TAMPA — Not that there was much doubt, but on his first day in a Yankee uniform, Aaron Boone left the distinct impression that he will be much more like Joe Torre than Joe Girardi.
In fact, to hear the new manager talk, you couldn’t help but think that 10 years later, with hard feelings between the two long since washed away, GM Brian Cashman wanted a latter-day Torre.
A younger, more analytics-friendly version, to be sure, but Boone clearly wants to create a Torre-like environment in his first year on the job, as he emphasized the importance of having a clubhouse where “guys are at ease,” one where “it’s not a stressful place.”
Torre’s great strength, remember, was his human touch that helped create a bond within the clubhouse, which may or may not have provided intangibles vital to winning four championships in five seasons, from 1996-2000.
Meanwhile, when Girardi was fired last fall, Cashman indicated it was largely because the manager’s day-to-day intensity created tension that wore players out and made the young ones, in particular, uncomfortable.
Obviously Girardi’s style didn’t inhibit a young team in 2017 from making a surprise run to Game 7 of the ALCS, but Cashman’s feeling seemed to be that with higher expectations, such clubhouse tension would continue to build and eventually take a toll.
So here was Boone on Tuesday, using catchwords and key phrases about making the game fun for the players that had an anti-Girardi feel to them. More than that, however, he sounded like he wanted to take what he learned from his own experience playing under Torre and apply it.
In particular, Boone recalled fondly how comfortable Torre made him feel when he joined the Yankees during the 2003 season after being traded from the Reds.
“Just his presence, his kind of soothing nature,” Boone said, remembering walking into Torre’s office that first day. “His ability to put me at ease in what’s a whirlwind experience when you get traded, especially coming to a place like New York.
“So hopefully I take a little piece of what I thought he was great at into this job. I just think there’s a way communicating, a presence. Not necessarily the words you say but maybe the presence that he had.”
Torre’s presence served a dual purpose during his era: creating a comfort level among his players while also serving to shield them from George Steinbrenner’s famously harsh public criticism.
These days the manager has no such concerns with the more temperate Hal Steinbrenner in the owner’s box, yet teams are also more protective of players than ever in what seems at least partly to be a response to the social media culture.
In any case, Boone was hired primarily because he is such a natural at communicating, not because he’s a genius at knowing when to put on the hit-and-run.
Or maybe he does have a Billy Martin-like knack for pulling off a squeeze bunt, but how would anybody know since he’s never managed or even coached?
Times have changed in baseball, obviously, so we’ll have to wait to see how Boone handles in-game strategy decisions, or the second-guessing that comes with it in New York.
For now, well, the new manager appears to be as advertised, very much at ease in press conference-settings, showing a sense of humor that should serve him well and an understanding of what comes with this job.
When asked about the “circus” aspect of having Giancarlo Stanton joining a team that is now expected to win a championship, for example, Boone didn’t flinch.
“It beats the alternative, it really does,” he said. “At the end of the day you want all the buzz that’s certainly apparent when I’m back in New York, and all the excitement that’s being generated by where we are as a franchise.
“One of my messages to the team will be to embrace that expectation. Expect to go out there and be great. With that comes this kind of attention. We’re not going to run from that. We’re going to embrace that we’re going to expect to be great.”
Referencing Torre again, Boone said the tone of such a message may be more important than the words themselves, and it’s clearly something that he wants to replicate at least in some ways.
So while Boone talked a lot about preparation, with the implied understanding that analytics would dictate much of his decision-making, what stood out in his first day on the job was his emphasis on creating relationships with his players that would build trust and also allow him to, as he put it, “challenge players” to do things the right way.
Likewise, he wants his players to make a point of having fun playing the game, while understanding the need to practice and play “with an intensity and an expectation of greatness.”
It all sounds great in theory, and certainly Boone seems very capable of having a Torre-like touch with players. Yet the truth is there’s just no way to know yet if he can manage as well as either Joe Torre or Girardi.