Forward Thinking – Tony LaRussa Helps Prove My Point
In my first off-season article discussing what the Yankees need to do to build for 2021, I stated that the Yankees should bring back Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone (which they are, of course doing, but when I wrote the original post, there was speculation, as far-fetched as it was, that either, or both, could, should, or would be gone) but in brining Boone back, I suggested the following:
“I (would) insist that Aaron Boone to search far and wide for a brilliant longtime baseball mind, a person with a wealth of knowledge and experience, to be his bench coach. Boone needs a Don Zimmer type sitting next to him in the dugout. He needs the sage voice who offers perspectives and also challenges his thinking to offer necessary perspectives that become the little things that often make a difference. I believe that a great bench coach, a man who knows the game, would help Aaron Boone immensely. That voice…should also come from outside the current organization. The teams needs some fresh eyes to make critical and essential decisions.”
I still stand by that assessment. I believe the Yankees desperately need an old “baseball” person sitting next to Boone, game-in-and-game-out to guide him and teach him the finer points of managing a baseball game. I also think the Yankees need someone next to Boone who challenges his thinking.
This is not to say that organizations shouldn’t embrace the most cutting-edge approaches to managing. They should, and they must. There is, absolutely, a place for forward thinking – for innovation, for advanced stats and metrics, and all of that, but one of the main aspects that has been missing on the Yankees since they moved on from Joe Girardi has been in having a sage baseball mind in the dugout that understands the game as it is played on the field. The Yankees have not had that wise old baseball guy on the bench offering different perspectives to Aaron Boone and challenging his thinking.
The Yankees are poorer because of this. Leaders need to be pushed. Leaders need to be challenged. Leaders do not need a staff of subordinates that all have the same philosophy as the boss. From the outside, it seems as though Aaron Boone has this. The Yankees’ staff seems to be of one mind. While that sounds good, it is not, necessarily, a good thing.
(As an aside, this is also what Brian Cashman has in Aaron Boone – a similar thinker. And that might be the biggest problem the Yankees have managerially or even organizationally.)
I believe organizations work better when there are people who challenge the conventional wisdom. For the Yankees, the in-the-box thinking is the whole trend towards the new analytics. It is somewhat ironic, that for the Yankees of today, the out-of-the-box thinkers would be the people who share the perspectives of the older baseball minds – the ones who look beyond the statistics, the charts, the trends, and the numbers and who look more to how the players play and who focus on less quantifiable traits like character, heart, passion, and such.
Long-time readers of this blog know that I have always felt that the Yankees needed more of Buck Showalter’s older school approach than Boone’s newer philosophy. The Yankees we have watched the last three years have been less sound fundamentally than other teams and have lacked energy or enthusiasm. The Yankees of today seem too corporate – too numbers driven.
Along with this, the most confounding decisions we have seen have all seemed to come from statistics rather than by what is actually happening on the field. Maybe this can best be stated by noting that when it comes to in-game decisions, the Yankees often do not operate with what might be called “baseball common sense.” (Some general examples of this are removing pitchers who are throwing well, sitting players who are enjoying hot streaks, and sending up pinch-hitters just because they bat from the opposite side from a pitcher.) The Yankees make decisions that are easily defendable by “the book” even if they don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense at the time.
I believe that this all would be solved by bringing in a bench coach who offers different perspectives to Aaron Boone as he manages. The Yankees need someone to look at baseball and the game differently than Boone does. They need an old baseball guy.
The White Sox, just like the Yankees, are close, very close, to being a championship team. In order to get them to that next level, they went way out of the box by going back into the box and hiring an old school baseball manager – Tony LaRussa.
Old school baseball. That is what LaRussa brings. This is what the Yankees also need – again, not to manage the team itself, that is Aaron Boone’s job, but to guide Boone and offer ideas that are not found in statistics and on charts.
When I thought of this idea for Boone, the first person I thought of for this role was Bobby Cox. As an old-time, Hall-of-Fame manager, I felt he’d be non-threatening. I doubt he’d want to manage again. Instead, he’d be the old sage, the veteran, the smart baseball man who relates to the game from long ago,. In my thinking, I also thought that it would be impossible for a Hall-of-Fame manager to come back into the game. Tony LaRussa has proven me wrong. I LOVE the fact that the White Sox have gone so far out of the box that they are bringing him back to manage. This is a brilliant move and one that should result in immediate success. The White Sox have a new manager with instant credibility.
I hope the Yankees see this move and consider it in relation to their own team. The Yankees already have a manager, but they have one who has not yet fully established himself. The Yankees need to think ahead by considering the past. They need to move ahead by thinking backwards.
In Aaron Boone’s case, he would have to be actively involved in the interviewing and hiring of this sage old bench coach. The person would have to be a great baseball mind, but would not be a threat to Boone’s position. While I’d love the Yankees’ bench coach to be Buck Showalter, I don’t think he would fit well in this role because he would seem to be an immediate threat to Boone – the heir apparent if the Yankees stumble.
Instead, the Yankees need someone who would be less threatening. Bobby Cox would be perfect in this role. Bruce Botchy too. Or what about another old manager… a Hall-of-Famer himself and one with some success in New York…
Joe Torre… are you interested?