Aaron Judge hit another home run Monday night. It was his 22nd on the year, a dramatic eighth-inning, two-run shot that ended up being the difference for his team. Right now, in his first full season, he’s on pace to win the AL Triple Crown. If he somehow keeps hitting dingers at his current rate, he could even pass Roger Maris for the Yankees’ all-time single-season home run record.
When Ruth came to the plate, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. As one of his peers said, even his strikeouts were epic, with Ruth swinging so hard that he fell down. In the midst of his career – and even after it – fans gathered to watch him take batting practice, to see the strength and the power.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Aaron Judge has played fewer than 100 games in his career. He has a strikeout percentage of 28.3 this year. But with the recent retirements of marketers’ dreams like Jeter and David Ortiz, baseball is starved for a superstar—not just a guy like Mike Trout, whose dominance is so routine that he’ll be the one human athlete still on the field after the robots take over—but someone with the charisma and magnetism that will draw younger fans and worldwide attention.
That superstar hasn’t arrived yet. Here’s Aaron Judge, fresh off a 500-foot home run, describing how he feels when he hits one of his incredible blasts: “If I know it’s going over the fence, I am going to start jogging and just get around the bases and get back in the dugout.”
Judge is the latest in what we’ll call the post-Yasiel Puig phenom generation, one that’s seen just how damaging the label of “distraction” can be in a game like baseball. Even worse, he plays for the Yankees, a team so hell-bent on destroying individuality that they still don’t put names on the backs of uniforms and won’t let their players grow beards or long hair.
Judge surely knows—especially in New York, especially as we enter the slow news days of summer—that any quote he gives that isn’t completely anodyne will make the rounds all over every ESPN show, provoke every conceivable take on Twitter, and inevitably force his teammates to answer media questions about it. It’s understandable why he won’t move out of step. He’s young. He doesn’t want to annoy his teammates. He’s just going to keep doing his job and offering himself as an appealing blank slate to optimistic baseball writers.
With a BABIP of .437, Judge does seem primed for a meaningful regression, which will test not only his ability to maintain a clean and humble image when things aren’t going so well, but also the staying power of the hype machine that currently has him destined for superstardom.
These are all second-order concerns, of course. The thing that matters most to the Yankees and baseball fans is that Judge hits baseballs that appear to Neverland:
Judge may never evolve into the magnetic personality that the league is still desperately searching for, but he will always be a 6-foot-7 guy who wears No. 99 and hits the ball as hard and as far as anyone we’ve ever seen. That alone makes him impossible to ignore, whether he encourages the attention or not.