The Off-Season: Building A Reputation
By Tim Kabel
February 26, 2022
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Abraham Lincoln
Today, I find myself in the unlikely and unexpected position of defending and agreeing with Aaron Boone. As far as I know, I have not sustained a head injury, nor have I taken leave of my senses. As anyone who has read any of my columns would agree, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a big fan of Aaron Boone. However. I believe that when someone is right, it needs to be acknowledged. This does not mean that Aaron Boone and I are about to become bowling buddies or swap recipes for tuna casserole. It means in this particular instance; I agree with him and will defend him.
About a week ago, Aaron Boone gave an interview to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Boone responded to a recent criticism of him that described him as “a data applicator”. Boone stated, “One thing rubbed me wrong. They called me a data applicator., like I am not a baseball guy and just some data applicator. I have been in this game all my life, bro. I am as baseball through-and-through as anyone. Just because I have been open minded and grown in the game doesn’t mean I am anymore old school or new school than I have ever been. You are an idiot if you are not aware of all of it.”
That was a typically rambling quote from Boone. Ironically, he was brought in to manage the Yankees due in large part to his skill as a broadcaster and his reputation as a communicator. His statements in press conferences are often extremely confusing, vague, and devoid of much logic. In this particular quote, he was addressing the fact that he is viewed as merely a button pusher, who simply plugs in data and follows whatever the formulas tell him to do. He is also perceived by many as a puppet of Brian Cashman and other front office folks. Let’s look into this a little more deeply.
Boone is correct. He has been in baseball his whole life, and he is from a family that has been immersed in the sport for decades. However, simply being in the family business does not make you competent, or an expert. Just ask Fredo Corleone. I believe Boone does have a wealth of baseball knowledge. He has absorbed a lot by playing, announcing, and growing up with his father as a player. His grandfather and brother were also major leaguers. I think Boone does know a lot about baseball but, translating that knowledge to skill as a manager Is not his forte. Boone presents as being distant and somewhat disconnected from his players. Having knowledge and using it are two different things.
As far as Boone being a data applicator, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment either. When I think of someone who is a data applicator, I think of someone who is immersed in statistics, figures and information, who processes it all through some formula to reach a conclusion of some kind. I think Boone is open to the use of analytics, because he really doesn’t have any other choice. The Yankees’ organization Is committed to the use of analytics and statistics. In order to obtain and subsequently keep the job as the Yankees manager, Boone had to realize that and be committed to it. However, I don’t believe he is fully immersed into the use of analytics. I see him more as the student who uses CliffsNotes to prepare for a test on Macbeth rather than reading the actual play. He seems like someone who does enough to get by rather than someone who is a true devotee of analytics.
The last point I would like to address is the perception of Boone as a puppet of Brian Cashman and other front office personnel. I don’t believe he is. I think certain decisions and lineup choices may be strongly suggested to him but, I think the in-game decisions are entirely his. He may be attempting to adhere to an overall organizational philosophy but, during the game, he is the one making the decisions. Watch Boone during a game. He chews on his nails, stares intently at the field, and blows bubbles incessantly. He seems nervous and almost overwrought. Think about it. If someone else was making the decisions, why would he act like that? If you work in mid-level management, and your boss makes it clear he will handle all employee vacation requests, you are not going to worry about whether Ralph is going to have the day after Thanksgiving off. It’s not your decision. If Ralph scurries into your office and asks you about it, you can simply say, “It’s not my decision.” There is no stress; there are no worries. When employees are bickering over who will get time off and who won’t, you can stand in the parking lot, twirling a hula hoop on your hips. The decision has been taken out of your hands. Boone does not act like a man who has had decision making taken out of his hands. He seems to agonize over everything.
Basically, Boone was complaining about his reputation. He was offended by remarks he either read or heard. To summarize, I don’t believe the comments made about Boone were accurate. I think he does have a tremendous library of knowledge and experience about baseball. You can’t stand in a pool of water without getting wet. I also don’t believe that he’s a data applicator. I don’t think he is that deeply immersed into analytics that he would or could be one. I further don’t believe he’s a puppet. It’s clear he is making the decisions during the game.
I believe Boone is simply in over his head. I think he does make decisions but, it is a struggle for him. As far as his baseball knowledge, he strikes me as being similar to the fellow who comes up with a witty retort ten minutes after he was insulted. The knowledge is there but, taking it and applying it in the moment, or even thinking a few steps ahead are not things Boone does well.
I believe the Yankees have underachieved during Boone’s tenure as manager. They have had success but, they have several very talented players and a strong roster that should have taken them deeper into the playoffs. They also have the financial resources to acquire players when they need to. Boone is an affable fellow who means well but, his career as Yankees’ manager will be regarded by Yankees’ fans in the same way that the presidency of Franklin Pierce is regarded by historians. Both men were decidedly unremarkable.
I understand Boone decrying the criticism he received. The statements to which he took umbrage were unfair and inaccurate. However, that does not make him a good manager. The problem is that the criticism levied against him was the wrong criticism. He is inadequate as a manager but not for the reasons cited. Boone was well within his rights to defend himself but, he should not delude himself into thinking he is the second coming of Casey Stengel.