Keidel: Boone Not Feeling Big Apple Pressure

Skipper Won 100 Games In First Season With Yankees

Jason Keidel
March 18, 2019 - 11:47 am
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He's got that golly, Midwestern mien. He comes from a deep tribe of baseball players, going back 70 years. He hit the last round-tripper in Riverfront Stadium. The next year he was swathed in pinstripes, playing 54 regular-season games, batted .254 and then hit perhaps the most celebrated homer in Yankees history. He tore his knee playing basketball a few months later and never belted another hit in his Yankees career, nor did he complain.  

So what do you think of Aaron Boone?

His transitory Yankees career was distilled to that HR in the ALCS. Whatever he did between 2003 and 2017 - during which he managed no MLB teams - so impressed the Yankees that they hired him to replace the fired Joe Girardi, an accomplished skipper who helped the Yanks win their last World Series title.  In Boone's maiden year as Yankees manager, the club won 100 games but lost in the ALDS to the hated Red Sox. 

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Boone was handed the keys to baseball's empire. Not only are they the most renowned team in the history of sports, they are laughably stacked with talent, already favored to win the most games in baseball and also the World Series. While some clubs feel pressure based on ability or recent success, the Yankees are always burdened with big projections. They earned it. They want it. Anyone who becomes a Yankee not only signs a paper contract but also an implicit deal that he just entered a celestial baseball realm.

Boone may feel self-imposed pressure, but by Big Apple standards, he has not felt even half the wrath of furious Yankees fans. Part of that is the honeymoon period for someone who left the city with a homer for the ages. Part of that is his low-key regularity. Part of it is the trial period for his rookie year. Plus it's impossible to hate the guy. At least while they keep winning 100 games. 

What will make the world turn on Boone? Must the Bombers win the World Series for this season to be a success? Yes. But if they don't, it won't all fall on Boone. This may sound weird to younger fans, but likability matters. Girardi was alternately feisty and guarded around the media, and despite his obvious knowledge, he never charmed fans or the Steinbrenner family. But Aaron Boone, son of Bob Boone and grandson of Ray Boone, has the scent and sound of our old-world pastime, of peanuts and Cracker Jacks, before baseball became more sterilized. The motif of the original baseball men leaned instincts and scouts, but now more by charts and algorithms. 

Fairly or not, Boone is also seen as Brian Cashman's pupil, if not puppet. Unless Boone commits some kind of game-time atrocity, fans know that the GM pulls the strings and feel that all talking points come from Boone's boss. 

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There is, of course, more to managing then when to replace a pitcher or call a hit-and-run. While Joe Torre was a baseball lifer who seemed to acquire a surreal sense of timing as a Yankee, perhaps Torre's singular talent was making a group of sun-sized egos play with and for the team. Players regarded Torre in avuncular, if not paternal, ways. 

Boone doesn't have the old-man look or Torre's look, doesn't brood from the dugout with his cap pulled over his eyebrows. But he's about 20 years older than most of his guys, has a sprawling baseball ancestry and looks like a natural in any uniform. You don't have to be Billy Martin or Earl Weaver, kicking dirt or heaving third base at umpires, to take charge. 

Winning has a way of burnishing your bio. Boone can't care what we think of him. He can't care about a single loss or single curse from a fan. Boone will grow into the job the way anyone does. You can argue he's halfway there. The other half is getting to the Fall Classic, which Boone has some history of getting the Yankees there.   

Twitter: @JasonKeidel