By Sweeny Murti
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When Aaron Boone was a player, his teammates thought he was practicing to be a TV announcer as he sat on the bench doing play-by-play to entertain them. Maybe he was, since he spent the last eight years doing television. But he might have also been practicing to be a manager.
“When he was on the bench doing his announcer routine, he would also do it like he was managing the game,” former Reds pitcher Danny Graves said. “He would be predicting what was going to happen. And he wasn’t right all the time by any means, but he was right a lot of the time.”
Boone, who we learned Friday will be the next manager of the Yankees, will spend many hours between now and Opening Day convincing people that his inexperience is not an issue. Maybe the group that needs the most convincing will be the players in the Yankees clubhouse.
Sean Casey, another former teammate, doesn’t think it’s a problem.
“Aaron Boone’s name in baseball is instant credibility, even more than some guy who maybe managed in the minors but didn’t play a lot in the majors,” said Casey, now an MLB Network analyst. “Boonie will win that team over right away.”
When Boone interviewed for the position last month, he knew this kind of situation rarely opens in any sport, let alone with the Yankees.
“This is a great opportunity to jump in with a team that has a lot of promise and so much potential,” Boone said.
And Yankees fans nod in unison, because they sense a dynasty coming on again and want the right person to lead it.
“It’s part of the thing that’s so enticing with this group,” Boone said. “The nucleus of this team (is) guys basically in their prime, or frankly not in their prime yet. It’s an opportunity to get with an organization that’s so well positioned, a farm system that is ripe with prospects and ready to produce more. From what I know of this club, it’s a team that I think is going to be very enjoyable to be a part of.”
Ten years ago, when the Yankees last hired a manager, it came down to two players with deep Yankees ties — former captain and team icon Don Mattingly vs. former catcher and owner of three World Series rings as a player Joe Girardi. As we know, Girardi got the nod and held the role for the last decade, averaging 91 wins per year and piloting the team to the 2009 World Series championship.
Boone gets this job with one swing being his only real connection to pinstripes. Boone batted .254 with six home runs in 54 games after the Yankees acquired him at the trade deadline in July 2003. He was 5-for-31 in the postseason entering Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston, a game that he did not start. After the epic comeback against Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning, Boone entered a tie game on defense in the ninth. When he finally took his first at-bat of the game in the 11th, he launched Tim Wakefield’s first pitch for a pennant-winning home run that is in Yankees-Red Sox lore forever right alongside Bucky Dent’s.
One swing is all Boone will ever be remembered for as a Yankees player. But he’s no dummy and has had people remind him of that home run enough times to know the responsibility he now holds.
“I know what I would be signing up for,” Boone said last month. “Just understanding what it is to be a Yankee, what it is to play here and understanding the expectations that go with it. And certainly the expectations now that will be ramped up even more after such a successful season and you look at the roster that we’re going to potentially have out there.”
The job of the manager has changed. No longer is he a dictator who closes the door to anyone’s opinion but his own. Now managers must build bridges, not walls.
“We are an extension of the front office and a part of the front office,” Boone said. “And how we gather information and get it in the hands of the players is a very important part of the job nowadays.”
Naysayers call that being a puppet for the GM. But if it’s done right, it’s about team building, something Fortune 500 companies brag about. And at the heart of it are personal relationships.
“My job as manager would be to forge really strong relationships where these players understand that me and my staff are going to really care about them, that they’re going to be able to trust us, and that at the end of the day, we are going to do things that are best for the Yankees,” Boone said. “Those are the three things that I really want to get across to my players.”
And you won’t find anyone around the game who doesn’t respect Boone’s approach during his career prior to this.
Graves recalls a game in May 2000 when the Reds played the Astros in Houston. Graves was pitching in extra innings of a 3-3 game when the Reds erupted for four runs in the top of the 11th, a rally that included Graves connecting for a his first major league hit, a home run.
“All my teammates are giving me high-fives and celebrating,” Graves said. “And Boonie pulled me aside and very quietly said to me, ‘Dude, that’s awesome. But you still have to pitch the bottom of the inning.’
“He reminded me there’s still work to be done,” said Graves, who closed out a 7-3 win that night.
And that’s where Boone finds himself now. As the new manager of the Yankees, there is a moment to celebrate and high-five getting here.
And fans and media alike are here to remind him that now there is work to be done.
Please follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN