A Boone to Baseball

April 04, 2004

In Boston he is known as Aaron (F-----') Boone, cousin to Bucky
(F-----') Dent.

In New York he is known as Boonie Who Beat Da Sox!

In Arlington, Texas, he's known as That Dadburned Cuss Who Got
A-Rod Traded.

In press boxes he's known as the Domino, the third baseman who
triggered the biggest baseball deal in 85 years.

In some clubhouses he's known as the Moron Who Should've Lied.

But in Cincinnati he's known as the strangest thing of all, the
Ballplayer Who Cared about a Sportswriter.

He's Bob Boone's son and Bret Boone's little brother, but for
decency, integrity and honesty, he is a man unto himself.

You know Aaron Boone as the Yankees' late-season pickup who hit
the walk-off, Game 7 home run that beat the Boston Red Sox in the
American League Championship Series, dooming Beantown to another
winter of staring blankly into its chowder.

But the biggest impact Boone's ever had on baseball was playing
in a pickup basketball game in January--"I don't think I'd played
a pickup game in five years!" he says--going for a loose ball,
getting wiped out by another diving player and tearing his left
ACL, which started a Rube Goldberg series of events.

1) Nearly six weeks after the injury the Yankees cut him, citing
a clause in Boone's contract that barred him from playing
basketball, and yanked back most of his $5.75 million salary. Why
didn't Boone do what a lot of other ballplayers would've done
with millions on the line--play with the truth? "Uh, hurt it on
the treadmill" or "Tripped over the dog taking out the garbage."

"Because," Boone says, "my mama taught me better than that."

2) The Yankees, suddenly needing a third baseman and with some
extra money to spend (Boone's), do what the Red Sox had tried and
failed to pull off a month before: work out a trade with the
Texas Rangers for the AL MVP, shortstop Alex Rodriguez. Only
thing is, the Yankees want him to play third base. Third base?
It's like hiring Carmen Electra to stay in the kitchen and cook,
but A-Rod agrees to it.

3) Red Sox fans once beaten by Boone are now bloodied by him.
Many attempt to drown themselves in their chowder.

4) Yankees third base prospect Drew Henson, realizing that if he
ever reached the majors, he would play maybe once a month behind
A-Rod, quits baseball for the NFL.

5) The media go berserk in New York because everybody knows A-Rod
is a better shortstop than the guy who will be playing that
position, Derek Jeter. That puts a 10,000-watt klieg light on
Jeter all season.

6) As part of the Rodriguez trade the Yankees' All-Star second
baseman, Alfonso Soriano, is dragged off to Texas, where he is
asked to play centerfield--and refuses. That means the Rangers'
fine young second baseman, Michael Young, has to switch to
shortstop, which sets off more moves in Texas.

Weird, isn't it, how the key figure in the 2004 baseball season
is a guy who probably won't play this year? Following surgery and
five weeks of rehab, Boone says he may be ready to play in August
or September--if anyone signs him.

But his Homer That Ate Boston or his Game of Basketball That
Changed the Game of Baseball wasn't the most amazing thing about
Boone in the last year. The most amazing thing about Boone was
his heart.

On the first day of 2003 spring training, 62-year-old Dayton
Daily News sportswriter Hal McCoy stumbled into the Cincinnati
Reds' clubhouse, where Aaron Boone sat.

"What's wrong with you?" Boone asked.

McCoy was nearly in tears. Strokes in the optic nerves of both
eyes had left him with only a tiny, blurred tunnel of vision.
"You're probably seeing me for the last time," whispered McCoy.
"I can't see. I can't do this job anymore."

Boone took him by the shoulders and sat him down in his chair.
"No good," Boone said. "That's not a good enough excuse. You
aren't quitting. You're too good."

You have to understand: A player caring about a writer is like a
shark caring about a sardine.

But here was Boone, pulling Hal McCoy through his darkness. Here
was Boone, checking on him every day. Here was Boone offering to
guide him to teammates' lockers. Here was Boone ... giving him
crap. "Hal," Boone would say from his locker, mock-disgusted.
"I'm over here."

"I wouldn't be covering the Reds today if it weren't for Aaron
Boone," says McCoy, who is back for his 32nd season covering the
Reds, the longest one-team tenure of any current writer. "I'd
have retired that very day. I wanted to quit five or six more
times that spring, but he'd always talk me out of it.... For a
ballplayer to care that much about me, man, it lifted me. It
carried me."

And when McCoy was inducted into the writers' wing of the
Baseball Hall of Fame last July, he had the crowd in tears
telling the story of how a ballplayer turned out to be the
strangest of things to a sportswriter--a friend.

Hey, Boston, you still hate him?

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER

Weird, isn't it, how the key figure in the 2004 season is a guy
who probably won't play this year?

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)