At some point, Aaron Boone sensed a change. His mind drifted. His perspective shifted. His pregame meetings with managers — part of his duties as an analyst for ESPN — turned into something more. It was as if he were the one in the dugout.
Then the playoffs arrived. That feeling grew stronger. Before every game of the World Series, Boone met with the Astros’ A.J. Hinch and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. They were men he had known for years, men who had traveled similar paths, men he viewed as contemporaries.
In Hinch and Roberts, Boone had been staring straight into a mirror. The time had come to act on his impulse.
“The game’s been calling,” Boone said Wednesday, when the Yankees officially named him the 33rd manager in franchise history. “It’s been pulling at me.”
Boone retired as a player, worked eight years in the broadcast booth, then convinced general manager Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees’ hierarchy to take a chance. Despite his place in the big leagues’ first three-generation family, Boone has not managed or coached any level.
Yet, with his wife watching alongside, and with members of the Steinbrenner family on the dais, Boone slipped on his No. 17 pinstriped jersey to begin what he called “the chance of a lifetime for me.”
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner had said experience would be a factor. Nevertheless, Boone emerged as the choice. While there was some disagreement about the second and third choices after the interview process, Steinbrenner said there was near-unanimity when it came to the top selection.
Said Steinbrenner: “I think everybody was pleasantly surprised.”
General manager Brian Cashman recalled George Steinbrenner promoting him in 1998, even though he had never run a club. In drawing a parallel between himself and Boone, Cashman recalled Steinbrenner telling him, “I’ve talked to enough people who told me you can do this.”
Two decades later, Cashman found himself echoing those words as he talked about Boone.
In 12 big-league seasons, including a stint with the Yankees, Boone hit .263. He hit a walk-off homer off Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. But until relatively recently, Boone said he had distanced himself from his defining moment. The Yankees lost the World Series that year. Boone’s enduring memory had become watching the Marlins celebrate.
For Steinbrenner, Boone’s experience as a Yankees player proved to be an important consideration. Even though Boone’s time was brief, the owner believed it instilled a true sense of the franchise’s lofty expectations. After a surprising playoff run, Steinbrenner made it clear he believes that Boone is inheriting the core of a championship-caliber team for years to come.
“I understand what I signed up for,” Boone said. “I understand the expectations.”
Boone, 44, initially was not on the Yankees’ radar. But when Cashman reached out, Boone expressed interest. Soon he was in New York, getting grilled during an interview that lasted seven hours. He had never interviewed before. Yet he impressed team brass.
Cashman praised Boone’s progressive outlook on advanced statistics and his ability to connect with players, a theme that loomed large after perceived struggles with communication brought an end to Joe Girardi’s tenure.
“I don’t think I know everything,” Boone said.
Last Thursday, Boone checked his phone. He’d missed a call. But he returned it just as pulled into his driveway with his daughter. Cashman answered, and asked once more if Boone was ready for the commitment. He did not hesitate.
“The one thing I’ll promise you guys is you’ll get all I’ve got,” Boone said.
Even before getting off the phone with Cashman, Boone said his mind had skipped forward to his part in shaping a roster anchored by the products of a farm system bolstered by the draft and smart trades. Boone referred often to taking that core to the next level.
He’s texted and called current Yankees players. He called developing a strong rapport with catcher Gary Sanchez a high priority, especially after his defense became a tension point last season. When assembling a staff, Boone said he would place a higher value on smarts and confidence rather than experience.
But above all else — even the enormity of the job itself — Boone said his top priority is building trust within the clubhouse.
“That’s a respect you earn,” he said. “Hopefully, in short order, I’ll be able to earn that respect.”