Aaron Boone's Yankees return always made sense, whether fans want to hear it or not

·5 min read
Aaron Boone treated image, close-up on face, Yankees hat and hoodie, stadium in background
Aaron Boone treated image, close-up on face, Yankees hat and hoodie, stadium in background

So the Aaron Boone Era is not over, which doubtless annoys that segment of Yankee fans who craved a revenge-divorce because Boone, despite piloting the Yanks to the postseason in all four of his seasons as manager, has not delivered that elusive next World Series title.

But in a nifty bit of fan service, Hal Steinbrenner delivered the kind of ultimatum that that group will like. He’s-Not-George said, in the statement released by the team announcing Boone’s three-year extension: “We need to get better. Period.

“I know Aaron fully embraces our expectations of success and I look forward to drawing on his intelligence, instincts and leadership in pursuit of our next World Series championship.”

So Boone -- and everyone else in the organization -- is in the cauldron, as it should be. And he’s back, as it also should be. Like it or not, haters, Boone-as-Yankee-manager has worked. Four straight years of October baseball is proof and the Yankees clearly think so, since they just re-upped.

Yes, those seasons have ended short. This past one clunked to a finish far sooner than anyone in pinstripes wanted. There’s no guarantee that any potential replacement would have fared better or that one would be better going forward had Boone and the Yankees split.

No fan wants to hear this, but it is a hard baseball truth: Winning it all is incredibly difficult. Every time you rage at that concept by harkening back to the late-90s dynasty, you’re ignoring how special that group really was. Not easy to replicate. And there is no birthright that deems your favorite team wins it all a few times each decade.

Boone didn’t “have” to go. It’s not like when the Jets fired Adam Gase, or the Mets canned Mickey Callaway. It’s only by the insanely-high, fantasyland demands of the Yankee Universe that it’s even conceivable a manager with Boone’s track record would not be retained.

Any other franchise in any other sport, if they are really being honest and not drunk on the kind of “Winning is second only to breathing” claptrap that made George Steinbrenner, of all people, a phrasemaker, would be thrilled with four straight swings at the playoffs.

Boone is 328-218, a .601 winning percentage, in four seasons. He guided the Yankees to the 2019 ALCS, where they lost to the, ahem, Houston Astros. In a moment of fire that galvanized his team, Boone gave the Yanks a slogan that same year -- “Savages in that Box” -- that encapsulated the approach to an at-bat and spawned snappy T-shirts.

Boone is only the second manager in MLB history to reach the postseason in each of his first four seasons as a manager. Mike Matheny of the Cardinals (2012-15) is the other. Even Boone’s detractors have to admit he’s had a good run.

He has been lauded by players for his even disposition. He’s calm, not given to panic. In rough stretches, he delivered encouragement to his players, rather than blame. With the club crumbling in a topsy-turvy 2021, he exuded evenness while answering sharp questions about the underperformance of millionaire players. When his job security became daily public fodder, he was unruffled.

Sounds like the right temperament in the snap-judgment pressure cooker that New York sports can be.

Has it been perfect? Of course not.

The Yankees, with all that expensive talent, including the ace (Gerrit Cole) everyone thought was their missing piece, have not won it all under Boone. Their championship “drought” -- ha, ha, ask most of the rest of MLB about that -- now dates back to 2009.

Sep 16, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (left) looks on as =relief pitcher Albert Abreu (84) prepares to warm up on the pitcher's mound during the seventh inning off the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Sep 16, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (left) looks on as =relief pitcher Albert Abreu (84) prepares to warm up on the pitcher's mound during the seventh inning off the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Boone bungled after the loss in the Wild Card Game, too. He never should have uttered that quote about “teams that have closed the gap on us.” The Boston Red Sox, a much more successful organization recently than the Yankees, had just clobbered them, not some upstart franchise. And if that’s an organizational belief, that the Yanks sit on some higher plane than most of the rest of baseball, that’s troubling well beyond Boone.

Boone’s Yankees were twice eliminated by the Red Sox in the Postseason, something that stings the club’s fanbase. His friend, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who started his managerial career in the same season and has already won a World Series, was the architect both times. Many in baseball believe Cora’s strategies in 2018 were crucial to Boston’s four-game victory in the ALDS.

You can quibble with moves, too, and many fans did via social media, freaking out every time Boone summoned a reliever who failed. In the Wild Card Game, it’s fair to be unhappy that Joey Gallo batted fourth, and if his spot coming up may have tipped the dominoes that led to Aaron Judge being sent on the play where Judge was thrown out at the plate. It was a deflating moment.

But Boone was also right about going to get Cole so early, making the tough choice to yank his ace in a huge game.

And that moment offers a window of sorts into how difficult Boone’s job is. What’s a manager supposed to do about a $324-million pitcher failing, whether Cole’s hamstring played a bigger role than we know or not? What was Boone supposed to do about an offense that had a couple of moments in the Wild Card Game and little else? And did not produce as expected over the entire season?

Those are still Boone’s problems. Can he help fix them in 2022 and beyond?

At least he’s getting the chance.

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