With the MLB postseason beginning Tuesday, the Trojans have exactly zero former players taking the field on baseball’s biggest stage.
However, that doesn’t mean that USC has no alumni who could make a potential Fall Classic run. It’s only fitting that former Trojan Aaron Boone is leading the charge for the New York Yankees as they look to add to an MLB-high 27 World Series championships, 25 years after he played for the program with double the College World Series titles of any other school in the nation.
Boone, now in his second season as the Yankees’ manager, played third base at USC from 1992-1994. He is the younger brother of Bret Boone, a retired 14-year major leaguer and three-time All-Star who also played for the Trojans.
Though Aaron claims to have been a Trojan fan before his brother started college in 1988, he admitted that continuing the family tradition made his time at USC all the more special.
“I had become a huge ‘SC [football fan] when I was in middle school,” the La Mesa, Calif. native said. “And then my brother happened to go to ‘SC, so it just got me more entrenched with the school and with the program. And then all throughout high school, I always wanted to go to ‘SC. So when that became a reality, it was pretty cool.”
Boone made the most of the opportunity to play collegiate baseball at USC. In his three years as a Trojan, Boone hit .302 with an .821 OPS to earn a third round selection by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1994 MLB Draft.
Though Aaron and Bret just missed out on donning the Cardinal and Gold together, they finally had a chance to take the field as teammates with the Cincinnati Reds in 1998. On the last day of the season, the Boones made up half of the first starting infield in baseball history comprising two sets of brothers.
“It was a great way to get my feet under me at the big-league level,” Aaron said of playing third base in the latter half of his rookie season while Bret played across the infield at second. “To have [my] brother over there, it was really cool.”
The Boone lineage in Cincinnati didn’t stop when Bret was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the winter after the 1998 season. Aaron only had to wait two years for his father Bob to take over as the Reds’ manager.
The two had shared a clubhouse before. When Aaron was a toddler, Bob was a catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. The future Yankees manager routinely hung out in the Veterans Stadium clubhouse with his father and his teammates — including Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose — who often got a kick out of Aaron’s impersonations of various Phillies.
“One of the things I’m so grateful [for] with my dad is he always took us with him,” Boone said. “We were always at the park with him, so we got to know and be around so many great guys, got to do so many great things at the ballpark as kids growing up that allowed us to fall in love with the game.”
But now, with father and son on the same team, the circumstances were different. Most people would find Boone’s situation peculiar and, at times, slightly uncomfortable, but that’s not how it played out.
“He didn’t really treat me any different, wasn’t harder on me, wasn’t easier on me,” Boone said of his father. “I was an established player at that point, and he treated me with a lot of respect like I was one of his established players. And then away from the field, to have my mom and dad around was cool … I never felt weirdness from my teammates … I never wanted them to feel like they had to hold their tongue around me or anything like that, and I don’t think that was the case.”
The father-son duo in Cincinnati was short-lived. After two-and-a-half subpar seasons, the elder Boone was fired midway through the 2003 season. Just three days later, Aaron was traded to the Yankees.
Boone spent half a season with New York. He hit six home runs, drove in 31 runs and posted a modest .254/.302/.418 line through 54 regular season games there.
But this is the season you think of when you think of Aaron Boone. Not because of those numbers, not even because of his stellar first half with the Reds that landed him a spot on the National League All-Star team.
It’s the year when Boone became an October legend.
The Yankees were facing their archrival Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Boone was at the plate against Boston’s Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th. He was in the midst of a forgettable postseason, going 5-for-31 with nine strikeouts and 1 RBI to that point.
With one swing, none of that mattered. Boone clobbered a first pitch knuckleball into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium, sending New York to the World Series.
It’s one of the most famous moments in baseball history, and it came out of nowhere — a surprising feat considering Boone’s lack of postseason experience (in the majors, at least).
In the last two years of Boone’s college career, USC reached the NCAA Regional Finals, where a win would have put them in the College World Series. The Trojans lost to Texas in 1993 and LSU in 1994, and Boone twice fell a game shy of Omaha.
Still, his experience in those games would prove crucial. Though the stakes might have been a little higher, Game 7 of the ALCS wasn’t Boone’s first time playing for a ticket to the final destination.
“Everything you experience in the course of your life prepares you and hopefully plays a role in your career,” Boone said. “Playing in huge regional settings at LSU and Texas with everything on the line — I think those are where you gain experience. I certainly think it helped me moving forward in my career.”
Perhaps Boone’s most remarkable feat came when he was a Houston Astro in 2009. That March, he received open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve. Boone had known of his heart condition since he was at USC, but the effects had recently accelerated.
Six months after writing goodbye letters to his family in case he didn’t survive the procedure, Boone became the first Major Leaguer in history to play after undergoing open heart surgery.
“To be able to get back to where I got to play in the big leagues again in the month of September — I remember my first game back, how nervous I was just being out in the field again,” Boone said. “But it was really rewarding to get to play with my teammates again for that month of September.”
2009 was Boone’s last season as a player. On Feb. 23, 2010, the 12-year veteran hung up his spikes, headed for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and shuffled between the studio and the broadcast booth until 2017.
Now, Boone finds himself back where he’s spent a good chunk of his life: in the dugout. From playing third base at USC to taking over as the manager of baseball’s most famous franchise, it’s clear that Boone can’t seem to keep out of the spotlight.
“I guess it just kind of happened to work out that way,” Boone said, laughing. “I’ve loved, obviously, my ties to USC. I think people that know me know how much it means to me and how much the University means to me … I feel so proud and honored to get to come to work every day for the Pinstripes. I feel blessed [for] the opportunities that I’ve had in my lifetime in being able to chase my dreams.”
Through all of his career’s twists and turns, Boone hasn’t forgotten the campus that kickstarted it all.
“It’s such a majestic place,” Boone said of USC. “I think they do a great job of preparing people for careers and for life after college, so to speak. Not just me and baseball — I think it’s just something that the University has always done well, and it’s a great place to have gone to school.”
Boone has made a name for himself as a manager for his willingness to get in an umpire’s face when he disagrees with a call. His most famous rant, during which he screamed at a home plate umpire, “My guys are fucking savages in that box,” has become a rallying cry for the 2019 Bronx Bombers. Boone, who was ejected from his MLB debut as a player, described himself as “pretty laid back” before conceding that “I had my moments.”
Though he denied that college Boone was also a “savage,” it wouldn’t be an unfair word to describe his baseball career. Boone has already etched his name into the history books, and a 28th World Series ring for the Yankees would further cement his legacy as one of baseball’s greats.
If there’s anyone in the game who’s up to the task, it’s Aaron Boone — the man who has seen and done it all.