Nothing short of a pennant will do for Aaron Boone in 2018, making his hiring as the Yankees’ manager a high-stakes gamble both for GM Brian Cashman and Boone himself.
All good there. Should be interesting!
But by hiring Boone, the Yankees at least reduced one important risk factor. According to seemingly everyone who has dealt with him, the guy knows how to communicate.
That will include most importantly with management and players, but also with the general public through its unelected representatives in the news media.
Let’s pause here for the disclaimer I have included in every column about coach / manager media relations over 12 years: Winning is 99 percent of the job. No arguments on that. Save your cards, letters, emails and tweets.
But the notion that an ability to deal effectively with New York-area media is not a relevant part of the job is naïve. Fortunately, just in time for Boone’s arrival, we have before us Exhibit A: Ben McAdoo.
Even during his 11-5 rookie season but more so during a nightmarish 2017, he proved to be overmatched in the media spotlight, which did neither his players nor the organization any favors.
By the time he botched the benching of Eli Manning, he had no political capital among fans, who were as tired of hearing him speak as were the reporters being paid to do so.
What’s worse, the communication problems evident publicly appear to have existed behind the scenes, too, from strained relations with the defensive backs to the confusion in explaining the quarterback plan to Manning. (And by the way, so as not to just dump on poor McAdoo here, fired GM Jerry Reese never really got the media relations thing, either.)
None of this is to say that coaches and managers have to be chummy quote machines such as Rex Ryan or emotions-on-the-sleeve open books such as Terry Collins or old-school, hanging-out-in-the-dugout-during-BP storytellers such as Joe Torre.
There is more than one way to do this. Tom Coughlin did it his way, and found a path to make it work for him. Todd Bowles is working on it. His delivery may be flat, but he lacks the disdainful edge of McAdoo’s news conferences.
At the moment, the best at it around here is the Islanders’ Doug Weight, but he faces less media scrutiny than his counterparts. The Nets’ Kenny Atkinson – Northport’s own! – deserves mention, too.
What about Joe Girardi? It’s complicated. He tried, but the same tightly wound core that eventually helped wear out his welcome in the front office and clubhouse also made for some counterproductive frostiness around reporters.
And there is a lesson there, too. Like most humans, coaches and managers have trouble turning on or off their personalities depending on the venue. In other words, most of the time what you see is what you get.
Given Boone’s personality, family pedigree and eight years in an ESPN booth, it is unlikely that twice-daily media briefings will intimidate him, nor will meetings with the front office and players.
That is not to say there will not be rough patches if the team under-performs. That always is the ultimate test, in this case even more so given Boone’s lack of direct experience.
But why go into the process with one strike already against you? All else being equal, New York teams are well-advised to hire people who can communicate – to their bosses, their players and their fans, via journalists.
When Giants co-owner John Mara was asked last week whether McAdoo could have presented the decision to Manning “more delicately, or more compassionately,” he said, “I suppose he could have. I don’t think that’s necessarily his strength, but I suppose he could have.”
The fact that he didn’t - or couldn’t - said it all.