The mistake Aaron Boone can’t afford in make-or-break season

The mistake Aaron Boone can’t afford in make-or-break season

Before you rests two prisms through which to evaluate Aaron Boone’s postseason success as the Yankees’ manager:

0-for-3.

2-for-3.

0-for-3, in that he has managed three pinstriped playoffs and not advanced to a World Series, let alone win one.

2-for-3, in that two of those failed missions’ postmortems featured just as much discussion of Boone’s questionable strategy as any player performance malfunction.

Hence you can understand the criteria moving forward for Boone in 2021: If the top count sinks to 0-for-4, that could be survivable. But if the bottom number rises to 3-for-4, well, that represents a different conversation. You can’t manage the New York Yankees and find yourself annually reliving October misgivings.

Hal Steinbrenner confirmed the apparent on Tuesday when he told “The Michael Kay Show” (on ESPN Radio in New York), “Aaron Boone will be back next year. That’s just a fact.” The Yankees hold a team option on Boone for 2021 and the 47-year-old certainly has earned the right to give this another go. Really, the only people who deserve to lose their jobs from this kooky season are those who began it in serious peril and couldn’t find safe ground, and neither Boone nor his boss Brian Cashman fits that description.

Yet Boone didn’t emerge fully unscathed because of that darn ALDS Game 2, the contest the Yankees began undefeated for the tournament and finished having inspired more hot takes than a Tom Brady down miscount.

Steinbrenner (who didn’t sound thrilled with the Yankees offense, by the way) defended the still-confounding decision to deploy rookie Deivi Garcia as an opener and then switch to veteran J.A. Happ: “I thought the logic was sound. … But the bottom line is, in order for a plan to be successful, the different components of the plans have to be well executed. And that didn’t happen.”

For fairness’ sake, Boone didn’t come up with the plan on his own, nor should any manager be doing so in 2020. The game has changed for the better in that way. However, just as the manager must collaborate with his superiors, so must he secure buy-in with his players in order to optimize them. Happ clearly disagreed with the decision, and even if he was the only current Yankees player to feel that way, Yankees special adviser CC Sabathia expressed his confusion over what went down, too (as he did on his “R2C2” podcast).

Ironically, questionable management of Sabathia two years ago constituted a large part of that year’s Boone-doggle (sorry). In the 2018 ALDS loss to the Red Sox, Boone displayed a slow trigger finger as Luis Severino in Game 3 and then Sabathia in Game 4 dug holes for their teammates. The next year, Boone gradually acknowledged that he learned from his mistakes, and the 2019 ALCS loss to the Astros featured plenty of heartbreak and no memorable managerial miscues. Then came the 2020 ALDS, which offered both for Yankees fans.

Steinbrenner called Boone “a good baseball man. He’s a good leader. He has the respect of the players,” and I believe all of that to be true. Let’s not forget the work he did during last year’s “Next Man Up” regular season, when he guided the Yankees to a 103-59 record despite a record-setting number of injuries. His placid, “Every little thing gonna be all right” news-conference demeanor, a steady irritant to passionate fans, paid off by coming true.

Nevertheless, if baseball postseasons might not be reliably evaluative or predictive due to their small samples, they can make a huge difference financially. If a team can’t sell tickets to playoff games due to a pandemic, it still can monetize championships with memorabilia and, if this country ever gets its act together, future attendance for flag-raising, team reunions and the like. Therefore it’s hard to walk away from too many October disappointments talking extensively about the manager without repercussions.

So not only must Boone direct his Yankees into the playoffs next year, but he must excel with at least a sound process, if not ideal results, when he arrives there. Fair enough? It’s like that T-shirt slogan: “Keep Calm and Don’t Screw Up.” It sounds like a doable task for a good baseball man.

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