By Ernie Palladino
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Hal Steinbrenner initially wanted someone with managerial experience to lead his Yankees into this next phase of their storied history.
But once Aaron Boone signed his three-year deal Monday, Steinbrenner suddenly got comfortable with the former player, who now becomes a rookie manager in every sense of the word.
Steinbrenner said it then, and he’ll probably say it again Wednesday at Boone’s introductory press conference where New York’s scribes and talkers will be dying to hear how the former ESPN analyst will fit into the new culture of managing major league teams.
Steinbrenner had best hang onto those good thoughts. Boone obviously wowed him and Brian Cashman during the interview process. But they must also recognize the fact that this thing can go quite well or very, very badly.
History doesn’t favor optimism. Former players coming out of the TV booth with no prior managing experience on any level haven’t exactly faired well. Buck Martinez, a catcher for 17 years with the Royals, Brewers, and Blue Jays, had a rough go of it in his year and 55 games in Toronto after stepping out of a cushy TV gig in 2001-02.
He never managed in the majors again.
But that was then, when old-school management was still around. And don’t feel bad for Martinez. He’s the Blue Jays’ play-by-play guy now.
Boone could eventually wind up back in the booth, too. As smooth and well-liked as he is by players and executives alike, this is a big chance Cashman and Steinbrenner are taking. But the positive is that Boone won’t be doing it alone. The new-age interplay between the field, the executive suites, and the scouting staff makes this a group effort, the kind Joe Girardi apparently wanted little part of.
It becomes a three-way support system of sorts.
Boone, of course, will have total control over the in-game decisions. That should be enough for him to handle as he figures out the analytics of when to steal, when to hit-and-run, outfield positioning, gauging his pitchers, and all the other thousands of things that happen between the national anthem and the final out.
Roster management and advance gameplanning become a collaborative effort. That’s where Boone’s communication abilities and his willingness to join in the high-level conversations will benefit him. It’s those factors that sold the general manager and owner on him in the first place.
The problems may come in the locker room. It will be interesting to see how Boone reacts when Gary Sanchez takes the lazy route to a bounced slider and costs them a game. Girardi took some heat for publicly calling out his catcher and his work habits last year. But at least it was Girardi, a longtime manager with a championship ring on his finger, who did it.
So Sanchez took it.
Boone has no such pull, save for producing a moment-in-time homer against Boston that put Joe Torre’s team in the 2003 World Series.
Sanchez might have a vastly different reaction to the next salvo.
Boone does have the same young talent that took the Bombers to Game 7 of the AL Championship Series this past season. Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Jordan Montgomery will all be there. Cashman might even give him a couple of new pieces, including a foreign star imported with the money saved when Shohei Ohtani crossed the Yanks off his list.
Still, that doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty can go wrong.
At least the owner is comfortable with his decision to bring in the most inexperienced of the candidates he and Cashman interviewed not named Carlos Beltran. And he’ll say as much when he introduces Boone at his welcoming press conference on Wednesday.
Steinbrenner will have to remember that thought during the bumpier times ahead.
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