How Aaron Judge’s bet on himself turned into a historic year on and off the pitch
Aaron Judge made his MLB debut on August 13, 2016. In his first major league at-bat, he hit a home run to the center of deadfield in front of the Yankee Stadium batters’ eyes. It was very clearly a preview of what was to come.
The following season, he was unanimously named the AL Rookie of the Year with 52 homers, then an MLB record for a rookie. He finished second in that year’s MVP voting against Jose Altuve, who has since become controversial amid the Houston Astros cheating scandal that season.
Over the next three seasons, he suffered multiple injuries, but his talent on the pitch never wavered. From 2018 to 2020, he had a .917 OPS, averaging .274. In 2021, he hit .287 with a .916 OPS, finishing fourth in AL MVP voting as he took the Yankees down the stretch to a wild card game appearance.
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But now the Yankees had a problem. Their superstar’s contract was due to end after the upcoming season, and the MLB lockout made it literally impossible to negotiate for three months.
Just before Opening Day, the Yankees offered him a salary of $17 million for 2022, then $213.5 million over the next seven seasons.
The judge refused. He was going to be a free agent after the 2022 season. He bet on himself.
To say the bet paid off is the understatement of the year.
Judge’s year was one for the ages – he became the American League Homer king on October 4 in Arlington, Texas, when he hit his 62nd home run of the season, passing the former Yankee Roger Maris 61 years old after hitting 61 home runs. Several others (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) broke Maris’ mark, but their ties to performance-enhancing drugs tainted their numbers. Thus, many consider Judge the « true » single-season home run king.
But his season was way more than 62 homers.
AARON JUDGE HITS 62ND HOME RUN, PASSING ROGER MARIS FOR MOST IN A SEASON BY AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYER
Judge was in the Triple Crown race until the last day of the season – his .311 batting average was second in the AL. His 111 walks were the most in the American League, and his 62 home runs, 131 RBI, .425 on-base percentage, .686 slugging percentage, 133 runs scored and 391 total bases all led the majors by comfortable margins.
It was one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history – without making any mistakes on the field. He was easily named the American League’s Most Valuable Player, adding even more intrigue to his free agency market.
Rumors were swirling and on December 6, he was reportedly set to join the San Francisco Giants, his hometown. That’s when Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner called Judge and asked what it would take to keep him pinstriped. In that phone call, Judge and the Yanks agreed to a nine-year, $360 million deal, the largest ever by a free agent and second in total value behind Mike’s $425 million. Trout.
Now the face of baseball is a Yankee for life. At his « welcome home » press conference on December 21, he was named the 16th captain in Yankees history, and the first since Derek Jeter.
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Only four people have higher OPS in a Yankee uniform than Judge’s .977 – Ruth (1.195), Lou Gehrig (1.079), Mickey Mantle (.978), and Joe DiMaggio (also .977). The judge is 0.0002 points behind DiMaggio – he would pass him if he found himself at the plate in his first plate appearance next season.
Judge has just about every accolade in baseball – three Silver Slugger Awards, a Home Run Derby championship, four All-Star nominations (all starts), a rookie of the year, an MVP.
But one thing is missing.
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The judge has not yet won or competed in a World Series. He’s now 30 and the Yankees have had a problem with the Astros, who have defeated them three times in the ALCS since Judge started his career, including last October.
The ring is something Judge obviously wants badly. And Yankees fans are tough — they want championships with their stars. Considering Judge is a .211 postseason hitter, he knows he has to be better if he wants to give the Yankees their 28th World Series title.
But if he doesn’t earn 10 like Yogi Berra, or nine like DiMaggio, or seven like Mantle, or five like Jeter – God forbid he earns zero like Don Mattingly – he may become the most polarizing figure ever. bet. fine stripes. His 6-foot-7, 282-pound frame, combined with being possibly the best player in baseball, already makes him something of a magic player.
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And that’s what his 2022 was.
From the bet, to the broken records, to the contract, to the captaincy.
It was simply magical.