Long before his team took the field Tuesday night in Fenway Park, Aaron Boone knew a little bit about sudden-death baseball, and how it can change people’s lives. Boone played only 71 games for the Yankees, including the postseason, and yet one fateful October swing made him a part of the franchise’s narrative forevermore.
Do you really think Boone, a broadcaster with no coaching experience, would have been hired as Yankees manager if he’d never walked-off the Red Sox with his Game 7 homer in 2003?
So something magical, or something very damaging, could happen in this latest clash of AL East titans that could significantly alter someone’s career. But barring a catastrophic, season-killing mistake in the wild-card game, Boone should walk out of Fenway with his job no longer an issue.
The Yankees should bring him back for the same reason they hired him — his temperament. With Boone’s contract up after four seasons, Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman should re-sign him to a short-term deal (say two years with a club option for a third) with the big-boy understanding that if a World Series title is not secured in that window, the Yankees will be back in the market for a new manager.
But after going 4-for-4 in postseason appearances in a brutally difficult sport that treats 4-for-4 in anything as a holy-grail achievement, Boone does not deserve to be fired. No, he hasn’t delivered any trips to the World Series, and no, three wild-card berths and one division title doesn’t quite rise to the Yankees standard. His pros still outweigh his cons by enough of a margin to merit a second contract.
Start with his record. Boone is the only manager in the American League to reach the playoffs these past four seasons. Entering Tuesday night, he was 2-0 in the wild-card round. His one serious bid to reach the World Series, in 2019, was thwarted by a team (the Astros) that quite possibly cheated to beat his.
Boone averaged 98 victories in his three 162-game seasons. On the all-time Yankees list, his winning percentage (.601) lands him right behind Joe Torre’s (.605) and ahead of Miller Huggins’ (.597), Billy Martin’s (.591), and Joe Girardi’s (.562). Girardi actually missed the postseason three times in a four-year span and kept his job. He later lost that job — after pushing Houston to a Game 7 of the ALCS — because Cashman thought there was a disconnect between the tightly wound Girardi and the team’s prominent young players.
At the club’s request, Girardi had become less tense and distant in the 2009 season that ended in a championship. Eight years later, after Girardi had regressed in that area, Cashman went searching for a communicator who could lower his team’s blood pressure in the ultimate hypertension market. Enter Boone, the likable embodiment of California chill. He won 203 games in his first two seasons, but failed to end what Yankees fans describe as their title “drought.” (They might want to check with Jets and Knicks fans for the true definition of a drought.)
The Red Sox would win a title on Boone’s watch, and Tampa Bay would reach the World Series a Boone’s watch, inspiring the Bronx-based corner of the AL East to wonder why the Yanks couldn’t do the same. It’s a very fair question that got louder and louder this season, when Boone’s team was coming undone and his boss, Steinbrenner, was moved to blame the players if only to give his manager room to breathe.
The Yankees suffered some incredibly dispiriting defeats — losses that could’ve broken lesser clubs — but Boone’s team kept working the problem, and survived and advanced to the last day of the season with a chance to return to the playoffs. That the Yanks won that ultra-stressful game against the ultra-tough Rays in the ninth said something about their resilience, and their eagerness to play for a manager who never lost his poise in a tumultuous year.
“Unlike other sports … the best teams win 60 percent of the time, and you’ve got to be able to deal with that,” Boone said Monday. “You see teams … you see talented players that can’t handle that that go by the wayside. So there’s a makeup quality there that I think you have to have as a club if you’re going to survive the inevitable grind of the major league season.”
The son of a former big league player and manager, Boone has that makeup, a Joe Torre makeup. Though he doesn’t need to win four titles like Torre did, he knows he needs to win one sooner rather than later.
But regardless of the result at Fenway on Tuesday night, Boone has earned another shot. When you go 4-for-4 in baseball, you deserve a chance to go 5-for-5.
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