NEW YORK — Inside a billion-dollar stadium, the Yankee Legends club is home to the highest of high rollers who come to see the Yankees play.
While it’s a noticeably highbrow location, there was something relaxing, calming about Aaron Boone’s informal press conference as he sat down (yes, sat down, as opposed to a stand-up scrum) with the media inside the restaurant.
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See, Boone — best described as an everyman — has the personable side of the job down. It was apparent with his charm, his quick wit and his calculated answers on Wednesday as he was introduced as the Yankees’ new manager. But underneath the quiet, reserved demeanor, there’s a real bulldog mentality, with a hunger to win.
But there are many variables that remain.
Just because the new Yankees skipper is “Cool-Hand Boone” in a press conference and hit a famous home run a long time ago — a highlight that will likely be seen ad nauseam this season — doesn’t mean he’ll be invulnerable to the rigors, stresses and criticism that comes with being the New York skipper, let alone a first-year manager anywhere in the majors.
Here are some of the challenges he’s going to face.
Between Boone’s formal press conference and the informal sit-down with the media that followed, he mentioned the word “relationships” 17,000 times.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but he said it a lot.
It seems as though the new Yankees manager is hanging his hat on being able to cultivate and grow relationships with this team: It was part of the reason that GM Brian Cashman tapped him for the position. Boone knows that, too.
“I expect myself, and our staff, to be very forthcoming and honest with our players,” Boone said. “The way you can breathe into guys, tap into guys the most, is by establishing relationships. And one thing I promise is that we’re going to have great relationships with our players.”
Boone had mentioned that he reached out to current players on the team when he got the job. It’s long been said that all 25 guys in a clubhouse will not always get along with a manager. That seemed to be part of the issue that led to Joe Girardi’s dismissal.
“My job, our job as a staff, is getting the most out of these players. I think everyone that goes into this, we desire and thirst for a championship. That’s kind of a given. I want to get caught up, and lost in, the process to have a great chance.
“When the relationship is outstanding, it allows for the tough decisions to happen. The impact of those decisions doesn’t mean you’re going to lose a guy.”
Winning is a great deodorant. But having players trust you and grow to like you is easier said than done. It’s all fine to say — and it’s the right thing to say — but even though the Yankees won 91 games in 2017 and came within one win of the AL pennant, the relationships within the organization tarnished like a cheap necklace.
Boone has big cleats to fill, and he’s going to have to nurture those relationships fast if he wants to stay true to his word.
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Even Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner seemed a bit hesitant to accept the recommendation for Boone as manager.
“I think (a lack of managing experience) was a concern for everybody in the room,” Steinbrenner told the media Wednesday. “I think everybody was pleasantly surprised. … It was clear that (Boone’s) knowledge of the game was impressive. It was very, very impressive.”
But Steinbrenner stressed that while there were questions and dissent about the candidates for the position, Boone was the guy from the jump.
“There was a difference of opinion among the participants of who their No. 2 or 3 choice was, but there was little or no difference as to who the No. 1 choice was. … When I get a recommendation like that from my top people, I didn’t see the need (to get involved).”
Factor in that this team was knocking on the door of a World Series appearance — albeit, ahead of schedule — in 2017, Boone has a load of expectations to worry about this year.
Learning on the job and managing a team to a World Series are tough things to do, but it’s not unheard of, especially in Yankees history. Former Yankees manager Joe Torre managed the Yankees to a World Series victory in 1996, his first year on the job. Joe Girardi managed his team to a World Series victory in 2009, his second year in pinstripes as manager.
The bar will be set equally high for Boone. And while both Girardi and Torre had the advantage of managing and coaching beforehand, that leaves a little room for doubt as to what Boone’s abilities will be, exactly.
“That’s either going to add more pressure to (Boone), perhaps, what we did last year, but I think knowing him, it creates more excitement,” Steinbrenner said.
Pressure makes diamonds. It also bursts pipes.
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First-year manager woes
It’s a growing trend in baseball to hire managers without prior managing experience. Retreads are become less and less common and a new crop of managers is emerging.
Just look at some of the big-league neophyte managers to take up the helm of ballclubs in the past 10 years: Mike Redmond, Brad Ausmus, Mike Matheny, Craig Counsell, Dave Roberts, Paul Molitor, Robin Ventura, to name some.
All in all, different managers in different situations, but varying — and generally underwhelming — results.
Part of being that first-year manager means mistakes will happen, as they will on a young, growing squad.
It’ll be Boone’s job to buck that trend. He gets the job after spending eight years in the broadcast booth as a part of ESPN’s baseball coverage. That’s a relatively long time to be away from the game. It’s kind of like taking a fry cook from the McDonald’s across from Yankee Stadium and naming them head chef of a glitzy Manhattan restaurant.
He knows there are going to be some adjustments.
“Just getting used to the mechanics. What’s my most efficient routine on a daily basis. Especially once the season starts, what does my day look like,” Boone said Wednesday.
But he hopes to surround himself with “smart” and “confident” coaches who will ease the transition.
If the Yankees are expecting to get to and win a World Series this year — as is the expectation of Hal Steinbrenner — then Boone is going to have to learn a lot, and fast.