There’s a great article on ESPN by Tim Kurkjian all about his former colleague Aaron Boone becoming the New York Yankees’ manager (still to be confirmed, but that’s all that is left to do).
Kurkjian always strikes me as someone who would see the good in anyone, and clearly he has a lot of affection for Boone, but the traits he describes – excellent communicator, incredible eye for detail, huge baseball knowledge – all help to explain why the Yankees have decided to make him their new skipper.
Two years ago I wrote about Dave Roberts being appointed as the LA Dodgers’ manager despite him having no managerial experience. Many positive things were being written and said about Roberts, as with Boone, but I was unsure as to whether a team in the Dodgers’ position were taking an unneccesary risk in going for a managerial novice:
“Roberts may prove to be an inspired appointment, and I’ll wish him the best of luck, but there’s reason to question whether pairing a man who has never been a manager before with a team built to win a World Series is the wisest decision.”
The Dodgers have won the NL West in both seasons since (with a combined 195-130 win-loss record), making it to Game Six of the NLCS in 2016 and Game Seven of the World Series this year, so it’s fair to say the appointment has worked out well.
It does make me think about the role a manager plays in MLB. Whilst they may be asked for their opinion, rostering decisions are taken by the Front Office and the manager generally leaves the coaching to the rest of his staff. The role is primarily about in-game strategy and leading a group of players through a long season, whilst being the public face of the organisation.
The last two parts are why communication skills and personality are such an important part of the job.
This has been an area that Girardi has faced some criticism in recently, yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that he moved into the manager’s job in 2008 after spending 2007 working for the YES Network. Girardi started working for YES in 2004 after ending his playing career before serving as Joe Torre’s bench coach in the Bronx in 2005 and then managing the Marlins in 2006, winning the NL Manager of the Year award and being sacked for his troubles (as was the way under previous owner Jeffrey Loria).
It’s easy to look at the Yankees appointing someone out of an ESPN studio, rather than a Minor League dugout, and question it, but the skills required to do that broadcasting analyst job well (and I’ve always thought Boone was excellent on ESPN’s coverage) actually translate perfectly to being an MLB manager.
You can include in that the characteristic of being a ex-Big Leaguer, something that broadcasters love (sometimes overriding the person not being very good at the analyst role) and something that – fairly or not – always seems to give them credibilty over an otherwise strongly-qualified career Minor Leaguer.
Although we all love to second-guess managerial strategy, in all honesty a fair amount of the decisions made over the course of the season are quite standard. Hopefully there is still a place for an outstanding managerial tactician to give his team an edge in MLB, yet managers have so much support (in staff and stats) to make decisions nowadays that it’s possible this doesn’t carry quite the advantage it may have done in the past. The outcome, regardless of the logic behind the decision, will always dominate the narrative anyway. If you make the right call on removing a pitcher and you get beat, you still wear the loss as the manager.
Boone has been around baseball all his life and certainly comes across as the type of person who is always learning, rather than someone set in his ways. So there’s good reason to think Boone will have the strategic side of the job covered regardless of his lack of managerial experience.
It’s a huge opportunity for Boone, taking on a very talented Yankees team that looks well set to get even better in the years ahead. Kukjian’s article shows that he will go into the role with a lot of goodwill, but Boone will know all too well that this will not shield him for long if the results aren’t as expected. That will not bother Boone, in fact the high stakes are likely something he will relish as the rewards if it goes well will be great.
Appointing a manager out of an announcer’s booth is not a left-field choice in MLB. With Boone’s skills and a highly-talented roster at his disposal, the Yankees may well have made a winning appointment.