Aaron Judge made his MLB debut on August 13, 2016. In his first major league at-bat, he hit a home run to center field just out of the Yankee Stadium hitters eye. That was very clearly a preview of what was to come.
The next season, he was unanimously named the AL Rookie of the Year with 52 home runs, then an MLB record for a rookie. He finished second in that year’s MVP voting to José 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 talents on the field never wavered. From 2018-20, he had a .917 OPS with a .274 average. In 2021, he hit .287 with a .916 OPS, finishing fourth in AL MVP voting while leading 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 scheduled to end after the next 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 and 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 that the bet worked is the understatement of the year.
Judge’s year was one to remember: He became the AL home run king on October 4 in Arlington, Texas, when he hit his 62nd home run of the season, passing former Yankee Roger Maris 61 years after hitting 61. home runs. Several others (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) have broken Maris’ record, but his ties to performance-enhancing drugs have clouded his numbers. Therefore, Judge is considered by many to be the «real» home run king of a season.
But his season was much more than 62 home runs.
AARON JUDGE CONNECTS THE 62nd home run, surpasses Roger Maris as the player who hits the most in a season by a player in the American league
Judge was in the running for the Triple Crown until the final day of the season: his .311 batting average was second in the American League. His 111 walks were the most in the American League, and his 62 home runs, 131 RBIs, .425 on-base percentage, .686 slugging percentage, 133 runs scored, and 391 total bases led the majors by comfortable margins. .
It was one of the best offensive seasons in baseball history, with no errors on the field. He was easily named the AL MVP, adding even more intrigue to his free agency market.
The rumor mill was swirling, and on December 6, he reportedly came very close to joining his hometown San Francisco Giants. That’s when Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner called Judge and asked what it would take for him to stay in pinstripes. In that phone call, Judge and the Yanks agreed to a nine-year, $360 million contract, the largest ever by a free agent and second-largest in total value behind only Mike Trout’s $425 million.
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 Yankee history, and the first since Derek Jeter.
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Only four people have a higher OPS in a Yankees uniform than Judge’s .977: Ruth (1.195), Lou Gehrig (1.079), Mickey Mantle (.978) and Joe DiMaggio (also .977). Judge is .0002 points behind DiMaggio — he would pass if he reached in his first plate appearance next season.
Judge has just about every accolade in baseball: three Silver Slugger Awards, one Home Run Derby championship, four All-Star Game nominations (all starts), one Rookie of the Year, one MVP.
But one thing is missing.
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Judge has yet to win or appear in a World Series. He is now 30 years old and the Yankees have had a problem with the Astros, who have beaten them three times in the ALCS since Judge began his career, including last October.
The ring is something Judge obviously wants desperately. And Yankees fans are tough: They want championships with their stars. Considering Judge is a .211 postseason hitter, he knows he needs to be better if he wants to give the Yankees their 28th World Series title.
But if he doesn’t make 10 like Yogi Berra, or nine like DiMaggio, or seven like Mantle, or five like Jeter, God forbid he makes zero like Don Mattingly, he’ll be perhaps the most polarizing figure ever to come forward. striped fabrics. His 6-foot-7, 282-pound frame, combined with perhaps being the best player in baseball, already makes him something of a magical player.
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And so was his 2022.
From the bet, to the broken records, to the contract, to the captaincy.
It was nothing short of magical.