Few jobs in sports compare to managing the New York Yankees. The team is quite simply the most iconic baseball franchise in the world.
(Have I given myself up as a fan yet? Too bad!)
Based on the latest Forbes list of the most valuable franchises the world over, the only team valued higher than the Yankees ($3.7 billion) is the Dallas Cowboys ($4.2 billion.) If you’re the Yankees’ manager, you’re running a multi-billion-dollar corporate enterprise as much as you’re filling out the lineup card.
The Yankees brand is synonymous with winning. Anything less, as an old deodorant commercial once stated, “would be uncivilized.”
Case in point: Yankees skipper Joe Girardi – who won the World Series as a Yankee player and manager – was unceremoniously dumped earlier this fall after managing the team to within one win of a World Series berth.
Here’s how tough New York is: When pressed by the media, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said that even if the team had won the World Series, he was not going to bring back Girardi.
“It would have been maybe a more difficult decision to make, but I would have made it because I felt like that was best for the organization moving forward,” Steinbrenner told the media.
For all of Girardi’s success on the field, management believed he was not exhibiting the learning agility or flexibility to adapt to the Yankees’ vision for how they want their manager to function. Despite his winning pedigree, Girardi was not aligning with corporate expectations, evidently.
The Yankees were clearly ready to close “The Binder” – the sardonic nickname Girardi detractors gave to the straight-laced manager who was frequently seen scratching his grey crewcut as he rifled through three-ring binders of statistics to determine an optimal matchup.
So, whom did the Yankees tap to be their next manager? Here’s a basic sketch of the credentials you’d expect Girardi’s successor to possess:
Aaron Boone checks just one of those boxes – the first. Best known for a series-deciding walk-off home run in the 11th inning to prolong the Red Sox’s World Series “curse,” Boone was a solid, but unspectacular, ballplayer. He has one All-Star appearance on his resume but nothing else that really jumps off the back of his baseball card. Boone’s remained close to the game in his retirement – but as a color commentator on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball for the last two years. More importantly, he has no coaching or managerial experience of which to speak. Talk about jumping into the deep end of the pool!
Just as any other business hiring for an important role, the Yankees had a list of prerequisite competencies that a manager needs to display, and they believed Boone, 44, can embody their ideals more than Girardi. Instead of viewing one’s prior managerial experience as the be-all and end-all, the Yankees looked at how one’s personality fits in the role of manager.
Like several other franchises making managerial hires this off-season, they are viewing the position as a middle manager. As General Managers begin to wield more power across the baseball landscape when it comes to roster construction and analytics-heavy decision making, an on-field manager’s role is changing. Now, he has to be a deft communicator and effective liaison between management, players, and the media. The word being used over and over again by those hiring managers this off-season is “collaborator.” They aren’t looking for a field general so much as they want someone who can explain team policy to players and serve as a sounding board to young, impressionable athletes.
The Yankees, at their core, did what Caliper suggests to its clients:
In the case of the Yankees’ manager, they wanted someone with – as GM Brian Cashman stated – “an astute mind for the game, a progressive approach to evolving strategies, interpersonal skills, and baseball pedigree.” When viewing Aaron Boone in the context of those parameters, he does indeed check all the boxes.
Without prior managerial experience, though, Boone is entering a modern-day wilderness. Perhaps he will need to tap into some of the folklore surrounding his pioneer ancestor, Daniel Boone (true story!), who fought hand-to-paw with a bear (embellished story!). To survive as the Yankees’ manager, he may well need to utilize that pioneering spirit.