Aaron Boone recently joined the fledging parade of candidates for the only remaining managerial job opening with the Yankees. His approach to players and sensitivity to how difficult the game of baseball is to play could be just what Brian Cashman is looking for.
Over the past summer when I was writing for Yanks Go Yard, I had the opportunity to interview Aaron Boone as a promo for a Yankees game he was covering as an analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast.
The game and interview occurred at a time when the Yankees were stumbling through June and July barely playing .500 baseball. As a result, most of my questions were focused on player’s who were scarcely, if at all, helping the team. As you might imagine, we started with the Yankees sorry excuse for a first baseman at the time, Chris Carter, moving on to Michael Pineda‘s inability to put together two successive quality starts, and what the Yankees should be doing about it.
Boone answered patiently each of these questions explaining the need to be patient over the long haul of the season. But then as I began my next item in the same vein about Masahiro Tanaka, he cut me off saying (paraphrasing), “Hold on Steve, you have to recognize the upside these guys have. You don’t just give up on them.” To which I responded, “Aaron, you’re talking like a player, not an analyst.” To which he replied, “You’re darn right.”
Which got me to thinking. To analyze baseball effectively, we have to look at the game from the point of view as a player, and not as a fan. Carter, for example, did not arrive at Yankee Stadium thinking he would strike out four times that night. And Pineda did not intentionally manage to last only 3 2/3 innings walking five and throwing 85 pitches. And yet, these things happen.
For Aaron Boone, who played twelve seasons in the big leagues with seven different teams, including one season with the Yankees in 2003, the game did not come easy. Over that span, Boone averaged 18 home runs and 78 RBI, with a lifetime .263 batting average. A good career. A solid job. But not anything that would make anyone remember him among the all-time great of the game.
Except, of course, for that one fleeting moment in Game Seven of 2003 ALCS when he etched his name into Yankees lore with a walk-off home run sending the team to the World Series (enjoy it one more time below).
Aaron Boone gets the game of baseball, and he knows how skewed one at-bat against 4,300 at-bats he had over the course of his career can be. He’ll take it as anyone would. And every Old Timer’s Day the Yankees sponsor for the next two decades, Aaron Boone will be there, and he will relive that moment to the cheers of a sell-out crowd when he is introduced.
But it’s when Boone talks about the “upside” a player has, even amidst the controversy swirling around them, that gives pause to the idea he will get more than a perfunctory interview with the Yankees when his name is called.
It’s not hand-holding as some would believe. And often, that’s what becomes the translation when we hear of someone as a “player’s manager.” Instead, someone like Aaron Boone brings an understanding and identification directed to players who are struggling.
Joe Girardi always spoke the right words, but his actions often delivered another message to his players. The scene in the Yankees dugout when Girardi confronted Gary Sanchez in full view of the YES cameras brought cheers from this writer and many others because Sanchez deserved a good chewing-out for his lack of hustle behind the plate. But in retrospect, another manager, perhaps one like Aaron Boone would handle the issue in a different, non-public, manner. Even though Girardi did manage to get the very best of Sanchez from that point on in the season.
Aaron Boone “gets it”
Ballplayers of today are different animals. They make tons of money giving them and their family financial security for the rest of their lives. Almost all recognize the responsibilities that come with that. The 24-hour news cycle, the internet, Twitter (mainly) all put them in the eternal spotlight for the duration of their career. Don’t f_ _k up becomes their mantra.
That pressure, along with being able to hit a 100 mph fastball, crisscrossing the country playing day games after night games 162 times over six months, only to be rewarded with the opportunity to play an additional fifteen games or so during the Second Season, when your body aches more than the right tackle for the New York Jets limping through the sixteenth game of his sorry season.
Those of us who “work for a living” might be tempted to say, let’s have a parade for these poor souls. The good news, though, is no matter what we say, the players don’t listen to us. Nor should they.
Players today will listen to and follow a manager who identifies with them. A Joe Maddon, for example, who seems to have found the middle road as both your daddy and executioner, or tough love guy who can tell you not only that you suck, but why you suck, but I’m staying with you because I believe in you.
This is underrated stuff, but it’s become the most prominent part of a successful manager’s job, along with “dealing” with the media. When to bunt, steal, or hit-and-run is all covered in the sabermetrics now. And Brian Cashman expects whoever he hires to be fully educated by the information out there regarding what used to be the primary function of a major league manager, game strategy.
Aaron Boone seems to fit the mold Cashman is looking for. He has zero managerial experience, and that could work for or against him, again depending on how big of a “change” Cashman is looking for. But his “upside” approach to the game and its players seems to fit right into Cashman’s search for someone who is a communicator and not a “field general.”