By Hal McCoy
The first purchase Aaron Boone should make as new manager of the New York Yankees is a fire retardant suit.
He is going to need it in The Bronx, where putting out fires in the Yankee Stadium clubhouse is a prerequisite to occupying the manager’s chair.
Just ask Joe Girardi, Boone’s predecessor. He had the Yankees one win from participating in the 2017 World Series. But he lost Game Seven of the American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros and lost his job in the process.
If anybody can handle it, Aaron Boone can shoulder it all, even though he hasn’t even held a major league coaching job, let alone a manager’s job.
Boone was born with a golden baseball spike in his mouth. His grandfather, Ray Boone, was a better-than-average major league infielder. His father, Bob Boone, was a long-time catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and California Angels. Aaron Boone and his brother, Bret Boone, were wearing Phillies uniforms and running around Veterans Stadium from the day they could walk.
Aaron Boone played for the Cincinnati Reds and survived one of the toughest atmospheres a player has to endure — playing for his father when Bob Boone managed the Reds.
Boone not only survived it all, he survived it with the utmost of professionalism. As a communicator, he is perfection. Nobody who ever came in contact with him ever uttered a disparaging word about him.
Every teammate loved him. Every member of the media loved him, especially during his time with the Reds. Players don’t like to talk after losses and many hide in area of the clubhouse that are off limits to the media.
Aaron Boone never hid. There were some games, after loss, when the media entered the clubhouse there was one player sitting at his cubicle. Aaron Boone. And even though he rarely had anything to do with the loss, he sat and fed meaningful and insightful quotes to the media.
He was what the media call, “The go-to guy.”
That will serve him well in New York, where a manager has to feed the mammoth mouths of a media menagerie that devours every tidbit and tries to turn it into something bigger than it might be. Aaron Boone will be non-plussed.
There is, of course, some prejudice emanating from this corner. Aaron Boone holds a special place in my heart – a story that has been told and retold many, many times.
For those who haven’t heard it:
Back in 2003, due to strokes in both my optic nerves, I became legally blind and considered retiring for good. It happened just before spring training and I went to my sports editor, Frank Corsoe, intending to quit.
Corsoe, though, convinced me to give spring training a try and I agreed. The first day I walked into the Reds clubhouse in Sarasota, I stood at the door and looked around.
Everything was dark and fuzzy. Faces were blurred. I didn’t recognize players who I had known for years. Boone noticed me standing at the door with a perplexed look on my face.
He approached me and asked, “What’s wrong?” I told him what had happened, that I was legally blind, and that he probably wouldn’t see me again, that I was going home, I was about to quit.
He grabbed me by my elbow and led me to his locker stool, pointed to it and said, “Sit down.” I sat. And Boone said, “I don’t ever want to hear you saw the word quit again. You love what you do and you are good at it. Everybody in this room will help you when you need it.”
Boone turned me around that day. There were tough times and there are still tough times, but Boone gave me the impetus and the confidence to plod on and because of him I am still doing this 14 years later.
Of course, he made me pay for it. He would tell people he caught me talking to a Coke machine. And he might have been right.
That’s the kind of communicator he is, the kind of passionate and compassionate person he is. Writers and players are water and oil. They don’t often mix. And I wrote my share of critical things about Boone. But he took the time to change a writer’s life, to save a career.
And that’s why when Aaron Boone became eligible for the Hall of Fame, he received one vote. Boone was a solid player, a very good player, but he didn’t have Hall of Fame numbers. But I was the one writer who voted for him because to me what he did for me was the stuff of a Hall of Famer.
So now he is getting his reward for a life-time of living, breathing and exhaling baseball.
It won’t be easy. Managing the New York Yankees is probably the most demanding and challenging job in sports. And there is a guy with zero experience stepping in.
He is expected to win. Right now. The Yankees are loaded, not only on the major league roster but throughout the minors. The tools are there and Boone is now the carpenter, plumber and blacksmith.
As Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay said, “Boone is being handed the keys to his first car. And it’s a Lamborghini.”
Rest assured. He won’t wreck it.