Aaron Judge hit his 60th home run of the season last night and, with good reason, much of America doesn’t really care. Or at least much of America doesn’t care the way it used to, which is to say that the popularity of baseball has waned in age of shorter attention spans and the need for more action.
But let’s be honest.
If you’re any kind of sports fan at all, you should be rooting for this guy.
Obviously, a great has changed in the last 24 years, the time that has elapsed since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa – or as Ted Kennedy famously called them, Mike McGwire and Sammy Sooser – chased what was once one of the most sacred records in sports. The home run has become completely devalued. The steroid era smeared baseball’s record book. And the game from pastime to a past time.
Still Judge is worth following.
And here’s why:
He bet on himself
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 20: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees hits his 60th home run of the season during the 9th inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Yankee Stadium on September 20, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Prior to the season, the Yankees offered Judge a seven-year, $213 million extension (an average of $30.4 million per year) on top of the $19 million he is earning this season. After Judge turned them down, it was the Yankees who publicly disclosed terms of the proposal. Judge has since gone on to be the best player in baseball this season, setting him up for a massive payday this fall. Judge will be 31 next April. He is almost certainly starting at a minimum eight-year deal worth in the vicinity of $35 million per year – or more.
He is a true outlier
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 13: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Boston Red Sox during the eighth inning at Fenway Park on September 13, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Given baseball’s chemical history when it comes to the home run record, you have every right to wonder if Judge is taking performance-enhancers. (Major League Baseball – and everyone involved – long ago sacrificed the benefit of the doubt on this one.) For the sake of argument, let’s say Judge has been able to beat any testing. Does anyone honestly believe he’s the only player in baseball to have done so? After Judge (60 homers), the next closest person in the chase for Home Run King is Kyle Schwarber … who has 40. That gives Judge 50 percent more home runs than anybody else in the sport. If McGwire had defeated Sosa by the same margin in 1998, he would have had to hit 99 home runs.
His home runs have mattered
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 20: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees watches from the dugout after hitting his 60th home run of the season during the 9th inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Yankee Stadium on September 20, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
While the Yankees sprinted to a huge lead in the American League East early in the season, Judge’s greater value to the team has come during the second half, when the Yankees have struggled. While Judge’s home and road totals are nearly identical – he has 30 home runs both at home and on the road – he has batted a whopping .372 with a .506 on-base percentage, .853 slugging percentage and 1.360 OPS since the All-Star break. Any suggestion that someone other JNudge is the Most Valuable Player of the American League this season is downright laughable and discounts every human element.
He’s not just the home run king
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 20: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees jogs off the field at the end of the 1st inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Yankee Stadium on September 20, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
While he went just 1-for-4 with a home run last night, Judge actually leapfrogged both Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and Twins infielder Luis Arraez for first place in the Triple Crown race. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Despite modern metrics that discount many conventional batting statistics, Judge leads the American League in batting average (.316), home runs (60) and RBI (128). Relatively to his peers, Judge is having one of the single greatest seasons in baseball history, bar none.