NEW YORK — Aaron Boone was pulling into the driveway of his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, last Thursday, bringing 8-year-old daughter Bella home from school so his wife could drive her to a dance lesson, and he noticed a missed call from Brian Cashman.
Boone called back the New York Yankees general manager as his wife looked on and said Cashman told him: “Hey, just first and foremost, I want to make sure you’re completely on board and understanding the commitment level that is now expected of you.”
“If that’s the case,” Boone recalled Cashman saying, “I’m going to recommend to ownership that you’re the guy we move forward and focus on.”
And with that, at age 44 Boone had secured his first manager or coaching job of any kind since his retirement as a player eight years ago.
Boone was introduced Wednesday as New York’s manager during a news conference at Yankee Stadium, where televisions throughout the ballpark showed images of him rounding the bases in triumph after his 11th-inning home run off Boston’s Tim Wakefield won Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series for the Yankees.
“It’s certainly something that I’m known for in my baseball life, obviously, and in some way probably is a contributor to me being here today,” he said.
Among six candidates for the job, Boone so impressed Cashman and his staff that no second round of interviews was needed.
“The interview process is to try to determine how Aaron ticks and if he an extension of our philosophies or pretty close to an extension of our philosophies and what kind of decision-making process he would gravitate to,” Cashman said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be some growing pains on the beginning end, and we’re OK with that.”
Cashman recommended Boone after consulting with a smorgasbord of his modern-day front office: assistant GMs Jean Afterman and Mike Fishman, vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring, senior director of player development Kevin Reese, assistant director of professional scouting Dan Giese, director of quantitative analysis David Grabiner, director of mental conditioning Chad Bohling, head athletic trainer Steve Donohue and vice president of communications Jason Zillo.
“There was a difference of opinion among the participants as to who their number two- or three-choice was, but there was little-to-no difference of opinion as to who their number-one choice was,” Steinbrenner said. “It wasn’t even close.”
Cashman thought back to when he was assistant GM and owner George Steinbrenner promoted him to succeed Bob Watson as GM.
“He took a chance on me back in 1998, and here I am 20 years later,” Cashman said.
Boone became the first manager hired by the Yankees since they moved into their new ballpark in 2009 and since George Steinbrenner died the following year.
Hal Steinbrenner, son of The Boss, spoke briefly with Boone outside Donohue’s office when Boone interviewed on Nov. 17. Steinbrenner originally had said he and his siblings would meet with candidates who reached a second round.
“When I get that kind of recommendation from my top people, I just didn’t see the need,” he said.
Boone had worked for ESPN since retiring as a player. He acknowledged one of his first tasks will be to convince his players he can do the job.
“I think in short order I’ll be able to earn that respect, that they’ll be able to look at me, trust in me, know that I have their interest at heart, but know that hopefully I know what the heck I’m talking about,” he said. “That’s something that you have to earn over the initial days in spring training, in the season.”
Boone was assigned uniform 17, his number with Cincinnati and Cleveland; pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has the No. 19 jersey Boone wore with the Yankees in 2003.
The Boones are the first family to produce three generations of major leaguers. His grandfather, Ray, was a two-time All-Star infielder from 1948-60. His father, Bob, was a four-time All-Star catcher from 1972-90, then managed Kansas City from 1995-97 and Cincinnati from 2001-03. His brother, Bret, was a three-time All-Star second baseman in a big league career from 1992-05.
“It was evident in talking to him and the questions that were asked of him that a great deal of wisdom was imparted to him his whole life,” Steinbrenner said.
Boone anticipates living in a New York suburb with his family. His wife, the former Laura Cover, was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in October 1998, and they have three sons in addition to their daughter: Jeanel (15), Sergot (13) and Brandon (12). He said their two dogs are a reason to not live in Manhattan: a black English Lab and French mastiff.
Boone can appreciate tough managerial decisions. He was benched by Joe Torre against starter Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS in favor of Enrique Wilson, then entered as a pinch runner.
“I’m going to really care about these guys. Hopefully I’m going to love these guys and they’re going to love me back, but when you have to make difficult decisions you have to be honest in your evaluations,” he said. “So sometimes I feel like there’s the potential to be clouded because you like a guy or you want a guy to do so well and you’re kind of hoping.”
He expressed confidence in catcher Gary Sanchez, who in his first full season had 33 homers and 90 RBIs in 122 games. Sanchez, who turned 25 last weekend, allowed 16 passed balls, tied for the big league lead, and was behind the plate for 53 wild pitches.
“My expectation is that he’s going to be one of the great impact players on both sides of the ball for a long time to come,” Boone said. “My relationship I believe with our catcher is a really important relationship.”
Boone quickly learned his new prominence Friday, when news of his hiring became public while he was attending the Pac-12 football championship won by Southern California, the school he attended.
“My phone just exploded,” Boone said. “It was a lot of fun actually, watching the game, watching the Trojans win and being with my best friend, one of his sons and my son. It was a cool few hours.”