To be fair, it would be like introducing the late Neil Armstrong without a visual of him walking on the moon.
You entered Yankee Stadium Wednesday, this 9-year-old ballpark’s very first time introducing a new manager, and a flat-panel display greeted you with a message: “New York Yankees welcome MANAGER AARON BOONE.” To the message’s left, a photo: Boone, arms raised, watching his home run clear the left-field wall at the Yankee Stadium on Oct. 16, 2003, sending the Yankees to a momentous ALCS Game 7 victory over the rival Red Sox.
The Yankees are as new-age as a baseball team gets, employing enough quants to field a Goldman Sachs softball team and seeking out every (legal) competitive advantage in this age of exploding technological developments. Yet their hiring of the notably inexperienced Boone to succeed Joe Girardi makes a little more sense when you see that photo again.
Along with youth, intelligence and mad impressive communication skills, Boone delivers a comfort-food sensibility thanks to his iconic pinstriped moment.
“I think it’s had a huge factor,” Boone said of his big hit. “I think it probably added to my appeal initially when I retired, with ESPN. It’s certainly something that I’m known for in my baseball life and in some way probably is a contributor to me being here today, sure.”
Brian Cashman, who recommended the hiring of Boone to Hal Steinbrenner, said of Boone’s brief time as a Yankee, “It’s a plus, but at least in this case, as I’ve gotten my sea legs under me more, I was more open minded to if it was a complete outside candidate that hadn’t been here before.”
That Eric Wedge and Chris Woodward (who spent some time in 2008 Yankees spring training before getting cut) made the interview round lends credence to Cashman’s testimony. Yet those two guys would have been awfully hard sells to this fan base, no?
Boone brought a fresh dynamic blended with one of the most memorable three-month stints in Yankees history. His ALCS Game 7 blast off Tim Wakefield wiped away the underwhelming .254/.302/.418 slash line he had compiled in 54 regular-season games after coming over from Cincinnati in a July 31, 2003 trade, not to mention the .161/.212/.194 he had tallied in his 34 prior plate appearances that postseason.
And his serious left-knee injury the subsequent winter ended his Yankees time right there (and opened the door for Alex Rodriguez), further safeguarding that one magic moment.
“I’m always reminded just how big the New York Yankees are. And how far reaching they are,” Boone said. “Because it gets mentioned to me whether I’m walking through an airport, however far away from New York I am.”
Said Steinbrenner: “I think the thing that was certainly a factor for me was just that [Boone] knows this organization. Our expectations. He knows the New York market. … Home run or not, the fact that he played here for me, personally, was certainly a factor because it’s important. He knows exactly what he’s getting into.”
Girardi came aboard with three World Series rings earned here as a player. Joe Torre brought a stellar playing career to his hiring, even if his managerial record underwhelmed folks. Beloved Yankees players like Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey and Lou Piniella got their shots. And the guy who shares Boone’s Boston-only middle name of “Bleeping,” Bucky Dent, experienced an ill-fated run from 1989-90.
For a long time, Boone said, he tried not to enjoy his Red Sox-slaying memory, because of the World Series loss to Florida that followed.
“I’ll never forget the Marlins celebrating on the field,” he said. “That’s something that’s ingrained in my head. And I think one of the things that motivates me now in this job is to go chase that ultimate prize.”
For sure, the only way Boone can relegate his ’03 homer to second-tier status is by winning a ring as Yankees manager. That would produce a new photo for the ages.
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