The marquees circling the outer rim of the Stadium proclaimed “The New York Yankees welcome Aaron Boone.”
And welcome him home, they did.
For the first time in a decade, there will be a new manager in the Bronx in 2018 with Boone officially feted as the 33rd skipper in team history on Wednesday, donning pinstripes again as if he never left following his heroic turn during the 2003 postseason.
“This is a special day for me and my family,” a beaming Boone, who was accompanied on stage by his wife Laura, said during his introductory press conference in the Bronx. “I want to thank the Steinbrenner family for entrusting me with this position…It feels like the chance of a lifetime for me.
“Obviously, this is a team with loads of talent, a team that in many ways came of age this year and arrived. I’m really comfortable that me and my staff will be part of helping this team take the next step.
“Obviously, the expectations here are to win championships.”
Despite having no prior coaching or managerial experience, Boone’s easy demeanor, wealth of knowledge and interpersonal skills helped him emerge as the clear frontrunner from a pool of six candidates — also including Hensley Meulens, Carlos Beltran, Rob Thomson, Eric Wedge and Chris Woodward — interviewed by GM Brian Cashman to replace the ousted Joe Girardi.
“It was a concern, there’s no doubt about it,” owner Hal Steinbrenner admitted about Boone’s lack of experience. “But it was clear that his knowledge of the game is very, very impressive. Of course he had his career, but he grew up around the game. It was evident in talking to him, the questions that were asked of him, that a great deal of wisdom was imparted to him his whole life.
“There was a difference of opinion among the (front office) as to who their No. 2 or No. 3 choice was, but there was little to no difference of opinion as to who their No. 1 choice was. It wasn’t even close, in their words.”
Aaron Boone returns to the franchise he helped reach the World Series in 2003 with this ALCS blast.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)
Cashman likened his hiring of Boone, who will wear No. 17, without managerial experience to his own ascension to the GM office after Bob Watson resigned in 1998, when George Steinbrenner took a chance on Cashman and offered him the job.
A third-generation major-leaguer along with his grandfather (Ray Boone), his father (Bob) and his brother (Bret), Aaron Boone played 12 major-league seasons as an infielder with Cincinnati (1997-2003), the Yankees (2003), Cleveland, Florida, Washington and Houston.
His walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the ‘03 ALCS against Boston’s Tim Wakefield propelled the Yankees to the World Series, which they lost to the Marlins. He suffered a torn ACL playing pickup basketball that offseason and never played for the Yanks again, prompting the team to acquire Alex Rodriguez as his third-base replacement.
“I appreciate it now. For a long time, I kind of distanced myself from it because we lost the World Series,” Boone said of his previous place in pinstriped lore. “I’ll never forget the Marlins celebrating on the field. It’s ingrained in my head.”
Back page of the New York Daily News for December 2, 2017
(New York Daily News)
Boone, 44, was driving his daughter — one of his four children – home from school when Cashman called last Thursday and informed him of the Yankees’ decision. He signed a three-year contract with a team option for 2021 to replace Girardi, who was not retained despite managing the Yanks to Game 7 of the ALCS against Houston in October.
Boone has served as a TV analyst for ESPN since retirement, but he reiterated that “a lifetime in baseball” prepared him for the challenge and admitted that such proximity to the game “was pulling me” to consider pursuing such a transition back into uniform.
“When I flew out for the interview (in November), I told a couple of people close to me, “I’m going to get this job. I want this job,’” Boone said. “This is an amazing opportunity for this team and where they are in their history. So that was my intent when I got on the plane to come here. It wasn’t about the exercise or the experience.”
Joe Torre (12 seasons) and Girardi (10) are the only others to manage the Yanks since 1996. Torre led them to four championships and Girardi won one, but the 2009 World Series title represents their only one over the past 17 seasons.
“Certainly the most important thing is going to be my relationship with players,” Boone said. “Hopefully it starts obviously with a relationship, but that’s a respect you earn. I think hopefully in short order I’ll be able to earn that respect.
“But I understand what I signed up for. I want to be part of chasing down and winning a championship.”