NEW YORK – In the midst of the most famous and historic home trot career in more than a decade, the decade that took Aaron Judge to a level once revered for baseball kings, the basketball Yankees chose not to cheer, cheer, or luxuriate in an instant. About an hour later, the Yankees player celebrated the 60th home run in his brilliant 2022 season on Tuesday night by lamenting the fact that he didn’t hit it earlier in the game, when the rules, unlike when he did, were loaded into the bottom of the ninth inning with them blank and New York lagging behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I was kind of kicking myself while I was running around the bases,” Judge said. “Like, man, you idiot, you should have done that a little earlier.”
Eventually, spurred on by his teammates and manager, Judge offered those stuck at Yankee Stadium and treated to more of his charm a frosty curtain call. It was more out of service than desired. Throughout the season, as he hunts ghosts and associated numbers, the kinds of things that matter so much in the baseball world but so little in the Judge world, he has been psychically consistent in his insistence that the team replace the individual. To him, it all felt strange, disappointed, wrong – another round number was reached, but with his team still falling three rounds and only three points off another loss, just as when he hit 50.
Just something happened. Anthony Rizzo made it to base, then Gleiber Torres, then Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton climbed, Will Crowe left a change so high that Stanton sent him across the left field wall on a line. This time around, the judge seemed to be the first to come out of the dugout, there to greet his teammates on the home plate, to celebrate an unlikely 9-8 victory that took an important night for the rest of the world and imbued it with the score for him, too.
As wild as it is to think Judge thinks this way – he’s so focused on the team, so tunnel visionary, that he doesn’t allow himself the grace to enjoy the moment unless his teammates have something to celebrate too – everyone around him swears by this Right. He truly is like a machine in his conviction, and the reverse personality of the person who scored his one-time record on Tuesday.
When Babe Ruth made his 60th home run to shatter his own mark in 1927, he said after the match, “Stone! Count M, 60! Let’s see another B-son match that!” Pep was pure: a little arrogant and explosive, and appreciative even at the moment of his place in history, perhaps because he used to write it. Early baseball books featured Ruth’s name so much that they felt autobiographical. He was the game in the 1920s, and his continuing to play such a prominent role a century later shows that, for all the bravado, he understood the enormity of the shadow he was casting.
In the end, others overtook the 60 – first Roger Maris in 1961, then Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, although the last three were powered by performance-enhancing drugs, a fact that doesn’t negate their accomplishments so much as providing an important context from which to watch them. Roth’s record came before the merger. Maris preceded the internationalization of the game. Each tag carries its luggage.
Which is part of the reason why the judge was exempted from talking numbers. He said “60” only once in a post-match press conference. He said “team” at least 10 times. He can engage himself in a discussion about the real record or the legal record. He prefers to dedicate the hymns almost to the party line in which he lives.
“To have a chance to play baseball at Yankee Stadium, a packed house, a #1 team, that’s what you dream about,” Judge said. “I love every second of it. Even when we were down, you don’t like losing, but I knew the top of the squad was coming, we got a chance to come back here and do something special. I’m trying to enjoy everything, absorb everything, but I know I still have A job to do in the field every day.”
He seems to mean it: somehow this life, this fact, does not bother the judge. As much as Ruth enjoyed it, Maris hated it. While he and teammate Mickey Mantel were hunting Ruth in 1961, Maris scooped up coffee, tore up cigarettes, and watched his hair fall out in clumps. As much as he wanted to perform, Maris viewed his legacy as a burden, saying, “It would have been a lot more fun if I hadn’t had those 61 home kicks. All it brought me was a headache.”
The judge’s head is firm, clear, and firm. Which is fortunate, because as much as he would have enjoyed taking numbers out of the way – scoring 61 to equal the Maris in the MLS and 62 to break that – he inadvertently ensured that there wouldn’t be a clean slate. In addition to having unbeatable leads in his home runs and running, Judge’s blast in the ninth has propelled his hitting average to the AL-best .316. Which means that as the Yankees spend the last 15 games of their season looking to win the AL East title in a division they now lead with five games over Toronto, they will do so with the judge chasing not only Ruth and Maris but the second Triple Crown in the past half century.
This is a man who has played his entire career in the Bronx. A man refused to extend a seven-year contract on opening day. Aaron Judge knows the pressure of numbers, accolades, team performance, and the impending free agency that comes with a whole different kind of number this winter. Tuesday, he allowed himself to examine the names of his ancestors—”You’re talking about Ruth and Maris and Mantell and all the great Yankees…” the judge said—but he didn’t delve too much into that line of reasoning.
The past is about the ego. The present is about the team. The New York Yankees, undoubtedly Aaron Judge’s side, took their best win of the season on Tuesday. While Stanton was jogging at the Grand Slam, the judge could clear his mind of someone who would have been free from the burden.
On the night he turned sixty–yes, Pip, Count M., 60–he was jubilant and plump at a different march on his land, and was struck down by another man of enormous stature. The world can get the one shot that is both noteworthy and historic. Aaron Judge will take the Grand Slam that the Yankees won another baseball game.
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