Luckily, from a human perspective, Aaron Boone is going to be healthy. Also fortunately from a baseball perspective, it doesn’t appear he’s going to miss too much time from the Yankees dugout. Although a manager’s in game strategic decisions may not have a huge impact over the course of 162 games, his presence and ability to handle day to day on goings with the team, can have a huge impact on a team’s chances over the course of a season.
The media needs to be dealt with, which is a thankless and miserable job. There are players who need to be dealt with regards to issues outside the lines. Some are older guys with wives and kids, some are young guys with cash in NYC. Some are liked by their teammates, some not so much. Some treat non-playing staff great, some treat non-playing staff like crap. Some speak English, some speak Spanish, a few speak neither. Some are 100% healthy, some are nursing injuries.
That is a plateful with which to deal before a lineup card ever gets filled out or a pitch is ever thrown. And it’s a 24 hour a day job for six months. So had Boone needed an extended period of time off for health reasons, it may have had far bigger impact on the Yankees’ chances in 2021 than you realize.
Most Yankee fans remember Joe Torre missing the beginning of the 1999 season as he recovered from prostate cancer treatment. What most fans do not remember, is how differently the team performed without him than they did with him, and how close the Yankees were to having their dynasty cut short as a result.
At the start of ’99, Don Zimmer ran things for the Yanks in Torre’s absence. I shouldn’t need to remind you, but I will – Zimmer inherited what was likely the best team in baseball history. Being handed a team in mid dynasty that had just won 114 games would be a really hard thing to screw up.
Zimmer almost did.
Under Zimmer, the Yankees started the ’99 season with 21 wins and 16 losses (.567). When Torre returned, NY went 77-48 (.616). That doesn’t seem like that big of a difference you say?
.567 ball is 92 wins over 162 games. Not bad – unless you inherited the best team ever, and 92 games would not have won the AL East in 1999. Boston would have won the division the Yanks would have traveled to Cleveland to play a 97 win Cleveland team in a best of five in the ALDS.
Instead Torre returned, the Yanks played at a 100 plus win pace the rest of the way, they swept Texas in the ALDS and got three days off. Meanwhile, Boston got to travel to Cleveland and they played five ALDS games that averaged 16 runs and eight pitchers per game.
Needless to say, this gave NY quite a competitive advantage heading into the ALCS against the Sox. Game 1 was El Duque vs. Kent Mercker, who was below league average in ’99. Game 2 was David Cone vs. Ramon Martinez, who pitched a grand total of four games in ‘99. The Yankees didn’t see Pedro Martinez – who had one of the best seasons a starting pitcher has ever had in ’99, and who threw 6 innings of shutout ball in relief in the clincher against Cleveland – until game 3. (If you’re curious, in game three versus Pedro, NY managed two hits over seven innings while striking out 12 times.)
The ALCS was over before it got started. Then with their rotation set up for the World Series, the Yanks steamrolled Atlanta, and the dynasty went on.
But it was dangerously close to ending in ’99. Had Torre not returned, and NY continued with Zimmer it’s highly unlikely the Yankees would have won the AL East and gained the competitive advantages it did. Facing Texas with a home field advantage instead of Cleveland without, were two very different animals. Playing a series against Boston where you see two replacement level pitchers and Pedro once, rather than prime Pedro two or three times were two very different animals. I think you’d agree, it’s not a stretch to say that Boston’s dynasty may have started sooner, or Atlanta would’ve started one instead of the Yankees, had Torre not returned to the Yanks in ’99.
Could you argue that 37 games under Zimmer is a small sample size and the Yanks would’ve returned to form regardless of their manager? Frankly, given Zimmer’s managerial record, no. He was a .500 manager for his career and mismanaged the ’78 playoff game versus the Yanks to the point there should be a monument of him in YS III as a “thank you”.
Luckily, Aaron Boone is returning soon and this won’t be an issue for the ’21 Yanks. But let it serve as a reminder of how tenuous the thread is between winning and losing, and the impact a manager has on the process.
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