The Aaron Boone Show? Manager's rows with umps an 'art form'

ByJoon Lee ESPN logo
Friday, June 9, 2023

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone has turned getting ejected by umpires into such a regular occurrence that his players -- and even his family -- debate their favorite signature moments, like he's a sitcom character.

"You see him out there yelling," said Yankees captain Aaron Judge with a laugh. "He has passion. I love the gum throw. You've got him doing stuff with his hat."

It's not just that Boone is getting tossed at an historic rate, earning him a recent one-game suspension from MLB after two ejections in a four-game span. It's not just that Boone has been tossed 30 times in his five-plus seasons as a manager. It's that Boone has been ejected enough times his players have begun breaking down his style -- like Judge's favorite,the gum tosses, which recently got meme'd into a phony Statcast treatment.

"There's an art form to it," said Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader on the gum toss. "He does it incredibly well. I respect it and I support it at all times."

Boone has been ejected more times in his career than Dusty Baker, who has managed 20 more seasons. As it currently stands, Boone has the third-highest ejection rate in MLB history, behind only Paul Richards and Frankie Frisch and ahead of notorious grousers such as Earl Weaver, Bobby Cox and Ron Gardenhire. It's a feat made more impressive because Boone manages in the instant replay era, which has reduced potential friction between skippers and umps. Those within the Yankees' clubhouse -- and even in the umpires' room -- say his willingness to stand up for his team in this way is a feature, not a bug.

"I just think it shows what kind of leader he is for this team," Judge said. "I can be mad about this ball and strike, but Booney is going to have my back. He's going to speak up and voice the opinion of the team and me."

In 2019, Boone famously got tossed by umpire Brendan Miller after a now-iconic, expletive-laden "savages in the box" rant. While Boone has become a frequent antagonist on the field for umpires, his relationships with the crews behind the scenes remain extremely friendly and cordial, according to multiple umpires who spoke to ESPN.

"Not many Yankees get ejected -- he's always taking the fire," said one veteran umpire, who spoke to ESPN on the condition of anonymity. "He's just doing the job that he's supposed to do."

A manager's relationship with umpires can be very different on the field and off of it. Cox, who was ejected an MLB record 162 times -- a full season's worth of games -- over his 29 years as manager of the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays, famously got into screaming matches with umps. But when the crews would visit his restaurant in Atlanta, he often picked up their checks -- serving up an apology along with it. Umpires frequently cite Boone's background in baseball -- he comes from a line of major leaguers that includes his grandfather, Ray; his father, Bob (who managed for six seasons after a long playing career); and his brother, Bret -- as the foundation for a common understanding that what happens on the diamond stays there.

"If he crosses a line and makes it personal, then he's probably going to get ejected, but he comes from a great baseball family and he knows what his job is," another umpire said. "The whole thing is funny."

Regardless, his growing reputation for piling up ejections is one Boone hopes to change, especially upon hearing that he's outpacing Weaver and Cox for career ejections.

"Going to slow down then," Boone said. "But all of a sudden, you have three in a week. I don't want to get tossed. I'm trying to back off a bit more right now. But at the same time, not wanting to lose the edge that I want our players to have and things that I want to fight for. I don't want our players to get kicked out at all if possible."

Boone says his wife, Laura Cover, and four children usually do not mention the ejections when he comes home after being thrown out of a game. But when the gum toss got the attention of his 14-year-old daughter, Bella, Boone used the moment to impart some wisdom.

"Do as I say," Boone said to Bella. "Not as I do."

While Boone hopes to tone it down, Yankees players find his moments of passion refreshing. Typically, Boone remains even-keeled, never getting too high or too low after a big win or loss. The contrast between his largely calm demeanor and the intense persona that emerges while jawing at umpires fires up the dugout.

"You want a manager that will go to war for his guys," Yankees outfielder Willie Calhounsaid. "Some managers don't do that at all. So when you see that, it just makes you want to run through a wall [for him]."

That type of support helps spur on struggling players, too. Yankees utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa has received significant criticism at times from the Yankees fan base after scuffling both at the plate and in the field. But, he said, Boone sticking up for him, whether it's with an ump or while facing the media, helped give him the confidence he could turn things around.

"It gives you this peace of mind and it helps you show up to work in a good state," Kiner-Falefa said. "He shows he really cares."

Boone understands there might be some umpires who are rubbed the wrong way by his actions, but he says his intention is to never make it about more than one moment.

"I always try to have relationships, that part is really easy for me," Boone said. "It's very easy to move on, have what I think hopefully is the right kind of relationship with them. A respectful one."

As for the gum? Before games, Boone stockpiles it to keep near him on the bench. The stack then shrinks across nine innings. Whenever Judge tries to steal a piece before heading to the on-deck circle, Boone gets extremely protective. So when Judge sees a piece of gum flying through the air during one of Boone's arguments, he knows the skipper has taken extreme exception to a call.

"To see him waste one, and knowing how much he loves it," Judge said, "it means a lot."

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