There may not be a better managerial job in baseball right now than that of the New York Yankees. Not only are the Yankees a storied franchise with huge sums of money to spend on massive payrolls, they also boast a young and promising team fresh off an ALCS berth with burgeoning stars such as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino and a cadre of top prospects on their way. When general manager Brian Cashman fired Joe Girardi in October, he essentially had his pick of any candidate on the market.
With that in mind, it’s fair to be puzzled that the Yankees’ exhaustive search for a manager ended with Aaron Boone, the franchise hero who has never managed or coaching at any professional level and whose most notable post-playing job was as an analyst for ESPN. Never before has Boone held a gig remotely similar to the one he will assume next spring.
But that doesn’t necessarily make Boone, 44, a bad hire. In fact, the former third baseman fits neatly among a newly hired crop of managers who signal a draft shift in expectations for the position. Viewed in this light, it’s not that Boone is unqualified to lead a Major-League team, it’s that the qualifications for that role have sharply changed.
Historically, a manager’s primary responsibilities concerned roster management and in-game strategy. The man in the dugout had to choose which hitters to start, which pitchers to call on and when to bunt or hit-and-run. For these tasks, bench experience was crucial. If someone had never made a double-switch before, how could he be expected to do so under the pressures of October?
But today, baseball increasingly regards its managers as middlemen, tasked with keeping his team in line while implementing strategy passed on from the front office. Teams look for charismatic candidates who will relate to players and take orders from his bosses. The grizzled, hard-headed Jim Leyland archetype out. The warm, open-minded model is in.
That change in job description explains why the three oldest managers in baseball (Dusty Baker, Terry Collins, Pete Mackanin) were replaced this offseason by men at least 15 years their junior (Dave Martinez, Mickey Callaway, Gabe Kapler, respectively) and why most recent hires have been fresh-faced rookies with little or no traditional experience. After a World Series that featured 45-year-old Dave Roberts and 43-year-old A.J. Hinch, teams sprung this fall for 40-somethings like Callaway (Mets), Kapler (Phillies), Alex Cora (Red Sox) and now Boone.
Based on the traditional set of criteria for a Major-League manager, Boone is drastically unqualified. But based on the new-age parameters, he’s a perfect candidate. He played 12 seasons in the Majors and retired not that long ago, which should help him relate to players. He’s regarded as a personable guy who can preside over a laidback clubhouse. And he is reportedly amenable to the advanced stats his front office will inevitably dump upon him. Roll all that together, and you get a guy who is said to have wowed Yankees brass in his job interview.
The Yankees have just hired a superb person to be their next manager. @AaronBoone_ESPN was born into baseball and is ready for this job.
— Michael Kay (@RealMichaelKay) December 2, 2017
Of course, it’s impossible to say whether Boone will succeed as Yankees skipper. Among the novice managers hired over the past few years, some, such as Hinch and Roberts, have been great from the start. Others, such as Robin Ventura and Walt Weiss, have had a tougher time. Though Boone inherits an excellent roster, he also walks into huge expectations in a high-pressure media market. He could be great, he could be terrible or he could wind up with the vast majority of guys in his role: somewhere in between.
But before you criticize Cashman and company for replacing a World Series winner with an unqualified rookie, consider that maybe the Yankees know what they’re doing. Maybe in 2017, a manager can be both entirely inexperienced and also fully qualified for his role.