Well, that was abrupt. Just when it seemed like the Yankees' managerial search would stretch on well into the gaping void of inaction that is the 2017-18 offseason, a decision was made. Aaron Boone, former third baseman and onetime postseason hero, is going to be the Yankees' new manager.
In some ways, Boone is a radical choice. Of the six finalists for the position, of which the other five were Carlos Beltran, Hensley Meulens, Rob Thomson, Eric Wedge, and Chris Woodward, only Boone and Beltran do not have prior managing or coaching experience. Of course, it's kind of hard to fault Beltran for lacking experience, as he was too busy playing until now. On the other hand, Boone's last appearance as a player was on October 4, 2009. Since then, he has never worked on a coaching staff.
If Boone doesn't have the “prior experience” card, then what are his credentials? After announcing his retirement in February 2010, Boone joined ESPN as an analyst. I guess in some ways that experience may translate into positive qualities as a manager. It could help with media relations, or being able to dissect and explain on-field decisions and situations.
Breaking the game down to folks who watch ESPN isn't the same as explaining yourself on a daily basis to a horde of baseball reporters or major leaguers, though. Plus, we don't know how Boone stacks up regarding other criteria such as willingness to embrace analytics, clubhouse management, or keeping players healthy. I think it's safe to say that Boone as a manager is a wild card. In that sense, Yankees ownership has certainly succeeded in shaking things up.
I can't help but think that if change was what the higher ups wanted, though. The Yankees had two strong candidates in Beltran and Meulens. Regarding Joe Girardi's departure, Brian Cashman said that his inability to communicate with the younger players on the team was the main area of concern. If that really were the case, then surely communication skills were high on the list of requirements for the new managerial candidates as well.
Surveying the list of candidates, Wedge, Woodward and Thomson come off as guys in the Girardi mold; no-nonsense men without a lot of personality or approachability. Boone's experience working in media may speak to his communication and people skills, but we've yet to see him operate in a major league dugout.
What sets apart Beltran and Meulens from the field is that we have anecdotal evidence of each of them demonstrating strong communication skills among major league players. As Yankees fans, we know the story about Beltran taking on a mentor-type role for Aaron Judge. We also know that Beltran was regarded as a team leader in Houston as well, as he and Brian McCann gave a clubhouse speech prior to Game 6 of the ALCS. Reading these stories, one gets the impression that Beltran is exactly the type of person you'd want to lead a young, talented team that's short on experience.
We have less knowledge about Meulens, but his considerable language skills — reportedly he's fluent in English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, and Japanese — suggest that he would have been a great fit in the multilingual Yankee clubhouse. To a lesser degree, Beltran's Spanish skills would have also been an strong asset in this regard. If the Yankees truly wanted better communicators, surely either one of Beltran or Meulens would have been a better choice than Boone.
In a similar vein, it's disappointing that the Yankees have decided to hand the job to a white man instead of a non-white candidate. Girardi's exit suggested that, beyond his personal shortcomings, there was perhaps a cultural divide between his style of player management and the non-white youth of the Yankees team like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and others.
Putting Beltran or Meulens at the helm would have alleviated such issues, sending a message throughout the organization that ownership was committed to a change in culture. Plus, in light of baseball’s lagging progress in terms of diversity, it would have been nice to see the Yankees leading the way in rectifying ethnic homogeneity among major league managers.
Boone is a wild card. Who knows; maybe he will go on to demonstrate impressive communication skills and cultural sensitivity in action. But I can't see why the Yankees chose him to be what Beltran and Meulens have already shown they are: respected, relatable, and approachable. I'm hoping for the best, but I'm already regretting the Yankees' call on this choice.