much like his counterpart across the river, Mickey Callaway, did not overly impress last year. Unlike St. Petersburg, Florida, not all days in New York City are bright and sunny. And whether it’s the players or the weather being talked about, when they suck – they suck. Because that’s the way, we do it in New York, Aaron.