Aaron Boone has never been a manager, but he essentially played one on TV, which is more or less what a game analyst does during ESPN broadcasts. Provide insight, examine tactical decisions, follow the blueprint from the people upstairs, work well in close proximity with others.
It’s still only baseball, right? Now that front offices around the league have succeeded in cultivating a mindset that zero managerial experience is necessary to be a manager, they’re changing our perception of the job.
Maybe the 44-year-old Boone would have been a terrible fit 20 years ago, when the nostalgic yearning for the dugout goliaths began to slowly fade. But as the game continues to evolve, spurred onward by analytics and the greater reliance on ever-younger stars, the manager’s role in the organizational hierarchy is different now.
This year’s next wave — maybe with the exception of the Tigers’ Ron Gardenhire — wasn’t selected by the same old-school standards, and the prevailing themes heard throughout the process, from D.C. up to Boston, involved communication and cooperation.
Boone appears capable of excelling in those two areas, something the Yankees evidently felt were fatal flaws in Joe Girardi that ultimately led to his contract not being renewed in October.
Obviously, Boone, despite a 12-year playing career, is not going to possess Girardi’s dugout presence right from the jump. There’s a considerable gap between zero wins as a manager and Girardi’s 910 in the Bronx, a 10-year stretch that included the 2009 title.
“Certainly it’s fair to question my experience in actually doing the job,” Boone said after last month’s interview. “But I would say in a way I’ve been preparing for this job for the last 44 years.”
This is going to be a work in progress, starting fast with this week’s introductory news conference at Yankee Stadium. But sizing up Boone’s success needs to be done on a scale that has been recalibrated by Brian Cashman, who was looking for the anti-Girardi in the half-dozen candidates he interviewed and wound up with the closest to that in Boone, an affable but knowledgeable rookie who should mesh easily with the Baby Bombers.
“What he does, they’re going to love him there,” Boone’s dad, Bob — a former manager and player himself — told Newsday’s Marc Carig. “He has such a great personality. He has what you need in that locker room and he certainly has the baseball acumen. Even if he hasn’t managed ever, I think he’ll be spectacular at it.”
Boone will need to be. He’s inheriting a Yankees team that surprised everyone but themselves by finishing the regular season with 91 wins and getting to within one victory of the World Series before falling to the eventual champion Astros. They have a budding Core Four remix in Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Greg Bird, with more young talent on the way. They’re also a favorite to sign the offseason’s biggest prize, Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.
By jettisoning Girardi, however, Cashman is assuming a great deal of the risk, even though the decision was strongly endorsed, on the record, by Hal Steinbrenner. Clearly, the front office didn’t give Girardi much credit for the Yankees’ rapid maturation into a threat to the Red Sox for the AL East crown, or the monster years from Judge and Severino. Even Sanchez, whom Girardi called out on numerous occasions for defensive lapses, hit 33 home runs, so there was plenty going right under the previous manager.
Now Boone is saddled with the pressure of doing a better job on his first try. It’s remarkable that three of the six teams that hired new managers this offseason made the playoffs and two, the Red Sox and Nationals, were division winners. Five of those clubs chose candidates without any managerial experience at the big-league level, but only Cashman went the total wild-card route in plucking one from the broadcast booth who had yet to hold even a coaching position.
That was no accident. In Boone, the Yankees have a clean slate, a rookie manager who doesn’t need to be rewired or stripped of any previous programming. While Boone possesses baseball intelligence and the awareness of what it takes to perform at the major-league level, Cashman & Co. can mold him in their own pinstriped image. These days more than ever — and especially in New York — the manager is relied on to be the frontman for the organization, the person who delivers the front office’s philosophy to the clubhouse and reporters alike.
Boone already has been polishing those communication skills for years with ESPN, and as someone who’s naturally at ease in media settings, he’s expected to ace that test.
We still have to wait another four months to see what Boone’s unorthodox hiring means for the Yankees’ performance on the field, and until then, it’s impossible to predict.
But to understand why the Yankees would appoint Boone as they look to retool for perhaps the next dynasty, don’t question their criteria for picking a manager. It’s way past time to be rethinking our own.
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