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Nightengale: Boone, New Yankees Manager, Won the Hearts of New York

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New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, left, general manager Brian Cashman, center, and Aaron Boone pose for photographers during Wednesday’s news conference at Yankee Stadium. Boone was introduced as the Yankees’ new manager. Photo: Mary Altaffer | AP photo

He sat behind the microphone, posed in front of the cameras, answered questions in small groups, and by the time he finished, won the hearts of everyone at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

Everyone fell in love him, mesmerized by his quiet confidence and calmness despite his blank resume, believing he really could be the right man to lead the New York Yankees to the mountaintop once again.

Aaron Boone, you see, has that way with people.

The man has managed to live 44 years, and has no public enemies.

So really it was no surprise at all that Boone would dazzle the crowd at his introductory press conference as the new, and, yes, stunning new manager of the Yankees.

“I feel,’’ Boone said, “like this is the chance of a lifetime for me.’’

Boone was honest, transparent and glib throughout his 40-minute press conference, and certainly understanding of the apprehension of hiring a man for the most prestigious job in all of sports despite never having coached a Little League team, let alone not been in uniform since his retirement in 2009.

“Look, I understand what I signed up for. I understand what the expectations are,’’ Boone said, “and I hope those expectations are ramped up each and every year. That is certainly part of being here.

“I don’t want to get caught up in that personally. I don’t think I will. My job will be impacting that room, getting the most out of our players, and then hopefully the rest will take care of itself.’’

The man who has been behind a microphone the last eight years at EPSN can certainly work a room.

Now, let’s see how he can work a clubhouse, handle in-game strategy, appease a passionate fan base, charm a grizzled media corps, and satisfy an iconic franchise.

Can he handle the responsibility of leading a team that was one victory away from the World Series last year, where anything short of a World Series title is considered a failure, and a franchise that has employed only two managers in the last 20 years?

We’re about to find out, with the Yankees opening spring-training camp Feb. 13 in Tampa, Fla.

“I personally think managing is simple,’’ Bret Boone, the former All-Star second baseman and Aaron’s older brother, told USA TODAY Sports. “Today’s game is different. There are a lot of clowns out there now. The days of Lou Piniella, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy, those days are over because of Sabermetrics and analytics, whatever you want to call them. I think a lot of that is bull (expletive), but I’m not naive enough to think that technology cannot help you. I just think the great managers, the guys who really know the game, who have a feel for the game, really have a good rapport with the players, know how to read players, and know how to treat players a certain way.

“It’s going to be tough. It’s not like he’s going to a small-time team. He’s going to the biggest franchise in the world. But if anybody can handle it, it’s Aaron.

“When him and me played, Aaron was always the nice guy. Everyone loved him. So people are going to see a guy that’s very smart, very passionate, and has all of integrity in the world.’’

This is a man who cost himself $4.9 million in 2004 when he ruptured his knee, and instead of lying to the Yankees and making up an excuse, like he fell off a treadmill or was washing his truck, he told the truth that he was playing basketball. The contract was voided.

“How many guys would do that?’’ Bret Boone said. “That’s Aaron. He’s just an honest, good guy. He’s like my dad. If my dad found a million dollars in a bag, he would put an extra dollar in there to make sure he knew he didn’t take a nickel.

“Aaron can’t lie.’’

Even Wednesday in the packed press conference, Boone wasn’t trying to trick his bosses and the media into believing this will be a simple transition, and turning the Yankees into instant World Series champions when they’re trying to cut payroll below the $197 million luxury tax.

He was honest in his shortcomings, transparent in the expectations, but yet confident in his abilities.

“I haven’t been there yet,’’ Boone said, when asked about handling the pressure. “Anybody who knows me, the way I live my life, I’ve been a pretty consistent person. No matter what is going on and the chaos around me. I feel like one of my strengths is the person I am, and you can rely on me, whether it’s going haywire, or we’re rolling, and there are times when it is both.

“One of the reasons I’m up here is that I’m a pretty measured guy, and a very consistent guy, and someone certainly my players will be able to count on in a storm.’’

It’s this temperament and demeanor that led Yankees GM Brian Cashman to the biggest gamble of his 21-year career, staking not only his reputation, but that of the entire Yankee organization on Boone.

“We’re certainly betting,’’ Cashman said, “on Aaron Boone’s ceiling.’’

It’s a risk everyone else refused to take in the business, with no one else even interviewing Boone before the Yankees.

“Cash has (guts),’’ Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. “That’s why he’s been there for 20 years. He’s not scared. That’s a unique market, with so much media pressure, and dealing with the media is such a big part of the job.’’

The Nationals, when Boone retired as a player, actually approached him themselves, but as a potential farm director. Even though Rizzo has hired six managers in the last 10 years, and Boone’s father, Bob, is a special assistant in the organization, never once interviewed Boone for a managerial gig. They had another opening a month ago, but instead went with Dave Martinez, who also has never managed, but at least has been Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays.

It was the same, of course, with the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, too.

No one even made a courtesy call to see if Boone was interested, but here are the Yankees, now hiring a man with not one iota of managerial experience.

“I was a bit surprised when he got it,’’ Bob Boone said, “but times are just different now. I mean, we saw three guys get fired who took their teams to the playoffs last year. So when I saw the list of candidates for the job, I really thought Aaron was the best.

“This is something he’s always wanted to do. We talked after he retired, and he could have gone to the bench as a coach, but considering what he was making at ESPN, there was no guarantee he could go to the next level.

“So what he did was prepare himself simply by being around managers every day on his job as a broadcaster. He was learning from everyone. I really think this will be a piece of cake for him just because of his personality, the respect he’ll get, and his ability to interact with people on all different levels and bring them together.’’

Certainly, Aaron Boone realizes there will be growing pains along the way, and his Game 7 ALCS walkoff homer that vaulted the Yankees into the 2003 World Series will buy him some time

“Maybe it allows for some good graces to start,’’ Boone says, “but ultimately know I’m going to be judged on my performance. And that’s going to be impacting players, and in our case, star ballplayers.

“Maybe some good graces, but April will be here soon enough.’’

The Yankee honeymoon, rest assured, will be brief.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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