Boone off to unprecedented start with Yankees

On pace for 100 wins in each of first two seasons as manager

August 19th, 2019

Even if the Yankees finish 17-19 over their last 36 games, they would win the same 100 games as last year under Aaron Boone, then a rookie manager who came straight to the dugout from ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth. You know how many other Yankee managers have won 100 games in each of their first two seasons?

None of them have.

No one better than Boone himself understands the stakes with the Yankees, as unrealistic as those stakes seem sometimes, as if this century is the last one. There is still always this idea, at least in New York, that it’s World Series or bust for the Yankees, even though they’ve won just one Series since 2000. Boone hit one of the most famous October home runs in Yankee history -- bottom of the 11th, Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox at the old Stadium in 2003.

Then he and his teammates lost the World Series in six games to the Marlins. Yankee fans will always remember Boone’s home run. They remember even better that the Yankees lost a World Series everybody expected them to win.

Boone comes from a baseball family, of course. His grandfather, Ray, played 13 seasons in the big leagues and knocked in 116 runs one year for the Tigers and knocked in 114 another time splitting a season between the Indians and Tigers. Aaron’s father, Bob, a catcher, played 19 seasons and then managed both the Royals and Reds.

“Put it this way,” Reggie Jackson said to me after Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had hired Aaron Boone out of a broadcast booth. “Aaron knows the job, even though he hasn’t done the job.”

Now he has done some job. And barring a collapse by the Yankees, they’ll win more games than they did in 2018. And he will have won 100 in each of his first two seasons.

Miller Huggins never did that, nor did Joe McCarthy or Bucky Harris or Casey Stengel or Ralph Houk or Joe Torre. They all closed the deal in October -- even Harris, who was only with the Yankees two years before giving way to Stengel. It remains to be seen whether Boone’s Yankees can do the same.

But in the history of the club, only these three managers have had 100 teams win two seasons in a row at any point in their Yankee careers: Huggins. McCarthy. Torre. Not bad company.

"Aaron was," Cashman said on Monday, "the dark horse candidate who just came in and blew us away."

It was a bigger deal to win 100 back when the schedule was only 154 games. But McCarthy’s Yankees still managed to do that six times between 1931-42. He won 94 his first year with the Yankees, 107 the second year, for a two-year record of 201-106. Harris was 191-117 in his two years with the Yankees. Stengel was 195-113. Torre was 188-136. The next two years after that, Torre’s Yankees were 212-112 (including a 114-48 record in in '98) -- a cool 100 games over .500. Houk’s Yankees were 109-53 in his first season with the team in '61. In his third season, they were 104-57.

All these men were hired to win it all, and they sure did. Stengel’s Yankees won five World Series titles in a row between 1949-53. Houk’s Yankees won the World Series in ’61 and ’62 and then lost one in ’63, with the Yankees getting swept by the Dodgers. Torre’s Yankees won the ’96 Series, lost in the AL Division Series in ’97, then won three in a row after that. They nearly made it four before the D-backs came back on them in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in 2001.

Boone’s Yankees lost in the ALDS to the Red Sox last season, after the Boston had won 108 games in the regular season. The Red Sox also had a rookie manager in Alex Cora. He’d come to them from sitting next to A.J. Hinch as the Astros won the World Series in 2017. Boone had come from sitting next to Dan Schulman and Jessica Mendoza in the booth.

But if the Yankees just play, say, 22-14 baseball the rest of the way -- hardly unreasonable, since they have the best record in the big leagues right now -- they will end up this season with a record of 105-57. Boone’s two-year regular season record would be 205-119, which would be exactly the way Houk broke in. McCarthy’s winning percentage for his first two years was .655. Boone would be with Houk at .633.

Of all the managers being discussed here, only Houk hadn’t managed in the big leagues before getting to New York. He’d managed in Triple-A, then coached for Stengel. Boone had never managed anywhere. Now he sits in as hot a seat as there is in his sport. He ought to be the AL Manager of the Year going away for what his team has done despite putting more than two dozen guys on the injured list. If you had DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela being the two best players on the team with the best record in the middle of August, by all means raise a hand.

The schedule gets a little harder now, with games in Oakland and then in L.A. against the Dodgers. The Yankees keep grinding away, trying to get home-field advantage for the postseason, remembering that they won all their home games against the Astros in the 2017 ALCS but lost all four of the games played in Houston.

“We want to rack up as many wins as we can,” Boone said Sunday.

They’ve racked up a ton under him. His record as Yankee manager is 183-105 already. His team is going to get to 100 wins again. Then he gets the chance to do what all those other legendary Yankee managers did: Win October.