I’m Proud of Aaron Boone?

I nearly shed some tears during Aaron Boone’s spring training opening press conference last week. The near-tears weren’t tears of sadness. No, those came after every one of Boone’s July, August and September postgame press conferences as he lied his way to the end of the season, telling Yankees fans how close his team was to “turning the corner” that never came on a straightaway to a postseason-less year. Instead, these tears that nearly came were of happiness after watching Boone answer questions for more than 28 minutes without fabrication. Like a proud parent watching their child graduate from college after seven years, here was Boone beginning his seventh spring training as Yankees manager and not acting and talking as though his team has the title of “defending champions” attached to them.

Boone has frequently behaved in a manner befitting of the manager of the late-‘90s, early-2000s Yankees rather than the manager of a collection of underachieving and overpaid players and pitchers that has never won anything (outside of Anthony Rizzo). Remember when the Yankees’ 2021 postseason lasted nine innings (in actuality, it didn’t even last a full inning thanks to Xander Bogaerts) and Boone, immediately after the loss, oddly said “the league has closed the gap” on his Yankees as if the team had done anything other than put together disappointing postseasons? That version of Boone, the only version of Boone Yankees fans have known through six season was nowhere to be found on Wednesday.

It turns out finishing in fourth place in the division, barely finishing above .500 (82-80) and not qualifying for the postseason when 40 percent of the league qualifies finally humbled Boone and his unearned cockiness. Multiple times last Wednesday Boone referred to the 2023 season as getting sand kicked in your face. I wish last season only felt like getting sand kicked in my face. Getting sand kicked in your face isn’t great, but it’s nothing rinsing your eyes out or taking a shower can’t fix. The pain is momentary. The 2023 Yankees were a months-long disaster. I tried to rinse my eyes out while watching them during a 10-15 July. I tried to shower away their 10-18 August. Neither worked.

Boone had to answer questions about last season — the worst Yankees season in more than 30 years — because he never answered for last season after it ended. No one did. The Yankees chose to not hold end-of-the-season press conferences for their manager and general manager, acted as though everything was fine, and then Brian Cashman showed up to the general manager meetings unhinged and looking to fight any member of the media who dare question the organization’s inner workings. This was the first time Boone had to really answer for his his managerial showing in 2023.

Between Boone’s references to sand kicking and his multiple uses of “the proof is in the pudding” he was cautious about predicting and projecting what 2024 would hold for a team that just finished eighth in the American League. The only time he appeared like himself was when he said the Yankees “have an elite offense once again.” The Yankees are coming off a season in which the only teams in the AL they scored more than than were the 84-loss Tigers, 86-loss Guardians, 101-loss White Sox, 106-loss Royals and 112-loss A’s. They added Juan Soto. They didn’t add 2017 Giancarlo Stanton (well, they did do that six years ago and Boone couldn’t win with that team). They didn’t add the 2019 version of DJ LeMahieu or Anthony Rizzo.

Once again, the Yankees’ master offseason plan is to hope that trio is going to stay healthy and be productive despite being a year older. Boone was asked several times about those players during his session with the media, and each time he refrained from providing wild predictions for any of them. A far cry from last February when he was asked bout Josh Donaldson bouncing back and said:

“The things he did this winter to get himself ready to go, I think you’re crazy to think that a bounce back is not in there offensively. This guy still has bat speed, and is super talented. He’s in a much better place than he was a year ago right now.”

Or when he doubled down on Donaldson saying:

“He had an amazing winter. He physically looks great. His assessments, everything, he’s moving really well.”

Boone did say ever pitcher and player he has seen in the facilities so far looks great, which makes me wonder what exactly he was looking at a year ago when Carlos Rodon showed up to camp, but in a very un-Boone-like way, he remained hesitant in speaking to any expected results, knowing nothing he or anyone within the organization says at this point means anything given how the second half of 2022 and all of 2023 went.

“We are ready to roll,” Boone said. “But again we gotta show you.”

Does Boone deserve to still be the manager of the Yankees? Of course not. He never deserved the job from the day he we given it, and with each passing season he has made it abundantly clear he’s unfit to continue in the role. But on the first day of spring training, for a day … well, for 28 minutes … he didn’t lie, he didn’t exaggerate and he didn’t act as though the Yankees have won anything with him at the helm. Then again, there wasn’t an automatic runner who had just been thrown out at third in extras for the first out of the inning for him to defend by saying he liked the aggressiveness. His $162 million starting pitcher didn’t blow a kiss to heckling fans for him to say at least he didn’t say anything to the fans, and that same pitcher didn’t just turn his back on the team’s pitching coach for Boone to say he would have disciplined the pitcher had the season not been almost over.

“I’m going to talk to you guys every single day and anything I say now, next week next month into the season we gotta go prove it,” Boone said. “I think we have a chance to be a really special team. That’s all it is right now.”

Like Boone said, he’s going to talk to the media every single day for the next hopefully eight-plus months. For as refreshing as it was to hear this version of Boone speak for even 28 minutes, that’s a lot of days for the Boone we have grown accustomed to to show up.