Aaron Boone: “I Make the Lineup”

Process used by Yankees manager to fill out lineup card is worrisome

Today is Day 71 of the lockout. It’s been more than 10 weeks since the baseball world was halted in the most inevitable and predictable shutdown of all time. An event years in the making only made more obvious by the events of nearly two years ago when at one point the owners and players couldn’t agree on playing 60 or 70 games in the pandemic-shortened season.

There has no been little to no news over the last two-plus months, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing since the only Yankees news prior to the lockout was the daily reminder that Hal Steinbrenner is as much like his dad as Michael Kay is as much like Vin Scully. Seemingly every hour leading up to the December lockout a different big-game free agent came off the board while the Yankees sat on their thumbs and grew that much closer to granting Brett Gardner’s wish of “running it back” with the same core and essentially the same roster that hasn’t been good enough for five straight seasons and has gotten progressively worse over that time. The only news since the first of December has been related to coaching hires, and even that news wasn’t any good, as the Yankees couldn’t even complete the hire of a valued baseball mind like Eric Chavez, who ended up going to the Mets.

Spring training is supposed to begin next week with pitchers and catchers reporting. We’re supposed to already be a week-plus into getting 15-second videos on social media of bullpen sessions for pitchers who have already started workouts. Instead, Major League Baseball is no closer to being a thing again than it was more than 10 weeks ago when Rob Manfred told us a lockout would expedite the collective bargaining process.

Way back in mid-October, the Yankees decided the status quo of being knocked out of the postseason as early as possible was something they wanted to continue to do as an organization and so they gave Aaron Boone a new contract. A month after that, Boone went on CC Sabathia’s podcast to speak about the 2021 season. Aside from saying the obvious, “As you might imagine, I don’t look at my mentions on my Twitter,” Boone said a lot on the podcast. And nothing was more important than when he said, “No one’s ever made a lineup for me. I make the lineup.” Nothing was more important than that statement and nothing was more upsetting than him elaborating on the process he uses to create his lineups.

I have always believed Boone when he has publicly stated he creates the Yankees’ lineup. Not because I think he’s an honest person. We know he’s far from being that after watching nearly 600 postgame press conferences filled with lies and exaggerations about his team’s performance and injuries. I believe him because there’s too much evidence to suggest otherwise. Any Yankees fan who has watched him mismanage and ruin countless games in four years as Yankees manager knows there’s no Ivy League graduate, analytics guru or data scientist who would ever come up with, support or defend the lineups Boone consistently puts together. No one with even a casual understanding of baseball would bat Gardner second (which he did 14 times in 2021), third (which he did three times in 2021) or fourth (which he did three times in 2021). That alone is enough to prove to me that Boone is telling the truth. He has said as much multiple times in recent seasons, including saying, “Ultimately, I’m writing out the lineup and I’m making these decisions,” when asked if he’s a puppet for the front office after the team’s 2020 ALDS loss to the Rays.

It’s not hard to fill out a major league lineup card, especially when it’s the lineup card of the New York Yankees. It should be as easy as it gets, yet this is the process Boone said he uses on Sabathia’s podcast.

“My process for making the lineup is actually a little bit different all the time. There’s the ebb and flow of the season. Let’s assume everyone is healthy and we’re not going to bed that night with ‘We’re waiting to find out if this guy’s available tomorrow.’ So if our guys are available, a lot of times, I’ll buzz by my coaches the night before going home where we may have a thought. A lot of times it’s usually with Mendy where I’ll just be like, ‘What do you think about this guy in tomorrow?’ And we’ll kind of bounce things off. When Marcus was here, I said, ‘What do you think of this guy in tomorrow? This guy out? What do you think about flipping these guys in the lineup?’ So that’s usually how it starts and then when I come in, usually I’ll come into my office and Mendy will follow me in and we’ll kind of go through our different things if theres a little tweak we want to make.

Boone said that’s the process he uses if the team is completely healthy. If he said that’s how he thought about things when the lineup was full of Greg Allen, Tim LoCastro, Estevan Florial, Ryan LaMarre and Rob Brantly in mid-July, it would be somewhat acceptable, but that’s the process he uses when “our guys are available?” He’s not even close to done explaining.

“Sometimes I’ll reach out to like I’ve even done this with Cash and Cash is not usually very much involved at all. But sometimes if I have a tough decision that I’m really wrestling with, I may call Cash on it. I may call Mendy on my way home. I may call Marcus Thames when he was here on my way home. When there’s that tough decision I have when I’m thinking about getting a different guy in tomorrow or sitting a guy a day, I may go to different people and ask their opinion on it, and then ultimately, I gotta decide which way I want to go.”

When Boone interviewed to be manager of the Yankees, he was so extraordinary that the front office canceled all other interviews and didn’t even hold a second round of interviews, handing Boone the job with no prior coaching experience at any level. I’m certain he didn’t explain this process in his supposed spectacular interview.

“We have a very strong analytics department that gives us so much information that kind of helps us decisions, give us context on what we’re seeing, what we’re looking at. And I think the reality is any of the really strong franchises are very strong analytically, but ultimately, the teams that do it the best are able to … the secret sauce is how do you strike the balance? Because every day is unique amongst itself, especially in a big league season when you’re playing 162 games. So you’ve gotta be able to strike the balance, but as Cash puts it, ‘We want to have a buffet of everything available to us,’ so that we can make really good decisions and I think we do that here even though we get criticized about it a lot.”

Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t know where it’s going. I just hope to find it somewhere along the way. Like an improv conversation. An improversation.

OK, that final part was from Michael Scott on The Office, but everything else came out of Boone’s mouth. Now knowing exactly how his lineup creation process works, I feel much more at ease about the team’s failure to meet expectations since he became manager because it makes perfect sense that someone who uses the above strategy to create a lineup would fail to meet expectations. The man who gave that answer was given a four-year extension to manage the sport’s winningest and most prestigious franchise, and in that time he will oversee the decisions of about $1 billion in payroll.

There’s much more to break down from Boone’s offseason appearance on Sabathia’s podcast. Coming tomorrow: Aaron Boone: ‘We’re Gonna Need a Shortstop.’

My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!