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Yankees Magazine: Unfinished Business

Aaron Boone authored one of the most famous moments in baseball history, but the disappointment that soon followed drives the Yankees' new manager toward the 'ultimate goal'
Yankees Magazine

It was a long day. But it was also a great one, an anxious morning followed by an unforgettable afternoon that was in the works for about a lifetime.

For Aaron Boone, Dec. 6, 2017, was both summit and sea level. On that cold December day in the Bronx, a baseball lifer from a family that lived, breathed and devoured the game at its highest level for three generations was introduced as the 33rd manager in the history of the New York Yankees.

It was a long day. But it was also a great one, an anxious morning followed by an unforgettable afternoon that was in the works for about a lifetime.

For Aaron Boone, Dec. 6, 2017, was both summit and sea level. On that cold December day in the Bronx, a baseball lifer from a family that lived, breathed and devoured the game at its highest level for three generations was introduced as the 33rd manager in the history of the New York Yankees.

Boone's hiring marked a return to pinstripes for the former third baseman, with hopes that his second stay with the team will last much longer than his first. While Boone's initial stint with the Yankees lasted only a few months, he did manage to plant a stake in Yankees lore -- and a dagger in the hearts of Red Sox fans -- with one swing of the bat.

Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series at the old Yankee Stadium was one of the most dramatic events in the history of baseball's greatest rivalry. Boone led off the bottom of the 11th inning against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and the batter wasted no time. He deposited the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats, ending the game and the series. The home run, which came just two-and-a-half months after Boone had been traded to the Yankees from the Cincinnati Reds, sent the Yankees to their sixth World Series in eight years and prevented Boston from reaching its first Fall Classic since 1986.

More than 14 years later, that home run didn't get Boone the coveted Yankees managerial job. But it certainly ensured that the sight of him in the Bronx -- whether it was during his tenure as a broadcaster for ESPN over the previous eight years or on the day that he officially became the team's manager -- evoked excitement from Yankees fans.

That was never more apparent than in the hour after Boone was introduced in a press conference at Yankee Stadium. Following the presser, Yankees officials escorted Boone across the street to Heritage Field for a photo shoot. As he made his way across 161st Street to the site of the old Stadium, Boone admittedly began to daydream about the most exciting moment of his career.

The memory was quickly interrupted by the sound of a horn. A man driving a Boar's Head delivery truck took it upon himself to stop the cars behind him.

"Hey, Aaron," the driver yelled out his window. "Go get 'em. You're the man. You've always been the man around here."

Surprised by the gesture, a wide-eyed Boone smiled.

"Thank you," the newly anointed skipper replied. "I really appreciate it."

"I remember that night like it was last week," Boone said a few seconds after the truck drove away. "I really can't forget it because I'm reminded of it just about every day. Regardless of how far I am from New York City, people come up to me and tell me their personal stories about that night. They share with me where they were when I hit that home run, who they were with and what it meant to them. I have those same type of intimate stories from football and baseball games I've been to as a fan, and that's what makes sports so special. Moments like that create memories, not only for the people on the field but also for fans."

Following a photo shoot at Heritage Field, Boone's whirlwind day continued with a lengthy sit-down, in which a group of print journalists peppered him with questions. Boone also fielded many of the same inquiries from television reporters in a separate gathering. Regardless of what he was asked, whether it had to do with the expectations associated with taking over a team believed to be on the cusp of greatness or his lack of managerial experience, Boone calmly and confidently responded. Each sound bite came off more articulate than the one before it.

"I know there will be growing pains," Boone said in response to a reporter's question. "I also know that I can do this job, that I can get the most out of my players day in and day out. I'm OK with the pressure of coming in here without any experience and dealing with whatever comes my way."

The decision to go with Boone came on the heels of the team parting ways with Joe Girardi, whose 10-year run with the team ended one game shy of the 2017 World Series. An exhaustive hiring process that saw the likes of longtime Yankees coach and baseball operations executive Rob Thomson, San Francisco Giants bench coach Hensley Meulens, recently retired outfielder Carlos Beltran, Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward and former Cleveland and Seattle manager Eric Wedge each take turns in the interview chair followed.

While the future remains unpredictable, Boone made a first impression that stuck in all the right ways. Encouraged by Boone's performance, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt comfortable handing him the reins to a young team that arrived a bit sooner than expected in 2017.

"I've already reached out to a lot of players," Boone said to the group of print reporters. "I've texted with a lot of them, and I've spoken with a handful of them. I got to see this team come of age last season, and I'm really excited to have the chance to impact so many young players. This team has the chance to be really special, and I believe that culture in the clubhouse is important, especially when you're talking about the potential to have long-term, sustainable success. When you have a great culture and great young talent, you have the chance to flourish for a long time.

"Honestly, I expect to have great relationships with my players," he continued. "I'm going to really care about these guys. Hopefully, I'm going to love them, and they are going to love me back. But when you have to make difficult decisions, I know that the most important thing is to be honest in your evaluation, regardless of who the person is. I'll be able to do that."

Just as Boone exuded confidence in himself, so did Cashman, Baseball America's 2017 Executive of the Year and the architect of a team that now includes homegrown stars in Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, as well as trade acquisitions such as reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, and budding stars Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks.

"Ultimately, we're betting on what Aaron Boone's ceiling is," Cashman said. "I feel very comfortable with the process we went through. Aaron is extremely intelligent, extremely progressive, extremely open-minded, and he has great communication skills. He comes from a long history of baseball in his family that will serve him well in this job. He's impacted by the history of the game, how it's played today and where it's going in the future. In the interview process, he really proved to have it all."

From the chaotic environment of the Stadium's Legends Suite Club, where Boone met with the media, the new manager escaped to the home clubhouse, where he and his wife Laura, who had flown to New York from their home in Scottsdale, Arizona, the day before, got a few quiet moments to digest everything that had taken place that morning.

As Boone walked toward the door, he noticed a plastic sign that read, "Yankees Manager's Office."

"I'm really humbled by this opportunity," he said. "I understand how special it is, and I'm just drinking it all in today. This is a special day, and walking in here for the first time is a special moment."

After a brief lunch break, Boone, still donning the pinstriped jersey and Yankees hat he put on in the press conference, went where most on-field personnel rarely visit: the front office. Guided by the team's media relations executives, Boone introduced himself to members of several front office departments, many of whom shared the new manager's enthusiasm for the future.

As Boone's first day at Yankee Stadium neared its end, he leaned back in a leather chair in the baseball operations "war room" where Cashman and his team often meet and shared his thoughts on the 44-year journey that led to his managerial appointment.

To say that baseball has been a big part of Boone's life, and the lives of his closest family members, would be an understatement.

Boone's earliest memories of the game take him as far back as he can remember. Boone's father, Bob, a longtime Major League catcher, began a 10-year run with the Philadelphia Phillies a year before the younger Boone was born. And, so, from the time Boone and his older brother Bret -- a three-time All-Star who played 14 seasons in the Bigs -- were able to walk, they were doing so at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

"From the time I was 3 years old, I was going to Veterans Stadium for every game," he said. "I was the kid that while the other players' kids were off playing, I was sitting in the walkway behind home plate locked in on the game. For as well rounded as I would like to think I am, the bottom line is the one thing I know and have lived is baseball. In a lot of ways, I've been doing this my entire life."

When Boone wasn't watching his father on the field, he was learning from him.

"I think you're always learning, but I really got to live the game through him," Boone said. "It was most of my family's livelihood, so it's kind of all I know. I certainly picked up things along the way, dating all the way back to those days in Philadelphia. My experiences as a child have shaped my feelings and how I view the game."

One of the most important lessons that Boone learned from his father had nothing to do with managing pitch counts or putting together a lineup, but instead, balancing family and the game. Now, more than ever, Boone, a father of four young children, two of whom were born in Haiti and adopted, will draw from the example he watched during his own childhood.

"I have so much respect for my dad," Boone said. "He modeled the kind of character that I want to have, that I want to be able to show my children. I felt like he had the perfect balance between family and baseball. He was an outstanding player, and his work ethic was second to none. But our family was always a priority. Even though he was gone a lot, on the road with his team, it always felt like he was with us. He was at every one of our games that he could attend, and he was always a presence in our lives.

"It's so important to be able to have that kind of balance in your life to where you're impacting your children while still understanding how big of a job this is," Boone continued. "I know how much time and energy this job will consume, but I still plan to be a major part of my children's lives."

Boone also absorbed the game from his paternal grandfather, Ray, who spent 13 seasons in the Big Leagues, mainly with the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. Following the patriarch's playing career, which concluded in 1960 with Boston, Ray began a long tenure as a scout for the Red Sox.

Video: Now a skipper, Boone reflects on family ties to MLB

"My grandfather was very much a part of our lives," Boone said. "He had a big influence on my life, and he was in baseball his whole life. He scouted until the day he died. Some of my favorite memories growing up were the conversations we would have on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Baseball was our family business, and when we would all be together, it was a lot of fun to talk about the game. We would get into battles with my grandfather about what era was better, and whether the players from his era, my dad's era or the modern era were better. For our family, he was the originator of it all. We all followed in his footsteps."

Bob Boone's baseball life, like that of his own father, was far from over once his playing days came to an end. Following his last game as a player in 1990, Bob embarked on a managerial career. He led the Kansas City Royals from 1995 through 1997, then took over the Reds' top job prior to the 2001 season. During his two-and-a-half-year tenure in Cincinnati, the elder Boone managed Aaron. But by the middle of the 2003 season, the struggling Reds relieved Bob of his managerial duties, precipitating the deal that sent Aaron to the Yankees.

While Boone was saddened by the way things ended for his father -- who is now an executive with the Washington Nationals -- and himself in Cincinnati, he has thrilling memories of his arrival in the Big Apple.

"When I came here as a player, it was very exciting because I was about to step right into a pennant chase," Boone said. "The first 24 hours were crazy. I went from a situation that was not that good to one where I was competing for it all while trying to adapt and adjust and acclimate myself to a new situation."

Not only did Boone's first day as a Yankees player feel like a roller-coaster ride, but so did his entire pinstriped tenure, despite lasting just a few months. Following his dramatic home run to win the ALCS, the Yankees fell to the Florida Marlins in the World Series. For Boone, that marked the only Fall Classic berth in his 12-year career, during which he hit .263 with 126 home runs, earning an All-Star selection in 2003.

Boone was slated to begin the 2004 season as the Yankees' starting third baseman. But in mid-January, while at home in Southern California, Boone sustained a torn ligament in his left knee during a pickup basketball game. The injury would require season-ending surgery, and because it happened in an activity that Boone was contractually prohibited from partaking in, the Yankees released him.

Just like that, Boone's time as a Yankees player was over, and the aftermath of the injury was as historic for New York and Boston as the home run that rocked both cities a few months before.

In need of a third baseman, the Yankees put together a deal to acquire Alex Rodriguez, arguably the game's best player at the time, from the Texas Rangers. The deal that ultimately brought A-Rod to New York came only weeks after the reigning American League MVP had agreed to a trade -- and subsequent paycut -- to the Red Sox, which was squashed by the Players' Union.

Boone would resume his career in 2005 with the Cleveland Indians, and despite undergoing surgery to repair a heart valve a few years later, he continued to play through the 2009 season. But the disappointment of losing the 2003 World Series and the lost opportunity to win a championship in New York after that never left Boone.

So it was not surprising that when Cashman called him about the managerial job in November, the former third baseman turned announcer was immediately interested.

"I felt like the game was calling me," Boone said. "As much as I enjoyed broadcasting, I missed the competition and chasing the ultimate prize. One of the cliches you hear when you're on the broadcasting side is that you never lose a game. But at the end of the night, I wanted to feel the excitement that goes with accomplishing the mission or the pain that goes with losing. Those feelings really intensified for me over the last few years, and they were one of the driving forces for me wanting to get back in so much."

Getting back in with the Yankees -- and getting the chance to rewrite his final chapters in pinstripes -- was what Boone called "the opportunity of a lifetime."

"The lasting memory from my time with the Yankees was the Marlins celebrating on our field," Boone said. "That's the memory that's ingrained in my mind, and that's a painful memory. From a big-picture standpoint, there is an element to me wanting to come in here and impact this team enough so that I get a chance at going to the World Series again. I don't think about it every day because I'm locked in on the process of making this team better, but that ultimate goal is never far from my mind."

As the sun began to set over New York in the late afternoon, Boone's first day as Yankees manager came to an end. He had graciously shared every detail he was asked about with everyone who approached him. Now, he and his wife were off to dinner. But before they could exit the Stadium, Boone crossed paths with a few Yankees scouts, evoking memories of his grandfather.

"No one was more proud of his kids or his grandkids than my grandpa," Boone said. "Today would've been very emotional for him, and he would've been very proud. I've had relatives tell me in the last few days that he's looking down on me with a lot of pride, and I know that today would have meant a lot to him, just like it has meant a lot to me."

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

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