On a crisp, cool autumn night in late September 2022, over 52,000 fans piled into Yankee Stadium, keen on watching history unfold. Coming into that game, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge sat on 59 total home runs for the season, but Judge and the Yankee faithful hungered for more.
The elusively rare 60-home run plateau felt inevitable for Judge that year, but that did not prevent Yankees fans from holding their breath every step of the way there. Judge, always a showman, began that game 0-3 at the plate. In a late-season stretch in which every Judge at-bat felt like must-see TV, those three at-bats felt more like 300.
Nevertheless, in the bottom of the ninth inning of that game, the 147th of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates led the Yankees by a score of 8-4. On a 3-1 count with nobody out, Judge blasted a solo home run deep to left-center field. Despite achieving that historic 60th home run, which tied Babe Ruth for second-most in American League and Yankees history, Judge jogged around the base paths casually, keeping his chin down. After making his way back to the Yankees’ dugout, Judge stepped out to begrudgingly accept a curtain call from the home fans, not even cracking a smile.
“At the time, it was a solo shot in the ninth, still down by a couple runs,” Judge explained after the game.
Unbeknownst to him, that stone-cold reaction would spark the Yankees’ offense to life. With the score now 8-5, first baseman Anthony Rizzo responded with a double, followed by a walk to Gleyber Torres, and a bloop single by Josh Donaldson to load the bases. Then, in perhaps the most memorable win of the Yankees’ season, Giancarlo Stanton blasted a walk-off grand slam deep to left field, capping a 9-8 victory. Then, and only then, did Judge get up out of his seat to celebrate with a signature grin on his face.
Through six seasons with the Yankees, Judge has represented the organization with nothing but class, humility, and exceptional leadership. He has embraced the challenge of being a professional athlete in New York, improving exponentially as a player while maintaining the same grace and composure he had as a minor leaguer.
However, Judge’s leadership only accounts for a fraction of his impact on the Yankees’ organization – and the game of baseball as a whole. In 2021, Judge met Mason Ferruli, a four-time cancer survivor who had recently gone viral for his reaction when he pulled a rare Aaron Judge Topps trading card. “Oh my God! Dad, no way! Our prayers were answered!” Ferruli exclaimed excitedly upon opening the set. Judge would later autograph the card for Ferruli, who lives a short drive away from Judge’s hometown of Linden, California.
(Credit: @masonferrulli23) pic.twitter.com/hfa5G1MvuB
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) August 28, 2021
“Wow. You want to talk about someone that’s tough and resilient and strong and continues to have a smile on his face – that’s Mason,” Judge said. “It’s a pretty special story.”
In May 2022, Aaron Judge hit a towering 427-foot home run into the second deck of the left field seats at Rogers Centre, a road game against the Toronto Blue Jays. When Mike Lanzillotta, a Blue Jays fan, got his hands on the home run ball, he celebrated for half a second before turning around to give the ball to a nine-year-old wearing an Aaron Judge jersey. The pair embraced for a hug, and a video of the exchange went viral online.
I'm not crying, you're crying 😭#BlueJays #Yankees @MLB pic.twitter.com/jCFdWpMnrq
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) May 4, 2022
When Aaron Judge found out about the wholesome gesture, both fans were invited to meet him in the Yankees dugout just before the series finale a few days later.
“For a Blue Jays fan to have that moment with a young Yankee fan, that’s a moment seen around the world,” Judge said. “It speaks volumes to the Blue Jays fans they have here… it was cool.” Judge even invited the pair to a Jays-Yankees game in the “Judge’s Chambers” at Yankee Stadium later in the season.
Last night, 9-year-old Derek Rodriguez was gifted @TheJudge44’s home run ball by Jays fan Mike Lanzillotta.
Tonight, Derek got to meet his favorite player 💙 pic.twitter.com/18b24wKYkv
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 4, 2022
It is not hard to see where Aaron Judge got his big heart and calm demeanor from. He is fiercely close with his adoptive parents, and it never bothered him not to know his biological parents. “I feel they kind of picked me. I feel that God was the one that matched us together.’’
Judge has also credited much of his success to his parents. “I know I wouldn’t be a New York Yankee if it wasn’t for my mom. The guidance she gave me as a kid growing up, knowing the difference from right and wrong, how to treat people and how to go the extra mile and put in extra work, all that kind of stuff. She’s molded me into the person that I am today.” Judge went on to gush about his parents’ life lessons, and how they uplifted him to a higher standard. He put his education first, stuck to his plans, and even kept himself on a tight schedule throughout his childhood.
Aaron Judge's parents, Patty and Wayne, celebrate as Yankees star hits 62nd home run https://t.co/0rdLq2qvNG pic.twitter.com/ncXnGl3rXe
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) October 5, 2022
Judge also married his high school sweetheart, another signal of his deep connection and appreciation for where he came from. Judge avoids the spotlight, puts his head down, and works his behind off every single day. He does not relish in the fame or celebrity of being an MLB superstar – if anything he tries to tune it out.
Throughout the 2022 season, Judge’s teammates professed their respect and admiration for him to anyone who would listen. “He’s meant everything,” All-Star pitcher Nestor Cortes said of Judge during the ALCS. “We follow everything he does. He leads by example. He’s not really a guy that comes out and screams at anybody, but if he has to, that’s his job. I think he’s earned that right to keep us in check.”
Anthony Rizzo, a close friend of Judge, and an All-Star and World Series champion in his own right, agreed wholeheartedly with Cortes. This offseason, before Judge reached an extension with the Yankees, Rizzo said, “I think the fitting thing would be for him to do a press conference receiving not only the money he deserves but also the captain title that comes with it.”
On December 7th, 2022, Aaron Judge received a 3 A.M. phone call from Yankees’ owner Hal Steinbrenner doing just that, naming Judge the 16th captain in Yankees’ history, shortly after he agreed to a nine-year, $360 million contract extension with the Yankees.
“I was at a loss of words,” Judge later recalled. “I don’t think I said anything for – it felt like five minutes, but it was probably only a couple of seconds. I was pretty taken aback because it’s such an incredible honor.”
Judge joined a long line of Yankee icons in earning the coveted title of captain, including Thurman Mason, Lou Gehrig, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Derek Jeter, and Don Mattingly. “That’s a pretty good list right there, not only great baseball players but great ambassadors of the game and of the New York Yankees. This is an incredible honor that I don’t take lightly,” Judge graciously insisted in a press conference announcing the news.
Now entering his seventh season, Yankees fans are waiting eagerly to see what Judge will do next. It will be hard to top his record-breaking 2022 campaign, but he will certainly bring his trademarked leadership and game-breaking ability back to the field throughout the 2023 season.
Beyond his likable personality and off-field humility, Judge has displayed superhuman abilities that the MLB has simply never seen for someone his size. Judge stands 6’7, and nearly 280 pounds, yet has honed his hulking frame into near five-tool status. He is almost as tall as the NBA’s most sluggish big men are, yet he moves gracefully as one of the best centerfielders in the game.
Not only that, but Judge’s tall frame has rendered his strike zone nearly impossible to call for home plate umpires, making last year’s .311 batting average that much more impressive. Judge even managed to rack up 16 steals last year, an absurd number for someone his size.
Despite the raw baseball brilliance that Aaron Judge has managed to display both on and off the field, his status as a Yankee has placed an undeserved target on his back. In fact, not everyone was thrilled about the long term extension he received last offseason.
Mike Francesca, a New York sports radio talk show host, slammed the Yankees for extending the 30-year-old for nine years. “It’s a bad contract. The Yankees will pay dearly on this contract in years 7,8,9. I don’t think there’s any question about that. He will not be the same player, because nobody is.” By that logic, perhaps the Lakers made a mistake in re-signing Kobe Bryant late into his 30s – except for the fact that Bryant’s impact on the Lakers’ organization meant far more than any dollar signs on his contract.
Mike Axisa, a CBS sports writer, cited the top five hitters over 6’6” above the age of 30 to discredit Judge’s long-term viability as an elite player. Axisa also made sure to point out that Judge would never repeat his historic 2022 season, meaning his contract would see a guaranteed decline. By that logic, perhaps Tom Brady should never have re-signed with the Patriots after his 50-touchdown season in 2007, since he never repeated that feat.
The truth is that Judge has been a freak and an outlier in the baseball stratosphere since he broke onto the scene with what should have been an MVP season in his rookie year. No player at Judge’s size has ever run, hit for average, and fielded the way he can. At age 31, Judge is currently on a 57-home run pace with a +.300 batting average, albeit through just 14 games in the 2023 season.
Rather than whine about history, age, and advanced stats, why not sit back, relax, and think back to that cool, crisp autumn night in late September? Bases loaded, 60 home runs in his back pocket, and Judge waited until the Yankees won the game to crack a smile. You cannot delve through any number, or oversized contract for that matter, to find character and greatness like that just anywhere.