I have come to the realization the Yankees won’t play more than 162 games this year. There won’t be postseason Yankees baseball this October. Sure, there’s a chance the Yankees could get into the one-game, wild-card playoff, but with 11 games remaining against the Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays, it’s hard to envision it after the 7-15 performance they just put together against the Angels, Orioles, Blue Jays, Mets, Twins and Indians. I’m prepared for the only October baseball the Yankees play in 2021 to be the final three games of the regular season against the Rays, scheduled for the first weekend in October.
Aaron Boone won’t survive this disastrous season. He can’t. When the team you manage is expected to reach the World Series and you don’t even reach the postseason in a five-team format in which one-third of the league gets into the playoffs, you don’t get to come back from that. Even in the unlikely chance the Yankees somehow get into the wild-card game, simply getting there isn’t an accomplishment, and winning it and advancing to the ALDS isn’t something to be proud of. A fifth ALCS loss in the last 12 years wouldn’t be something to celebrate either. The measuring stick for if Boone gets another contract when this one expires should be reaching the World Series, which is what the Yankees were one win away from doing when he was inexplicably hired to be manager without ever spending even a single day as a coach at any level. Since the day he was hired, the team has gone backward, despite the league around them getting worse.
When each Yankees season has ended under Boone, he has always been quick to mention how the postseason margin has been “razor thin” between his team and the teams that have gone on to actually win the World Series.
“It’s important we realize how close we are and how razor thin the margin is when you get into the postseason,” Boone said on the first day of spring training this year. “It’s the bounce of the ball, it’s one play, it’s one pitch, and we feel like we’re certainly very close to that.”
Boone mentioned the bounce of the ball or one play or one pitch, but he didn’t say “or one game when you come up with the most idiotic pitching plan in franchise history to force J.A. Happ into a playoff game,” like he did last October.
In 2018, the Yankees lost in four games to the Red Sox in the ALDS. They lost both Games 3 and 4 at home and were outscored 20-4. It’s hard to agree with him that the Yankees were close to getting past the Red Sox when they finished eight games behind them in the regular season and then were run out of their own stadium against them in the postseason. Not exactly a thin margin.
In 2019, the Yankees lost the ALCS in six games after hitting .214/.289/.673 as a team and getting 23 2/3 innings from their starters, leaving the bullpen fatigued and ineffective. The Yankees lost four of the last five games of the series. The margin was thinner than 2018, but not exactly the coin flip Boone would like you to believe.
Then there was 2020, a series which Boone single-handedly flipped on his own when he tried to pull a fast one on the best manager in the game in Kevin Cash in Game 2, using Happ as a reliever beginning in the second inning against the left-handed-heavy lineup Cash had constructed. Boone was bringing in Happ, whose career was running on fumes. Not a high-quality lefty like Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale. The plan backfired, the Yankees lost Game 2 and Game 3, and eventually Game 5 when the bats disappeared like they have done in every October for the last 11 years.
“Yeah, I do feel like it’s that close, and I felt that way in ’18 and I felt that way in ’19, and last year, we’re late in the game against the team that goes on to the World Series again,” Boone said. “So we have to find a way to get over that last hump and beat that team that’s going on to the World Series.”
The thing Boone fails to understand is simply beating the Red Sox in 2018 or Astros in 2019 or Rays in 2020 wouldn’t have automatically resulted in a parade in the Canyon of Heroes. In 2018, the Yankees still would have had to beat the Astros and then the Dodgers, in 2019, the Nationals, and in 2020, the Astros and Dodgers. If you lose in the division series to the team that eventually represents the AL in the World Series, it doesn’t mean that you would have represented the AL in the World Series if you had won your division series.
Barring a miraculous run over the next month, Boone will have never gotten over the hump as manager of the Yankees. That won’t stop him from spewing his never-ending positivity over the remaining 11 regular-season games, no matter how fake or contrived it might be. I believe Boone goes over the top with his defense of his players and their effort because he has nothing else.
He’s clearly not that communicator he was advertised to be when hired. We know that from the instances like Luis Severino not knowing the start time of the Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS, Sanchez telling ESPN he was never talked to about his 2020 postseason benching and Boone simply trying to sweep Domingo German’s 2019 and 2020 absence under the rug before Zack Britton stepped up and all but forced Boone to have German address the clubhouse.
When it comes to lineup construction, bullpen management and in-game decision making, Boone is the worst in the league, given the team he manages, the roster and personnel at his disposal and the expectations for his club. His postgame press conferences have become better suited for Comedy Central than YES and the buzz words and phrases he has been recycling since early April are still being used in late September as the threat of missing the postseason isn’t just a possible outcome for the season, it’s the likely outcome for the season. The schedule says so. Simple math says so.
All that leaves Boone with is his glowing optimism that there’s always tomorrow and that there will be another game for the Yankees to play. Except after Oct. 3 there probably won’t be.
On Saturday, Gary Sanchez dropped a foul pop-up that should have been the second out of an inning, in which the Indians turned a 1-0 lead into a 8-0 lead. In reality, the inning and game getting out of hand wasn’t Sanchez’s fault. Sure, his error gave the Indians an extra out to work with, but it wasn’t the third out of the inning and Luis Gil would have had to get another out, even if Sanchez had made the routine play. Prior to Monday’s game against the Rangers, Boone defended Sanchez, leading to this exchange during Monday’s game on YES.
Michael Kay: “Did you ever have a manager who was so overwhelmingly positive the way Boone is?”
David Cone: “No, definitely not.”
After 150-plus games, the broadcasters with the same employer as the team’s manager were openly questioning the manager. It has been commonplace for John Sterling to voice his frustrations with the performance and effort of the team over the years during bad stretches, especially in 2021, but here was the voice of the Yankees and the best color commentator in the sport openly doing on TV. Later in the game, when provoked by Kay, Cone continued.
“At this stage of the game, Yankee fans are frustrated. They want the truth. I understand Aaron Boone’s point: He’s got to back his players up, he’s gotta be accountable to his team, to his players, and he’s gotta protect them. And he always has, and that’s a strength of Aaron Boone. But not at the cost of being honest. Because the New York fan base is too knowledgable. You can not fool them. There has to be a balance there between acknowledging the obvious and still backing your player.”
Boone has spent this season unconditionally standing by his players, like always. The Yankees have now played 151 games and in all 151 games, the Yankees’ starting pitcher has had “good” to “great” stuff by Boone’s evaluation, which is odd since the team has lost 44 percent of its games and doesn’t currently hold a playoff. The never-ending optimism from the happy-go-lucky, everything-is-fine Southern California fool is annoying, but more comedic at this point. It’s the lying that’s the problem.
Whether it’s been saying Clint Frazier would be the team’s starting left fielder, Sanchez would catch Gerrit Cole (he did three times: Opening Day, when he pinch hit for Kyle Higashioka and saved the game with a three-run home run and when Higashioka had COVID), Giancarlo Stanton would play the outfield (after five months of saying he would he did on the second-to-last-day of July), Aaron Hicks would be fine as the team’s 3-hitter (he was demoted after less than two weeks as the 3-hitter for poor performance), Luke Voit would be a regular in the lineup upon the trade for Anthony Rizzo (he has started 12 games since Aug. 21), that only “the better teams hit into a lot of double plays” (lie) or that the “Yankees will get rolling” or “turn the corner” (they did win 13 games in a row and then lost 15 of 22 to essentially erase their winning streak), very rarely does Boone speak the truth.
I love Cone. Always have, always will. Two years ago, when I read and reviewed his book Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher, I, like all readers, found out that Bobby Valentine asked Cone to be the Red Sox’ pitching coach for the 2012 season. Thankfully, Cone didn’t leave the broadcast booth to take Valentine up on his offer because his absence would have created an irreplaceable void during Yankees games (and also the whole helping the Red Sox thing). But I’m sure Cone doesn’t regret leaving broadcasting to be part of a 93-loss disaster.
That one story did make me think about Cone as a coach in the majors. Now having listened to him as an analyst all these seasons on YES and seeing how he has embraced the analytics and data revolution in baseball, while also maintaining the game is played by humans, I have often wondered how he would be as a pitching coach. On a larger scale, if the Yankees were going to hire a manager with zero experience coaching or managing at any level, I wish they had gone with Cone rather than giving Yankees fans Boone.
The difference in the TV analysis from Boone when he was on ESPN to how Cone has been on YES is the equivalent to having Mariano Rivera close out a game to having Brooks Kriske close it out, and I think Boone’s time on TV is evident in his in-game management, and I feel it would be the same for Cone. Cone wouldn’t have sent Severino back out to the mound for the fourth inning in Game 3 of the ALDS and wouldn’t have followed that up by bringing Lance Lynn in with the bases loaded and no outs. And he certainly wouldn’t have let CC Sabathia go through the Red Sox’ lineup for a second time with the season on the line and then defended his decision by saying he wanted Sabathia to face the 9-hitter which is why he let him face the rest of the team. He wouldn’t have tried that trickery with Happ in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS, and he wouldn’t have spent the 2021 season telling anyone who would listen how good the Yankees are while the losses mounted.
Unfortunately, we’ll likely never know how Cone would be as Yankees manager because he’s probably too outspoken and too much of his own person for Brian Cashman and his group of Ivy League minions to work with. That just means we get to keep listening to Cone in the broadcast booth, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. But that also means a really, really good and maybe the best candidate to be Yankees manager when Boone’s contract expires in less than two weeks won’t even be in the running for the position.
Barring a miracle, in two weeks the Yankees will need a new manager for just the third time in 25 years. Unlike last time, they can’t screw it up again. Moving Cone from the booth to the dugout would prevent that from happening.
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