Aaron Hicks went to his manager, Aaron Boone, and said he didn’t want to play centerfield for the New York Yankees on Monday night.
Hicks, Boone explained, was "hurting in a huge way" over the killing of a Black man by a police officer during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday.
Boone said the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright "hit Aaron particularly hard." Hicks, who is Black, was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2008 and spent his first eight professional seasons with that organization, the last three in the big leagues, before getting traded to the Yankees in November 2015.
"I think it’s just been a hard day for him — understandably," Boone said before the Yankees faced the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida. "Emotional. I just think he felt like he would have a hard time going out there tonight and probably just thought it was best to keep him out of the lineup . . . All I can do is — as best as I can — offer that support and let him know that I’m here for him and I understand how he’s feeling."
Boone must know there are people out there who don’t understand how Hicks is feeling. Who don’t understand why Hicks isn’t "sticking to sports," or why he gets to have a paid night off because of the tragic events in Minnesota, or why the latest shooting death of a Black man by a police officer has to intrude on the supposed safe space of sports.
When asked what he would say to those people, Boone said: "I don’t really even give two thoughts to that. My consideration is with Aaron and his well-being, making sure that as best we can we support him and try to be there as best we can for him right now. This is something in the immediate that’s real emotion that he’s feeling, and right now I’m going to support that."
It was fascinating to watch Boone on Zoom deftly handle Hicks-related questions with emotion and eloquence and basic human decency, and then pivot to whether Gary Sanchez should be catching Gerrit Cole or the latest Clarke Schmidt injury update.
This is a manager’s job. At least it is in 2020 and 2021. To deal with serious topics such as a deadly pandemic and racial injustice in the same head space you use to deal with batting orders and pitching rotations.
It’s also part of Boone’s job to accurately portray to the public a clubhouse culture that overwhelmingly supports decisions like the one Hicks made.
"I can’t walk in Aaron’s shoes," Gerrit Cole said after the Yankees’ 3-1 victory. "But as a teammate, my job is to support him and make sure he’s doing all right. That’s an arm around him, a pat on the butt. Whatever he needs to go through emotionally, he needs to go through. We’ll be here for him."
"There’s no question it’s changed a lot in that regard, and a lot in a positive way," Boone said. "Things that go on in society and in our culture spill over into athletics. These guys, rightfully so, have gained more and more of a platform to be able to express themselves. I certainly support their right to do that."
Whatever you think about Boone’s abilities as an X’s-and-O’s man, the Yankees also hired the baseball lifer and former ESPN analyst because of his ability to be the spokesman for the organization on matters serious and mundane.
It’s just that the serious issues are just so serious. Deadly serious, in fact. Still, Boone is not going to shy away from his responsibility to manage his players as people, and not just names on a lineup card.
"It’s life," Boone said. "This is our livelihood. It’s really important to us. But the people we come in contact with each and every day, work with closely, share so much with, essentially are like family. We all have families. Life happens. There’s great times and good times and great days and tragic things that come up that affect so many people in so many different ways. You try and conduct and live your life the best way you can. Sometimes that means loving and supporting someone through something. But I would just say, all in all, it’s part of life."