Yankees Magazine: The Skipper's Maiden Voyage

Aaron Boone reflects on the first half of his inaugural season as Yankees manager

August 1st, 2018
New York Yankees

The first 81 games of Aaron Boone's managerial career went mostly according to plan. With the Yankees' powerful lineup, deep bullpen and bona fide ace leading the way, Boone's team reached the midway point with a 54-27 record and was tied for first in the American League East with the Red Sox. An 11-1 drubbing of Boston in Game 81 before a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd punctuated the first half of the season. Game 82, however, wasn't so great.
Despite another strong effort from the bullpen -- four Yankees relievers combined to throw six scoreless innings -- the Yankees were tied, 3-3, with Atlanta entering the 11th inning. After a Yankees error put the go-ahead run on base, rookie Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a two-run home run to give the Braves a 5-3 lead. The Yankees threatened in the bottom of the inning, but was left stranded at second to end the game. It was a recurring theme throughout the night: The Yankees went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base.
Less than 16 hours after the disappointing loss to the Braves, Boone met in his office with Yankees Magazine associate editor Thomas Golianopoulos to discuss his first 82 games as Yankees manager.

How do you unwind after a game like last night?
Well, last night was obviously a long night because it went into extra innings. We then made the decision with [Jonathan] Loaisiga. [Ed. note: The Yankees optioned Loaisiga to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the game.] We were up against it with how we used our 'pen, so we needed to consider a certain move. We talked through that. I got home last night at around 12:30 and then, I don't know …
Did you watch a Seinfeld rerun? Have a root beer?
Last night I went to bed pretty quick, actually. A lot of times, I'll go back and watch a clip of our game or a couple of guys in their postgame interviews. Or if I want to see something that happened in the game, I'll go back and watch a play or see something that came up. Then when I get in bed, I turn on Friends on my iPad. Friends is usually what I end every night with. It puts me to sleep.
I planned on asking this even before the tough loss last night: I was curious if you can point to a game that stuck with you into the next day. Navigating the highs and lows of a 162-game season is what makes baseball such a grind, and it seems important to put the previous night behind you and focus on the next game.
[Long pause] I don't know. I would say the last three nights, but I'm probably saying that because they are so fresh in my mind. We lost the middle game big to Boston. It was just [exhales and drops arms]. Even though in some ways getting your butt kicked is not like losing a close game; it's easy to turn the page. Then the next day you have a huge win, and you're trying to have some balance in your bullpen and use guys that you don't feel good using in that game because they haven't pitched in a while. And then last night, just having opportunities, not being able to punch through, and getting a great performance but using up all your bullpen. So, they all do.
When you were hired last December, you mentioned that you had missed the competition. Coming on the heels of the three-game series you guys played against Boston last weekend, has it lived up to your expectations? How would you compare it to your playing days?
Yeah, it's been awesome, the competition part of it. When we get to 7 o'clock and the game is happening, I love it. I love being in it. It's different than playing, no question about it.
Did you get nervous before games when you were a player?
Sure, sure. You know what? When we're at home after our batting practice, we have an hour leading up to the game. As a player and now as a manager, it's just an uneasy time. It's like, once the game starts, it's competition and playing. But that hour leading up, I'm always a little antsy.
What aspect of the team do you spend the most time worrying about?
Probably the bullpen and just protecting them the best you can, giving them the right amount of usage. I would say that's what I think -- I don't know if worry is the right word -- but that's what I consider. I am constantly aware of when they pitched, how many pitches, how much they've pitched in the last week. All of those things are what I consider the most and think about the most. Keeping our regular players fresh, too. When is the right time to give a guy a day, or do you just push through certain things? Trying to find that balance and that rhythm, I guess.
How far in advance do regulars like Judge and like knowing that they're scheduled for an off-day?
Sometimes with guys like that, like Didi [Gregorius] and Judgey, a lot of times I'll go to them and say, "A day is on my board." I make them part of the process, too. If there's a day off Monday, I'm thinking of tacking a day off onto that day either on the front side or the back side. That's something I try and stay ahead of. I try to give guys a heads-up. With some of our non-regulars, I'll tell them, "Hey, you're in tomorrow." I tell Giancarlo the night before -- although I didn't last night -- that he's playing right field today. I usually give him a heads-up like, "Hey, you're in left," or "Hey, you're in right," if he isn't DHing.
As a former player, you knew that managing would be a tough gig. Has any part of the job been tougher than you had anticipated? Has anything snuck up on you?
I think sometimes the hardest part, especially with our club, was when we've had to deliver some tough news or send a guy out who in a lot of ways we know doesn't deserve to get sent out; who we know is a big league player or has really contributed to our club. That's tough. That's not fun giving that news. I don't know if anything has really snuck up on me. It's all new to me, obviously. But I don't feel like I've been overwhelmed, and part of that is the room in there -- the guys. My coaching staff is so good at what they do, so I don't feel like I have to hover over them or micromanage anything. I don't feel like I've been overwhelmed necessarily.
What have you done to build relationships with the guys? Are you on group texts? Do you schedule one-on-one time with some of them?
It started this winter. When I got the job, one of the first things I did was reach out in some way, shape or form to just about every guy via text or phone call. It started the relationship process. I try in some way to check in with guys all the time, just little "How ya doing today? What's going on?" Anything from small talk to "How are you feeling? Here's what I'm thinking: Maybe an off-day in a couple." I try to check in and touch base with guys on everything from baseball-specific things we are talking about to LeBron James signing with the Lakers.

At any moment this season, has there been a time when you parroted something one of your old managers said? Do you ever think to yourself, "Wow, I sound just like my dad," or Jack McKeon or Joe Torre or Eric Wedge?
No. In some ways, I'm probably a product of all those guys you mentioned. I'm sure I've taken something from each of them in some way, but there's nothing I remember specifically like, "Oh, wow, I sound like so and so."
Do you talk to your dad regularly about the job?
I don't know if we talk so much about the job. He's probably been the biggest influence in my life and certainly of my baseball life. I'm 45 now. The way I put it is we've been having an ongoing talk about baseball for my entire life. It's the family business. Nothing has really changed there. It's not like he's giving me specific advice on certain things. We just talk the game. That's a natural go-to conversation for us, but I don't think it's really changed that much, frankly, since I took this job.
But so much else has changed in your life since you were last on the road for 162 games. Is the work/life balance tougher today than it was during your playing days?
I'm not sure yet. My family just got out here two weeks ago, and we just moved into our house. We are living here year-round now. That's just happened. They came out for two weeks in Spring Training, and they were out here for Opening Day, but I didn't see them for six or eight weeks, which was a little different. But now they're here. You need to ask me that question in a few months. What's the rhythm of all that? I don't know yet because we are still settling in and finding our groove on that.
You've talked about growing up around baseball stadiums. Do you envision your kids will have a similar experience?
My youngest boy turns 13 tomorrow so we have 13, 13 and 16. They are kind of …
Grown up already?
Yeah. I hope and imagine that they'll be at the ballpark a lot. I also have a daughter who turns 9 in a couple of weeks, so hopefully they have a presence here and are around and get to experience it and hopefully in some way love it like I do.
I wanted to ask about the most important moment from your playing days -- and I'm not talking about Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. As a member of the Houston Astros in 2009, you had open-heart surgery at the age of 36. Did that change the way you look at the world or the way you lived your life?
I don't think so. I was actually very much at ease going through it. I have a strong faith, so I kind of believe it's in God's hands, and whatever the plan rolled out is the plan. So, I wasn't overly anxious about it. It maybe sharpens perspective a little bit and maybe sharpens appreciation you have for people close to you. And I would say the coolest thing about that time is the amount of people -- friends, family, people across the baseball world, across the country -- that reached out to me. It was very humbling and very cool for me. That time was … in some way, I have an appreciation for that time because I saw a lot of warmth come my way, and I was appreciative of that.
On a more frivolous note, let's talk about Twitter! You've tweeted over 12,000 times.
Twelve thousand? Wow.
Yeah, about 12,500 times, but only 10 times since becoming Yankees manager.
And 10 since?
Yes! Have you deleted the app from your phone?
I have the app. I just made the conscious decision that I wasn't going to -- like, I'll get on and use Twitter for the information.
You lurk.
I lurk. But I stay away from the notifications to me just because I know where that goes from when I was a broadcaster.
Did you look at them when you were at ESPN?
When I was a broadcaster, I would. But as a broadcaster you can kind of engage in that stuff and have some back and forth. I knew when I took this job that that would be different, so I knew I had to stay away from that. I kind of stay away from Twitter for the most part other than when I get on and read the people that I follow, which kind of catches me up news-wise and stuff like that. I still use it occasionally. Ten times. [Laughs]. I still Instagram some things every now and then. I take pictures and will post something on there.
Let's go back to one point early in the season. On April 20, the team was 9-9 and 7? games behind Boston. Was there any concern about the division potentially slipping away from you?
No, not at all. I felt like we had a lot of stuff happen to us the first couple of weeks. We had the Baltimore game where we had some guys get injured, some extra-inning things. We were just finding our way a little bit. I looked at it more like, "We're 9-9, and we are weathering the storm right now." In some ways, I thought, "We are hanging in there right now when it could be getting away from us." In a lot of ways, I felt OK about it.
There have been a few times when you've gotten fired up this season. There was the brawl in Boston in April, May 22 in Texas -- which was the first time you were ejected from a game as a manager -- and the scheduling snafu with ESPN. Because you come across as such a mild-mannered guy, it's more impactful when you get upset. When do you know it's the right time to be outspoken?
It's pretty organic. I'm reacting in the heat of the moment, hopefully under control and in a measured way. I think the competition brings that out, and I think that is sometimes my role to stand up and be heard a little bit. I guess I pick my spots, but I wouldn't say that I consciously go into something like I'm going to get mad at this or get fired up about this. I feel like that has to happen organically.
Lastly, in what ways do you think you've improved or grown into the job since March?
I think the communication lines with my coaches, how we talk out loud to each other during the games. The flow of how we talk through things has probably improved, and that's something that I feel like is the thing we need to get even better at -- the rhythm of how we think out loud almost and how we talk to each other. That's something I feel like is constantly evolving and hopefully improving and I feel like needs to continue getting better.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.