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Yankees Magazine: A Year in the Life

As he prepares for his second season running the Yankees, Aaron Boone is eager to build on an impressive -- but ultimately frustrating -- debut
Aaron Boone 2018 (New York Yankees)
January 7, 2019

You'll forgive Yankees fans for being a bit perplexed. Recent years have seen objectively remarkable debuts. Gary Sanchez nearly won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 despite playing just 53 games. The year before that, outstanding curtain-raising efforts from Luis Severino and Greg Bird had fans pinching themselves.

You'll forgive Yankees fans for being a bit perplexed. Recent years have seen objectively remarkable debuts. Gary Sanchez nearly won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 despite playing just 53 games. The year before that, outstanding curtain-raising efforts from Luis Severino and Greg Bird had fans pinching themselves. Aaron Judge exploded like an atom bomb in 2017 before Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar defied all reasonable expectations in 2018.
In the Bronx, it seems, experience is overrated.
But Aaron Boone's debut as Yankees manager … well, it's a bit more complicated. The team won 100 games in 2018 and reached the postseason despite an overwhelmingly packed disabled list that robbed the club of much of its firepower for long stretches of the season. You simply can't measure the impact that a manager plays in shepherding his charges through that kind of adversity.
But there are only two types of ways a baseball season can end, and Boone's debut fell on the short side. Much like the end of his time as a player in pinstripes, Boone watched another team celebrate on the Yankee Stadium turf, and no matter the pile of positive moments the 2018 campaign included, the denouement stung. After a year of racking up wins and watching home runs leave the ballpark in record numbers, suddenly Boone was forced to account for things that went wrong, for decisions he might regret, for … losing. Managers can't crack walk-off home runs. But they have to answer for it when their players don't.
Almost a year to the day after he was introduced as manager, Boone sat down in his office with Yankees Magazine deputy editor Jon Schwartz to discuss the memories of a year gone by and the ways they will make him -- and the Yankees -- better in 2019.
How different is your life now than it was a year ago at this time?
Way different. I mean, way different. Just start with the fact that me and my family now have uprooted from Arizona and the West Coast, where we've been forever, and now live in the Northeast. So just moving kids, changing schools, obviously having this job, which is a lot different from what I was doing -- it's totally different, my life, but I've loved it. It's been great. My family has adjusted well. I'm looking forward to hopefully building on last year.

You have your coaching staff all set up this time, you know where your office is, you know where your parking spot is. So, how are you spending your time?
It's funny you say that, I was actually talking to my wife about that just yesterday. In going through it last year, it didn't feel so overwhelming. But looking back on it now, just the comfort level of knowing who everyone is, what roles people have, knowing that this person does this and can help in this regard, I feel, in a lot of ways, so much more entrenched in the organization, which hopefully is something that will pay off.
I've often wondered about the smallest parts of the job -- literally, when did you decide where you were going to stand during games? Or whether to go with a pullover or a jersey on any given day. Was it just a matter of being in Spring Training and thinking, "Well, this spot seems pretty comfortable"?
Yeah, that's a great question. Because it does just kind of happen. Where to stand? You walk out during the first game. It's not like I planned it out the day before or anything, or even the week before. It's just like, "Well, this is what I do." Spring Training helps with that, in terms of building how you communicate during the game with coaches, with players. What's the banter? What's the rhythm of it all? And where you stand just kind of evolves. For me, it kind of changed gradually a little over the course of the year.
Obviously you're not a football coach, so you're not sitting here diagraming a brand-new play to blow everyone's mind. So, what is your day-to-day in the offseason? Is it just checking in with everyone? What are you trying to build right now?
It's reaching out to players periodically, having conversations with coaches, stopping by the front office just to spitball ideas. I want to keep in the loop of what's going on as far as free agency and different trades that might be in the works, different roster decisions that might be going on. I went down to Tampa, [Florida,] for a day to work with a couple of guys. I'll watch video on different people we're considering. So, there are little things each day that I'm interested in that kind of, in a way, start to point toward next year.
Did you give general manager Brian Cashman a Christmas wish list?
We talk all the time. I think he knows where I stand with different things we're considering. He'll ask my opinion on certain players or certain things we're considering. But it's more me, on the outskirts up there, just kind of watching them go through the process. And that's been a lot of fun for me, frankly, to see them work and see how the process works.
At the same time, though, are you like every other Yankees fan, constantly checking your phone and waiting for that text with the news?
I'm obviously very invested and interested. I follow it. I have a little insight here. So, I'm entrenched in it and love it, and I love seeing where it all is eventually going to end up.
What was your favorite moment of last year?
It might have been the home run Judge hit off of [Red Sox closer Craig] Kimbrel. I think it was in a May series here. It was in that stretch when we won [17] out of [18] games. That was one of those games when we came back. [Brett] Gardner hits a triple, and then Judgey just hits a rocket out to center field. That was pretty neat. There were so many fun moments. But it's hard to pick just one, especially when the one you want to ultimately have -- when you're celebrating it all -- didn't happen. It all ends kind of abruptly, in a disappointing way. But all in all, the year itself, it's a joy to go compete with those guys in that room on a nightly basis. The way you get to know them and know who they are and the respect that only grew during the course of the year -- to get to be, at 7 o'clock every night, in the trenches with them, that's the best part.
If you go back to February of last year, what do you think is the thing that you are the most improved at a year later?
I would start with an understanding of who people are in the organization, from the highest levels on down. You feel like you have such a leg up in what people's roles are, how they can help, how they are part of the machine. And hopefully, that lends itself to me, personally, being more efficient and more able to give my attention to places it should be on a daily basis. I would just say, overall, now being in it for a year, hopefully it shows up in myself and the rest of us being more efficient in what we do.
You send all the players home at the end of the season with an exit interview, evaluating them and giving them goals for the winter. If you were having that conversation with Aaron Boone, what would you tell him to work on?
Everything! Honestly. How we communicate with our players, how we get information to our players to help get the best out of them. And that looks different for everyone. Some guys, it's a lot; some guys, it's less. Ultimately, we're trying to get the best out of each individual between the lines. And the challenge -- I feel like the biggest challenge in this job -- is how do we do that? Some people, it's coaching a lot and giving a lot of information to. Some people, it's kind of getting out of their way. Understanding those things is really important.
Especially in the early days of transitioning from a guy who used to play to being a manager, you must feel so helpless. You simply cannot pick up a bat and go do anything anymore. Does that have an impact on the weight of all that happens, because you're just forced to take everything in? Everybody's at-bat is your at-bat.
It's obviously different. But I think, in a similar way, it's equally thrilling and exciting because you're a part of the competition. You're a part of the game. Being away from the game, that's probably the biggest thing you miss, is the competing on a nightly basis. In a way, you get that back, even if it's certainly different from being a player.
You go through six months in which you lead your team to 100 wins, in the face of a lot of injuries and actual adversity. And then the playoffs happen, and you're kind of expected to do everything a little differently. Looking back on it, do you feel that the criticisms in the moment were fair? Not right or wrong, but are there reasonable arguments that you should have done things differently?
That's baseball. Especially when you're not the last team standing. You can always do things differently. And me knowing -- as a sports fan, when my team doesn't win -- I could have done this different or I have a thought that I would have done this, and maybe that would have changed the outcome of the game. That's part of sports. So, was it fair? I don't know. It's sports. Sports is gray sometimes. But I'm satisfied with my process and our process, and knowing that we're very prepared going in to each game. Sometimes decisions work out, and sometimes they don't.
Are there things that, if the exact situations replayed themselves, you would have done differently?
There's probably a handful of times that, as you go through the season, maybe you would have done something a little bit different in the course of the game. Even sometimes in wins. Because there are decisions every single night that are decisions. I'll come in here a lot after a game, win or lose, and something was a close call for me. I could make a case for doing A, but maybe we did B. And I can talk myself into either way on most nights. One may not be necessarily right or wrong. That gets back to, sometimes it can be a little bit gray. And that's why I think if you prepare the best you can and go into the game understanding our personnel, our players, matchups and all that, now let the game play out. But the scrutiny on decisions, in the best of years -- and, in a lot of ways, winning 100 games, we had a great season, but we didn't get it done in the playoffs -- the scrutiny of decisions, especially in baseball, is inevitable.
Boston's first-year manager, Alex Cora, did things a different way in that ALDS, where he was willing to throw away what he had done all season, and every single thing he did seemed to work. But if it doesn't work, then he maybe doesn't have a starter for the next game. Are we all overthinking this? Something's going to happen one way or another, and you just can't control it.
Right! Again, that's part of why it's such a great game and part of why so many people care and are invested. Because there are a lot of decisions in the course of the season that can truly go either way.
When you were introduced a year ago, there was a lot of talk about your ALCS-winning home run in 2003. And you kept bringing up the next series against the Marlins -- that the World Series loss was what stuck with you. Last year, you watched another team celebrate on your field again. Does that stick with you in the same way?
Yeah, it stings. It's what you take away from the season. So, of all the things that we accomplished this past year, still, in the end, that's the lasting impression that you walk away with. That's the thing that resonates, in a lot of ways, the most. But I also think it's one of the things that fuels you. You know how precious the opportunity is. We're one of those teams that feels like we have a genuine chance to win a championship, and that's a good feeling. But when you come up a little bit short, it hurts.
How long did you stick around here that night? Did you want to rush out the door as quickly as you could?
No. I was here for a while. And I was back the next day. It was easy for me to get back in here and back at it, because I wanted to see as many guys as I could and have conversations. And frankly, in a way, it's the best way to turn the page and get back to work.
Did you watch the rest of the postseason?
I did.
Was it weird?
Not weird. But I watched. I watched the Red Sox celebrate at Dodger Stadium. I watched them on the podium. I made myself watch. It was tough. But it's important for me. I love the game, and it's important for me to watch and keep that fire burning.
James Paxton was the first new toy you got. Terrific pitcher. What excites you about that addition?
He's got the kind of talent that can be a game-changer. He can match up. His best is up there with the elite guys in the game. We feel like he's a guy that, for being 30 years old, is also, in a lot of ways, just scratching the surface. He hasn't racked up a lot of innings. He's had some different, lingering, nagging injuries. And for as much success as he's already had, we feel like there's an opportunity for him to come here and have his best couple years with us. And hopefully, we as a staff -- and I know Larry [Rothschild] is really excited about it -- can get the most out of him, help him take another step in his evolution as a frontline starting pitcher.

You have a pretty good view of the Aaron Judge show every night. When you look at the ways in which he has matured off the field in the time that you've known him, what stands out? When you have a supernova on that scale, do you have to be more than just his field manager when you know that everyone's going to keep wanting more from him?
I feel like I have a really, really good relationship with Aaron. It's obviously, in my view, an important relationship. He's really one of the faces of our franchise now, of our organization. I hope to be someone that continues to build a relationship of trust and respect with him, and I hope to be one of the people in his life that challenges him, also, to help him continue to become a better player, a better person, everything. Hopefully I'm one of those people in his life that is an asset to him because he is such a special player, a special person, and it's a relationship that's really important to me.
There are guys in that clubhouse such as Brett Gardner and Carsten Sabathia who must have helped you out so much in Year 1. How pleased are you to have both of them back for 2019?
Huge. I love our room. I love our guys and the way they compete. And part of the culture in there that I feel like is a strength, Gardy and CC have been major factors in helping establish that. I think as a result, we've had a lot of success with guys coming into the organization from outside that have kind of fit right in and become important parts of our club, and people that have come up from the Minor Leagues -- young players -- that have thrived. And I think part of that is the culture that CC and Gardy have helped establish here.
What's your pitch for why fans shouldn't be worried about Gary Sánchez?
The talent's undeniable. You've got to understand, he's still a young player at a position that is very demanding -- physically, mentally, emotionally. It requires a lot. And to have the kind of massive success that he had early in his career, at such a position, sometimes a bump in the road is part of it. And I would argue, hopefully, over the long haul, it will allow him to be an even better player. Because it forced him to be invested in so many different parts of the game that maybe before, because he's had so much success and because he's so talented, and because in a lot of ways success came so easy to him, hitting a bump in the road, getting punched in the mouth, forces your hand and makes you take stock and understand how challenging this game can be. And I would just say that he's absolutely equipped to be a star in this league for a long time. That's my expectation, and I know it's his, as well.
How do you make sure that you get the Luis Severino who was an All-Star in the first half of last year for the full year in 2019?
Similar to Gary, we're also talking about a young player. The year he just had isn't all that uncommon for a young pitcher establishing himself. I say hitting a bump in the road, but on balance, he had a great season. First and foremost, he has all the equipment to be great, as we've seen. We understand what he's capable of. What I love about Sevy is that I think he has the makeup to be great. He wants to be great. He works extremely hard. He's already doing things this winter, and we've had conversations, where he's working on things now that hopefully translate into next season as he continues his growth. And I would expect him to have a tremendous year next year based on things that he's starting to put in place, that we're working to put in place with him, that he will apply for next year.
Is there anything that you're planning on doing differently in this Spring Training compared to what you did last year, whether it be scheduling or anything else?
I don't think it will look that much different. I feel like, in a lot of ways, we had a successful spring. I thought we were efficient; I thought the biggest thing that was really important to me was that we used our time properly, efficiently. We aren't wasting guys' time, and I feel like we did a really good job with that. I think you're always making tweaks to try and make things a little bit better or little things that maybe you're incorporating. But I don't think that big picture-wise it will be all that different.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.