The Yankees finally have a new manager. One month after cutting ties with Joe Girardi, New York is hiring former player and current ESPN analyst Aaron Boone to be the franchise’s 28th skipper, according to multiple reports. Boone beat out five other final candidates, including Giants bench coach Hensley Meulens and the recently retired Carlos Beltran, to earn the top job. His choice, though, is somewhat of a surprise given his lack of coaching experience—as well as a risk.
Boone, 44 and the son of former big league manager Bob Boone, comes to the dugout after a 12-year MLB career with six teams. Most notably, he spent the back half of the 2003 season with the Yankees after coming over in a July 31 deal. Boone didn’t hit much in pinstripes, but he contributed one of the biggest moments in the team’s long history, hitting a walk-off home run in Game 7 of that year’s ALCS off Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to complete a Yankees comeback to win the pennant.
Boone’s other major claim to fame as a Yankee came off the field, when he blew out his knee playing pickup basketball in February 2004. His season-ending injury paved the way for the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez in a trade with the Rangers. Boone’s career, meanwhile, largely fizzled out after his brief tenure with New York. He bounced from Cleveland to Miami to Washington over the next four years and then saw his 2009 season felled by open-heart surgery to replace a malfunctioning aortic valve; he retired in February 2010.
Boone didn’t have to wait long to find a new job, joining ESPN ahead of the 2010 season. With the Worldwide Leader, Boone served as an analyst on Baseball Tonight, as well as a color commentator on Monday Night Baseball, before joining the network’s flagship baseball broadcast, Sunday Night Baseball, in 2016. For the last two years, he’s been paired with play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman (who just wrapped up his final season in the booth this year) and former Olympic gold medal winner Jessica Mendoza.
Now Boone returns to the game, replacing Girardi, who was the Yankees’ manager from 2008 to ’17 and won a World Series with the club in ’09. Girardi’s contract expired after this season, however, and general manager Brian Cashman confirmed on Oct. 26 that he would not be brought back despite winning 91 games with an inexperienced team and coming within one game of knocking off the Astros for the pennant. As Cashman told reporters afterward, he felt that, after a decade on the job, Girardi was struggling to communicate with his players: “I thought it was in our best interests to open this opportunity up to others to get a fresh and new voice,” he said.
That’s been the trend in managerial hires this offseason: fresh and new. Already this winter, five teams have cut ties with veteran managers: the Yankees with Girardi, 53; the Nationals with Dusty Baker, 68; the Red Sox with John Farrell, 55; the Mets with Terry Collins, 68; and the Phillies with Pete Mackanin, 66. Their replacements have all been on the younger side—new Nationals skipper Dave Martinez is the oldest of the bunch at 53—and relatively light on managerial experience. To that end, they fit the template of 2017’s two World Series managers, A.J. Hinch and Dave Roberts, both of whom are 45 or younger and were hired despite having spent little to no time running a major league team.
Boone is in that vein, though what makes his choice unusual is that, unlike his compatriots, he has never managed, coached or worked in a front office. Martinez and new Red Sox skipper Alex Cora were both bench coaches. Mickey Callaway, who replaced Collins in Queens, was the Indians’ pitching coach. And Gabe Kapler, who took over for Mackanin in Philadelphia, spent the 2007 season as a manager in the minor leagues and was the Dodgers’ director of player development. Boone, meanwhile, will have nothing to lean on besides his time as a player and in the booth—and he’ll have to find a way to succeed in the single most difficult media market in the country with a team that has enormous expectations.
The likely belief for Cashman is that tactics can be taught, and that the true value of a manager nowadays is relating to increasingly youthful rosters and executing and understanding the front office’s vision, particularly with regards to analytics—something that Boone reportedly “embraces.” Again, this is in line with the rest of this offseason’s hires, and it reflects the changing priorities of the manager’s job. Young, smart and charismatic tends to rule the day—a reflection of a similar shift in front offices, where old-time scouts and former players have given way to a stats-minded group.
But even with those qualities on his side, Boone is completely untested, and even with a hyper-talented roster, there will likely be numerous bumps along the road as he learns the job. Ironically, he’d make more sense as the hire of the alternate universe Yankees team amid the rebuilding process it’s supposed to be on instead of the one in our reality that somehow skipped that step entirely and is a true contender. Boone could use time to make mistakes and figure things out when expectations are at their lowest; instead, he’ll be thrown right into the fire.
(It’s also disappointing and surprising to see the highly qualified Meulens passed over. The Curaçao native is himself a former Yankee and relatively young at 50, has spent extensive time as a minor league manager and major league coach, won three World Series rings as the Giants’ hitting coach, and speaks five languages, which would have made him a good pick for a diverse roster like New York’s. On top of that, he would have been the first manager of color in Yankees history. Meulens will almost certainly receive other chances, but it would have been nice to see him get such a high-profile gig after putting in years of work.)
If Boone can survive and succeed, then he carries plenty of upside. At the very least, Cashman believes Boone has what it takes to deal with the New York press: The interview process included a conference call with media members. The rest will have to play out over time, with the Yankees hoping that the short-term risk of hiring Boone can lead to long-term rewards.