For years, many believed that Aaron Judge had everything to be a real superstar, the face of MLB.
He’s big, strong, and handsome. Plus, he swings a big home run bat. And best of all, he plays on the biggest stage in baseball in New York on the most storied franchise in American sports history.
It was just a few years ago that even MLB commissioner Rob Manfred hoped out loud it would happen after Judge won the 2017 HR Derby in Miami in a performance that was suitable for framing. “He’s a tremendous talent on the field and really appealing off the field,” Manfred said back then.
But it didn’t happen. Not the next season or in the next few years.
Not because Judge was a flash in the pan. Instead, injuries kept derailing Judge from shining and reaching his full potential.
You can’t wow folks on the injured list.
Then came 2021. Not only did Judge finally stay healthy this season, but he truly blossomed into a superstar in the game.
Sure, all the buzz was about Shohei Ohtani and Fernando Tatis Jr. - and rightly so, both are studs. Still, it was impossible to ignore what Judge put together on a team that played meaningful games the entire season.
Ohtani and Tatis Jr. are both at home as the postseason gets going.
Without question, Judge and his New York Yankees wouldn’t be in the American League Wild Card game against the Boston Red Sox tonight at Fenway Park without him.
And we mean it literally. It was only fitting that Judge sent the Yankees to a postseason berth with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.
The Yanks won 1-0 and once again Judge came up huge in a big spot.
It has been like this all year. When the Yankees needed a big hit, in a tight spot, Judge or Giancarlo Stanton seemed to deliver.
In the monumental playoff shift that probably got the Yankees into the postseason, the Yankees swept a three-game series in Boston.
To complete the sweep, the Yankees scored four runs in the eighth inning. With two outs, Judge delivered a clutch two-run double, giving the Yanks a 4-3 lead in an eventual 6-3 victory.
On Thursday in Toronto, Judge hit two homers, including his 39th of the season, in a much-needed victory.
Back on September 11, Judge hit two homers against the Mets in a comeback thriller. The Yankees needed that win at the time and Judge got it for them.
It has really been a clutch season for the 6-foot-7 right fielder.
In the regular season, Judge batted .287 with 39 homers and 98 RBI.
He played in 148 games, the most since his first full season in 2017 when he played in 155 games and won the AL Rookie of the Year and runner-up for the AL MVP. This season, Judge had the most at-bats in a single season in his career with 550. His batting average this season was a career-high.
Judge’s previous three seasons have been marred by injuries at every turn.
In the COVID-shortened season in 2020, a 60-game season, Judge played in just 28 games. In 2019, he played in 102 games, and in 2018, just 112.
For sure, Judge’s middle name was frustrating.
Yankee fans saw all this potential, but it wasn’t being realized because Judge couldn’t stay on the field.
A year or so ago, it was hard to think that it would be a slam dunk for the Yankees to sign Judge, 29, to a long-term extension this coming offseason. He still has one year of arbitration left before he can become a free agent.
It just seemed like a huge risk because of his injury history.
Thus far, there have been no contract talks, according to what he told the media.
“The ball is kind of in their court,” Judge told the New York Post. “I’m just a player. I just do my job every day.
“I’m not going to go out running to anybody and say ‘Let’s talk about this.’ That’s their job to do. That’s what they get paid for. I’m getting paid to be out here on the field.”
Finally, Judge was able to do that and produce like the superstar most always believed he would be.