Aaron Boone Is Full of Excuses for Yankees’ Championship-Less Season

The Yankees manager doesn't think the team's shortcomings are any fault of his

Aaron Boone will be the manager of the Yankees in 2021. At least the Yankees say he will be. He hasn’t signed a new contract yet, but Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have said and reiterated that Boone is their guy and that he will once again lead the team in its current championship window for a fourth season.

It’s a regrettable decision. The last three regular seasons and postseasons have proven so. Boone took the job as an inexperienced candidate with zero coaching experience at any level, let alone any managerial experience at any level. His lack of experience was apparent from his very first spring training when he tried to bring Dellin Betances into a game even though Boone hadn’t yet called on Betances to warm up yet. Boone’s inexperience was exposed throughout the 2018 regular season, culminating in a disastrous Game 3 and 4 in the ALDS when he single-handedly helped lead the team to postseason elimination.

His second season wasn’t any better, filled with a multitude of mistakes and head-scratching choices, and his third season, the season which just concluded, was his worst of all. Boone has yet to evolve, progress or develop as a major league manager. He made the same mistakes in 2020 that he made in 2018, and he somehow made even more egregious postseason mistakes in 2020 than he had in 2018 and 2019 combined. Simply put, Boone is undeserving of continuing to be Yankees manager. He hasn’t earned a second contract with the team after his initial three-year contract turned out to be a bust. Despite no longer being contractually obligated to Boone, and despite no longer owning him a single penny, the Yankees are going to bring him back, hoping for a different result than the last three seasons have provided.

If Boone’s actual in-game management over three seasons wasn’t enough of a weak resume for anyone to easily determine he should no longer hold his current position, his end-of-the-season press conference on Wednesday reinforced the fact that he’s unqualified for his current position, and should no longer be in that position.

On the lack of consistency in 2020.
“That’s probably one of my biggest frustrations.  I take a lot of pride in creating an environment that no matter what’s going on with the rigors of a season … injuries, people dealing with different things. Obviously, this year dealing with the Covid environment, that was a challenge, but creating an environment that we’re able to take advantage of that. And I think that over the course of the length of the season, the peaks and valleys I felt should have been better despite some of the challenges we faced at different times of the year with injuries, so that part is a little bit frustrating. I feel like we’re better than our overall record would have shown.”

I forgot the Rays and Astros didn’t have any injuries and didn’t play baseball in the middle of a global pandemic like the Yankees had and had to.

The Yankees went 33-27 in the 60-game shortened season, which projects out to an 89-63 record in a normal, 162-game season. That’s not good. Well, it’s good if you’re a team from Toronto or Baltimore, or now Boston, but it’s not good for the Yankees.

The Yankees began the season 16-6 then went 5-15, rebounded with a 10-0 run, and finished the season losing six of eight. Boone said he was “frustrated” by the lack of consistency from his team, yet he’s the one who’s supposed to prevent a lack of consistency. His lineup decisions, in-game bullpen decisions, load management and unnecessary rest for everyday players were all questionable throughout the entire shortened season. And they were his decisions, and not the analytics department or front office’s decisions, as many Yankees fans and Boone supporters (are there any of those left?) have always refuted. Boone made it clear all lineup and pitching decisions are his during the press conference. 

On not being a “puppet” for the front office and analytics team.
“Ultimately, I’m writing out the lineup and I’m making these decisions.”

No Yankees fan can ever blame a nonsensical lineup card or horrific call to the bullpen on the front office or analytics department ever again. Boone was adamant during the press conference that he’s the one who makes the decisions regarding the game being played on the field.

If you were under the impression the nerds, statistical analysts and Ivy League graduates on Cashman’s team were the reason for Lance Lynn relieving Luis Severino with the bases loaded and no outs in Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS, or CC Sabathia being allowed to face the entire Red Sox’ lineup a second time just so he could match up against their 9-hitter in Game 4 of the 2018 ALDS, or Brett Gardner batting third in the 2019 playoffs, or Clint Frazier sitting for Gardner in 2020 postseason or Gary Sanchez being benched for Kyle Higashioka this October or Mike Ford being used a pinch hitter with the season on the line instead of Frazier or Sanchez in Game 5 against the Rays, just know it was Boone all along. And if you thought the idiotic ALDS Game 2 pitching strategy against the Rays was an organizational decision, it wasn’t. Boone said so several times.

On the decision to open Game 2 with Deivi Garcia and then go right to J.A. Happ in Game 2 of the ALDS.
“Well, its something we started to really discuss right after the Cleveland series about how we’re going to line up. Obviously, we know we’re up against another really good team in Tampa and one of the things that makes Tampa a really special club is how they’ve constructed their roster to exploit platoon advantages, and it was simply a matter of ultimately, probably going to go with J.A. Happ in one of those games and for a team that can probably shoot out seven, eight right-handed hitters against him if you want, and if they would have wanted to, just a way of trying to create a little of a platoon for J.A. in that game.”

There’s a scene in The Office where David Wallace asks Michael Scott what his philosophy on management is. Here is Scott’s answer:

“My philosophy is basically this, and this is something that I live by, and I always have, and I always will: Don’t ever, for any reason do anything, to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going …”

That incoherent answer was purposely written for a comedic sitcom, and yet it matches Boone’s incoherent answer as to why he decided to implement a pitching strategy which was  first-guessed by everyone as it was made and not second-guessed after the result. Boone’s answer makes zero sense.

Ultimately (yes, I’m going to use Boone’s favorite word), Boone wanted to coerce his counterpart, the much smarter Kevin Cash, into writing out a left-handed-heavy lineup card to face Garcia and then … Voila! … Boone would bring the left-handed Happ into the game to face a left-handed lineup. The problem is Happ sucks. He has sucked since Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS. For two calendar years, Happ has proven to be unable to get good major league hitters out. Sure, he won some games against the 2020 Red Sox, Mets and Orioles, but none of those three teams sniffed the postseason in a season in which 16 of the majors’ 30 teams went to the postseason. Boone wasn’t tricking Cash into playing mostly lefties and then bringing in Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale or Blake Snell. He was bringing in Happ. Rather than use a 21-year-old starting pitcher who proved more than capable of being successful in the majors and who would serve as a mystery to the Rays at least the first time through the order, Boone had Happ warming up the second Garcia threw his first pitch of the game.

Garcia for one inning and Happ for as long as he could go was the plan no matter, and Boone stuck with it. He stuck with it for 2 2/3 innings as Happ put nine runners on base, allowed four earned runs and two home runs, walked three, hit a batter and made an error. With a 1-0 series lead and with a chance to put the Rays on the brink of elimination, Boone made a monumentally awful decision. One that will forever stain his legacy as a manger and one that cost the Yankees their season.

On his contract as Yankees manager expiring and on getting a new contract.
“Not worried. I love doing this. I love being a part of this organization. To get to work for Hal and the Steinbrenner family, and Brian Cashman and his staff is a privilege and an honor and something that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Honestly, I’ve never worried about my status year by year or moving forward. I kind of feel like that will all take care of itself.”

Boone might be the only person in the world other than a firefighter, police officer or tenured teacher who isn’t worried about his job security. Even in a contract year, and even with his contract expiring, Boone isn’t worried. He’s so comfortable in his role and he’s so comfortable with a pair of first-round exits and an ALCS loss over the last three Octobers that he “honestly” has never worried about not being the Yankees manager in 2021. 

On the three postseason exits.
“We lose to Boston when we’re a couple feet from Gary’s ball going out and forcing a Game 5 where they’ve already shot their man guy and they go on to win the World Series. Obviously, last year, with Houston, having a grueling series with them. Going down tied in the eighth inning in Game 5 against Tampa who’s now looking like they’re on their way to a World Series. So we understand the club we have, how close, and that does add to the disappointment because you realize how close you are to being a championship team and just haven’t been able to get over the hump yet.”

Now I understand better why Boone has never thought for a second about his future as Yankees manager, and it’s because he doesn’t think the Yankees’ lack of postseason success over the last three years is in any way his fault.

Boone thinks the Yankees lost the 2018 ALDS to the Red Sox because the New York October weather didn’t allow Sanchez’s fly ball to clear the left-field wall, not because his Game 3 starter didn’t know time the game started, not because he kept his Game 3 starter in for too long and then went to at best the sixth-best option in his bullpen and not because he once again left his starter in for too long in Game 4. Had Sanchez hit a game-winning grand slam, Boone figures the Yankees would have automatically won Game 5 and then endured the same postseason success the Red Sox eventually did, which would have meant beating the Astros in the ALCS and Dodgers in the World Series. It’s that easy!

On any current injuries or offseason surgeries scheduled.
“Uh, gosh … No, I don’t believe we have anything coming on the books.”

Boone had to think about this one. He paused and stammered before providing his answer. Gosh, how is the Yankees manager unsure of the team’s current injury situation?

Two years ago, Boone failed to mention Didi Gregorius needed Tommy John surgery and would miss nearly the first half of the 2019 season until his press conference had already ended. Last season, the Yankees were unaware James Paxton would need back surgery right before spring training from an injury suffered in his final regular-season start in September. They failed to evaluate Severino’s elbow after he complained of pain in the postseason and then he needed Tommy John surgery early in spring training. Rather than miss only 2020, Severino will now miss half of 2021 as well. They didn’t think it was necessary to check in on Aaron Judge who suffered a broken rib and collapsed lung diving in September, an injury that didn’t get properly diagnosed until this past spring and would have kept him out of the first half of a 162-game season.

On benching Sanchez for Kyle Higashioka.
“I still have a ton of confidence in Gary Sanchez, I know it was a tough year for him, but I’ll go back to, as I’ve said a lot of times over the last few weeks, I do feel like he was different guy over the last month of the season.”

Boone has so much confidence in Sanchez and he thought Sanchez played so well over the last month of the season that he played him in two of seven postseason games. He played Sanchez in one of the five game in the ALDS after Sanchez single-handedly saved the Yankees’ season in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. Sanchez’s go-ahead, two-run home run against the Indians tried to win the game for the Yankees until Boone’s bullpen management gave away that lead. And then in the ninth, trailing by one run with the bases loaded and one out, Sanchez’s game-tying sacrifice fly saved the game for the Yankees with the team’s last chance to drive in the game-tying run without needing a base hit. It saved the Yankees’ season because had the Yankees lost that game, they would have played for their season the following night with Happ on the mound, and we saw how he fares against teams which are actually good a few nights later.

On the offense not being the reason the Yankees lost to the Rays.
“Over the course of even a championship run, you’re going to have to win games … 2-1, 1-0, 3-2. You’re going to have those games … I don’t necessarily look at offense being the issue with our demise this year.”

Boone has never won the World Series, so he doesn’t really know what it takes to win a championship, even though he constantly talks as if he knows. As a player, he played in one postseason. Certainly, that’s not his fault, but in that one postseason, he posted a .498 OPS over 58 plate appearances. He did however hit his famous Game 7 home run in that postseason, a home run that got him his current job because without it, he would just be a random third baseman the Yankees traded for at the 2003 deadline. That home run got the Yankees to the World Series, a World Series they lost. It made the Red Sox hungrier than ever for a championship, and they went out and made significant trades and moves to finally overtake the Yankees in historic fashion for baseball and embarrassing fashion for the Yankees. That home run did much more harm than it did good since its good only last another six games and the harm is still affecting the Yankees 17 years later.

On the Yankees being close to winning a championship.
“I also want to make sure we keep in perspective how close we are. Again, we lost Game 5 in a game we’re tied in the eighth inning to a team that is 3-0 right now in the ALCS.”

If I had a dollar for every time Boone mentioned “how close the Yankees are to winning a championship” in his press conference, I would have enough money to give the Steinbrenner family to use to re-sign DJ LeMahieu this offseason since they will likely talk about how they poor they suddenly are from the fan-less and shortened 2020 season. They have already started sharing hints of this, as Steinbrenner did on The Michael Kay Show this week.

On anything he needs to change or do differently next season.
“There’s nothing yet that I’m wholesale changing.”

Boone doesn’t think he needs to change anything. He has managed a team in a championship window to zero championships. His teams have failed to get out of the division series twice. He managed the preseason American League favorite to a .550 winning percentage and the sixth-best record in the AL. (They wouldn’t have made the playoffs in the usual five-team format.) He decided on the Game 2 pitching strategy. HE USED MIKE FORD AS A PINCH HITTER WITH GARY SANCHEZ AND CLINT FRAZIER AVAILABLE IN A WINNER-TAKE-ALL GAME AFTER FOR WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO BE ON THE YANKEES’ 28-MAN ROSTER IN SEPTEMBER AND THEN HE CITED ON-BASE PERCENTAGE AS TO WHY HE USED FORD WHEN FORD HAD A .226 ON-BASE PERCENTAGE THIS SEASON. But no, Boone doesn’t need to change anything.

On the Yankees being as good as whichever team wins the World Series.
“I understand the frustration of the fan base, but I think if you really look at it, it’s razor thin between us and the team that’s going to win the World Series this year. I do believe we are going to get there.”

It’s not really razor thin. The difference between winning and losing the ALDS didn’t come down to Aroldis Chapman giving up a home run in the eighth inning of Game 5. It came down to having a lack of starting pitching and a lack of trustworthy pitching which lost the Yankees Games 2 and 3. It came from a lack of lineup balance which lost the Yankees Game 5. Boone is completely disregarding that had the Yankees gotten past the Rays (which they didn’t), they still would have had to win eight more games and navigate two postseason rounds without an actual rotation and with only three trustworthy relievers.

If the Yankees had won Game 5, what were they going to do in the ALCS? Game 5 of the ALDS was on Friday and Game 1 of the ALCS was on Sunday. Gerrit Cole had just thrown 97 high-intensity pitches on three days rest on Friday. Normal rest for him would have been Game 4 on Wednesday. Let’s say the Yankees were going to use him in Game 3 on short rest again, so they could have him for Game 7 for a third straight start on short rest. They would never use Masahiro Tanaka on short rest since they like to give him extra rest and had just used their season-altering ALDS Game 2 strategy in order to give him an extra day of rest. That means Tanaka couldn’t pitch Game 1 because it would have been on three days rest, but he could pitch Game 2.

Here is a rough outline of what the Yankees’ rotation for the ALCS would have looked like if Tanaka had pitched on normal rest and if the Yankees were willing to pitch Cole on short rest for three consecutive starts:

Sunday, Game 1: ?
Monday, Game 2: Masahiro Tanaka (four days rest)
Tuesday, Game 3: Gerrit Cole (three days rest)
Wednesday, Game 4: Jordan Montgomery (five days rest)
Thursday, Game 5: ?
Friday, Game 6: ?
Saturday, Game 7: Gerrit Cole

Who would the Yankees have started in Games 1, 5 and 6 of the ALCS? Happ? HA! Garcia? They wouldn’t let him really start in the ALDS. Michael King? That went well in the regular season. Chad Green? Then who would pitch the middle high-leverage innings? Jonathan Loaisiga? He was doing so well in October. Nick Nelson? How is he even on the postseason roster?

The offense would have had to score at least eight runs against the Astros in at least three ALCS games, and even that might not have been enough. And let’s say by some miracle the Yankees were able to slug their way to the World Series, the starting pitching situation for the World Series would have only gotten worse with Cole needing to pitch even more on short rest and eventually Tanaka and the others needing to as well.

The difference this season wasn’t “razor thin” and it wasn’t last year or the year before either. The Yankees were at a distinct roster disadvantage in all three seasons, and they needed to capitalize on every available opportunity where their manager might be able to exploit an advantage over the Red Sox, Astros or Rays and they never did. He never did.


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