Brian Cashman was just 30 years old when his phone rang. The Boss wanted to talk.
It was February of 1998 and New York Yankees general manager Bob Watson had just stepped down. Now George Steinbrenner was summoning Cashman, Watson’s assistant GM, to the Regency Hotel in downtown New York City.
Steinbrenner was considering Watson’s replacement, but his conversation with Cashman would require a face-to-face meeting. When the two met, the late Yankee owner gave Cashman the ultimate vote of confidence. He would be the assistant no more.
“The Boss said to me, ‘I have talked to enough people that tell me you can do this. I can go outside the franchise and recycle somebody who’s done this job before, bring them in and plug and play. But I have talked to enough people that I respect and they said you can do this,’” Cashman recalled Wednesday, reflecting on how Steinbrenner hired a GM who had never done the job. “He took a chance on me in 1998 and here I am 20 years later.”
Nearly two decades later, Cashman is placing his own wager on a neophyte.
Baseball America’s Executive of the Year was reflecting on his meeting with Steinbrenner as he introduced Aaron Boone as New York’s manager at Yankee Stadium. Boone is Cashman’s second managerial hire — the other being Joe Girardi — and the Yankees’ first since Steinbrenner passed away in 2010.
An ESPN analyst after retirement, Boone has never done this before. Unlike Cashman 20 years ago, he doesn’t even have any prerequisite experience — he’s never been a coach, let alone a manager. The Yankees selected Boone from a field of candidates that included Carlos Beltran, Hensley Meulens, Chris Woodward, Rob Thomson and Eric Wedge. Of those five, Beltran was the only other option who had never coached before.
Cashman and his team are not worried about experience, though. After a seven-hour interview, Boone emerged as the clear favorite. The hire was out of the blue — Boone was only on Cashman’s radar after trusted colleagues recommended him — but the former third baseman simply wowed New York.
Boone made it clear that he was serious about the gig.
“When I flew out for the interview, I told a couple people close to me, ‘I’m going out to get this job. I want this job. This is an amazing opportunity for this team and where they are in their history,'” Boone said. “That was my intent when I got on the plane to come here. It wasn’t about the exercise.”
Boone had no intention of his interview being a trial run for future openings. It turns out he didn’t need any practice.
Praised for his communication skills and openness to analytics, Boone’s first impression was such a hit that a second round of interviews was deemed unnecessary.
“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. It wasn’t even close,” George’s son, Hal Steinbrenner, said.
Interviewing to be a manager and actually doing the job are two different things, a reality that is now staring Boone in the face. Cashman, Steinbrenner and the rest of the Yankee brass know there will be hiccups along the way, but this is an organization that expects a championship every year.
With the Yankees loaded with young, team-controlled talent, expectations have never been higher. Boone is aware.
“I understand what I signed up for. I understand what the expectations are,’’ Boone said. “I hope those expectations are ramped up each and every year. That’s certainly part of being here. I don’t want to get caught up in that personally and I don’t think that I will. Again, my job will be impacting that room, getting the most out of our players and then, hopefully, the rest takes care of itself because of what I think our roster potential is.’’
Wednesday’s press conference made it clear Boone’s top priority will be communicating with players.
Having never been a manager or coach before, he knows he has to earn respect in the Yankees’ clubhouse, something he said he has already gotten to work on. However, while Boone has never been part of a staff, he does have the benefit of his bloodlines.
Boone’s family is the first to produce three generations of big-league ballplayers. His grandfather, Ray, played from 1948-1960. His dad, Bob, played from 1972-1990 and then managed from 1995-1997 and 2001-2003. His brother, Bret, played from 1992-2005. Boone, of course, played from 1997-2005, including 71 games and one very memorable home run in pinstripes.
He may not have the formal experience, but he knows the game and has been around plenty of locker rooms.
“As well-rounded as I’d like to think I am, the bottom line is the one thing I know and have lived and am is baseball,” Boone said. “In a lot of ways I’ve been doing this my entire life.”
While Boone may lack the resume other candidates had, that lifetime of baseball was apparent when interviewing.
“A great deal of wisdom was imparted to him his whole life,” Steinbrenner said.
While Boone’s hire may seem random or risky, the Yankees are confident in the man they tabbed for the job. Remember, this is a franchise that’s had just two other managers since 1996.
The Yankees don’t shake things up for the sake of it.
“We don’t make change lightly,” Cashman said, years after his Boss bet on him despite inexperience. “We don’t make change easy. We make change after careful thought.”