Sports

How ‘same dude’ Aaron Boone avoided potential Yankees downfall

BOSTON — Sean Casey recorded and texted the video to his longtime pal on Aug. 27, the day the Yankees won their 13th straight game.

“Couple more losses, Boonie, you could’ve been here with me and your brother,” the former first baseman and current MLB Network analyst said as he wore a Reds uniform and strolled through a Great American Ball Park tunnel in Cincinnati, and then he shifted his camera (phone) to Aaron’s older brother Bret Boone, who added, with a smile, “You’d better believe it.”

“Boonie could’ve been here, Johnny,” Casey continued, and that would be Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, who calmly noted, “Hey, we were pulling for you.”

“If you stayed at .500, you would’ve been here about a week ago,” Casey concluded, as he, Bench and Bret Boone suited up for the Reds Hall of Fame Legends Game. “Keep going.”

Aaron Boone, fine with jokes at his expense, keeps going. That’s what he does. On his worst professional days of the past four seasons, he has betrayed irritation that would rank as about a 2 on the Joe Girardi scale. He possesses no facial expression to even approach the Joe Torre death stare. Let’s not even get started on more distant predecessors like Billy Martin or Lou Piniella (although, as per Baseball-Reference.com, he did tie Oakland’s Bob Melvin for the American League lead with six ejections this season).

“He doesn’t get rattled,” Casey, Boone’s Reds teammate from 1998 through 2003, told The Post in a recent telephone interview. “I don’t know if it’s that California upbringing.”

Aaron Boone
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

At the most high-profile managing job in the business — his first such gig — the unshakeable nature doesn’t play great all the time. Like when the Yankees, armed with the highest payroll in the American League, start the season 5-10, or go 13-22 (which dropped them to .500, 41-41) or 7-15 (a stretch that began on August 28), poor play abounding. Yet this is who Boone is. This is the person in whom the Yankees have put their trust to steer this roller coaster to the higher ground of ending a 12-year title drought.

His contract expiring upon the conclusion of his season, Boone will manage the Yankees’ American League wild-card game Tuesday, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, without a net. As much as his bosses like him, giving him a new contract off a wild-card loss, and four seasons without so much as a pennant (albeit four straight postseason appearances) would be a tough sell to their customers who long ago adapted the late George Steinbrenner’s assertion that anything short of a parade constituted failure.

Yet if he’s sweating his future, the 48-year-old does one heck of a job hiding it.

“You know, this is my livelihood,” Boone said Monday at Fenway. “This has been a huge part of my life. I love it. Means a lot to me. But in the end, it’s not everything.”

Aaron Boone hits his legendary, series-winning home run against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS.
Aaron Boone hits his legendary, series-winning home run against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS.
Reuters

Growing up in a baseball family probably lent him such extra perspective, Boone agreed. In addition to Bret, his grandfather Ray and his father Bob both registered distinguished careers as players, and Bob managed the Royals from 1995-97 and the Reds from 2001-03 (yes, he managed Aaron in Cincinnati), both runs ending with terminations.

“Yeah, I think sometimes you are who you are and you are a product of what you grew up in, I guess,” said Boone, who also credited his faith and family for handling queries about his job security. “I’m sure that is something that shaped me in that regard. … There probably is something to that.

“Look, I just think it’s a 162-game season. It’s a grind. It’s a game of failure. You know, unlike other sports even, the best teams win 60 percent of the time, and you’ve got to be able to deal with that. And … you see teams, you see players, you see talented players that can’t handle that that go by the wayside. So there’s a makeup quality there that I think you have to have as a club if you’re going to kind of survive the inevitable grind of the major league season.”

Said Kyle Higashioka, who will start behind the plate in Tuesday’s game, “It’s always important for a manager to keep a level head, especially during down times, because we know during the times we’ve not played so well, that’s not who we are. So it’s important not to get down on ourselves, and we know that [Boone] is always going to have a pretty calm level head about everything.

“It never helps when you panic about something. I think that kind of negative mindset can only negatively impact you. It’s always great to have somebody leading the team with a very level head.”

“I think Aaron throughout the season, with all the criticism, for him to be in this spot, tells you what kind of manager he is, what kind of person he is,” said Boone’s Red Sox counterpart, Alex Cora, who added that the two men spoke on Sunday.

Casey and Boone first met each other in 1997, when they played together in the Arizona Fall League; Boone had debuted with the Reds that season and Casey with the Indians. On March 30, 1998, the day before Opening Day, the Indians dealt Casey to the Reds for veteran starting pitcher Dave Burba, and Casey had to hustle to Cincinnati to join his new team in time for the first game.

“I walked into the ballpark, and Johnny Bench said, ‘You’re late for the season!’ ” Casey recalled, laughing. “I’m thinking, ‘Sweet Jesus, where’s Aaron Boone? He’s the one guy I know!’

“That was my first real interaction with Boonie doing what Boonie does. He went out of his way to welcome me to the team.”

The fiery Casey recalled one instance in which he was complaining about something work-related, only for a tranquil Boone to turn to him and say, “Case, don’t get bitter. Get better.”

“Did I think he would be a manager one day? One million percent,” Casey said. “The way he looked at the game, plus Boonie’s so great with people. Everybody loved Boonie. I see that now when I look in that dugout.

“Boonie’s gonna make anyone in that clubhouse feel comfortable. He’s the same dude.”

If the Yankees players want the same dude managing them next season, it’s time for them to reward Boone for his reliably consistent serenity.

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