Judge grew up in Linden, California, a no stop-light pinprick of an agricultural town 100 miles inland from San Francisco. He had an older brother and parents who were teachers.
Aaron could go weeks without encountering a stranger
Bu the time he enrolled at Fresno State, he was a star outfielder who drew stares every time he entered a room. There is nowhere for a 6' 7," 282 pound man to hide. He is used to the feeling of eyes on him.
Judge is the biggest position player, by body mass, in MLB history. (Stephanie Apstein - Sports Illustrated - 5/10/2017)
Aaron was always the biggest kid in his class while growing up. And his first love was basketball. There was a time when he considered football, too. As a senior at Linden (Calif.) High, Judge set school records for single-season receiving yards, single-season touchdowns and career touchdowns as a wide receiver.
"My dad really excelled at basketball and when I was growing up, I wanted to be an NBA basketball player,” Aaron said. “But as I started growing up, I fell more in love with baseball and that became my true love.
"The Lord has really blessed me," Judge said.
In 2010, Judge was the A's 31st-round draft pick, out of high school. But he chose a baseball scholarship to Fresno State. Both of his parents are alums and they are both teachers.
Scouts really began to take note of Judge when he ranked as the top prospect in the summer Alaska League following his freshman season at Fresno State.
As a sophomore, he hit two homers in one game off Stanford's Mark Appel (who would become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft), won the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby and starred in the Cape Cod League the summer of 2012.
Aaron enjoys playing video games, basketball and working out.
Judge's combination of size and athleticism is so unusual for a baseball player that the comparison scouts make most is to NBA star Blake Griffin.
- June 2013: The Yankees chose Judge with their second pick in the first round -- # 32 overall. And he signed for a $1.8 million bonus.
In 2014, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Judge as the 6th-best prospect in the Yankee organization. He was rated #3 in the spring of 2016 and #6 in 2017.
Spring 2014: "The impression of Aaron Judge is he is a tremendous ceiling," said Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. "He's an athlete, he's playing in the middle of the field right now, he has huge power, he has tremendous work ethic, and he's shown us the potential for all five tools to be pluses."
- In 2015, Judge was selected to represent the Yankees in the All-Star Futures Game. Aaron has a good chance to become the best position prospect the Yankees have developed since Brett Gardner in 2005. He is the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees Top 30 Prospects list. (October 2015)
Aaron has a good head on his shoulders, and a guy teammates want to hang out with off the field. And his work habits are off the charts. He is a real professional. His composure is impressive.
Reggie Jackson provided some Hall of Fame comparisons for Judge, offering the names of Dave Winfield, Willie McCovey, and Willie Stargell. To general manager Brian Cashman, there is nothing wrong with dreaming big.
Jackson told ESPN that he sees Judge as "the next great Yankee," comparing Judge's athleticism to Winfield, while flipping a few more Cooperstown analogies to describe Judge's presence at the plate.
"He's got power like Stargell, McCovey," Jackson said. "Opposite-field power, which is the best power you can have. That allows you to wait on the ball. He has power like a guy from the '60s and '70s."
Jackson has not been alone in offering gushing praise for Judge, who has also drawn comparisons to Marlin Giancarlo Stanton. Cashman said that there is little he can do to temper expectations for Judge. (Hoch - mlb.com - 3/11/15)
Aaron was asked who his favorite player was, while growing up?
"My dad talked about Dave Winfield. He was a bigger guy like I was, three-sport star. They said I would be big like him. I always followed him and looked at old videos, and just the way he held himself on and off the field, he was a class act. And living in California, I watched the Giants a lot, so guys like Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds, Rich Aurilia -- they were some of my favorites to watch," Judge said.
"During the game, gum. I have a big thing with gum. If I'm chewing a piece of gum and I go up and get a hit, I keep the gum. But if I get out, I gotta throw it away. That's one I've got," Judge said.
How about something fans don't know: " I'm starting to learn how to play the piano. I just got a piano at my parents' house and I've been learning how to play in the offseason. Maybe in a couple years I'll be good," Aaron said.
MLB debut (August 13, 2016): Judge was just the second Yankee to homer in back-to-back games to start his career, joining Joe Lefebvre, who achieved the feat on May 22-23, 1980.
Judge and Tyler Austin became the first pair of teammates to hit their first career home runs in their debut games and just the fourth and fifth Yankees to hit home runs in their first plate appearance or at-bat.
Q&A following debut season: Judge sat down for a question-and-answer with Record Editor Mike Klocke. (Feb. 2017)
Record: Take us back to that Friday night in August, 2016. You'd just finished a Triple-A game in Rochester, New York, and were with your parents (longtime San Joaquin County educators Wayne and Patty Judge) at a restaurant when your manager told you that you were being called up to the majors. What went through your mind?
Judge: There were a lot of emotions. I was a bit confused when I got the news. We were at probably the only restaurant open that late at night in Rochester. It was so shocking. Then we had to get in the car and drive five hours to New York (for the Yankees' day game on Saturday against Tampa). I just sat in the back seat. The time flew by as we drove to New York.
Record: You arrived for some pageantry. The Yankees were honoring their 1996 World Champions that day, so that meant Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and others. That's not a typical atmosphere for a major-league debut.
Judge: After I got there I was so busy. I had to sign a contract, get my locker and handle some other details. They brought Tyler Austin up for his debut that day, so we were both going through it. The moment when we walked through (the tunnel) and emerged onto the field was amazing. Yankee Stadium. And then all of those legendary Yankees were there being honored.
Record: We'll get to your first at-bat later. But before that, you had to make a defensive play in the top of the first inning.
Judge: Yeah, we got two quick outs and I thought to myself, "That's good, I'll get out of the first inning without making a play." But then (Evan) Longoria hit a slicing drive to deep right. I went back on the warning track and caught it and then bumped into the wall. It made me feel like, "yeah, I'm in the game."
Record: Then you're on deck when Tyler Austin comes up to bat. His first in the Majors. He goes opposite field for a home run.
Judge: It was a great moment. Tyler fouled off some tough pitches and then got one out to right field. The fans went wild. He's a good friend, and I felt great to see him rounding the bases. But then I had to snap out of it. I was up to bat next. It was strange, but once I got into the batter's box I was no longer nervous. I just wanted to make contact and get that first major-league at-bat done. (Tampa pitcher Matt Andriese) threw me something off-speed, maybe a change-up. I figured, "OK, I made contact and got a fly ball." But it just kept carrying until it went out. I was running hard to first base, but then I almost tripped over second base
Record: I would imagine there's quite a difference between growing up in Linden and then living in New York City. What was it like for you?
Judge: It's amazing, and I tried to take advantage of experiencing all I could in the city. I asked one of the clubbies (clubhouse attendants) the best way to get to know New York and he told me, "Just go out and explore and experience it by yourself." I did that a lot. The city is so diverse that you can blend in with the crowds.
Rat you served as the Yankees' clubhouse dee-jay. That you livened things up a bit with your music.
Judge: (Laughing) We always played music in the clubhouse when I was in the minors. They didn't have any music in New York. It was very quiet. We played a song after one of the games. Then it just kind of took off and I started playing some more music after our wins.
Aaron has a powerful bat. His 10 home runs in April 2017, which tied a rookie record for the month, can attest to that. But his personality tells you something different.
Judge walks quietly near his locker, has a smile on his face, and greets everyone with a hello. At the same time, Judge seems reluctant to talk about himself. His numbers prove there is nothing to be shy about. These days, Judge is the straw that stirs the drink.
When he was asked about his success on the field, Judge gave all the credit to his teammates. "[I'm successful because] it's the team that I'm on," Judge said. "I'm surrounded by good players, a mix of veteran guys, we have a good mix of young talented players. For me, I'm just in the perfect position right now. [Almost] every single time I'm at the plate, I've had guys on base. We have a lot of guys in the lineup that make things happen."
There are people in the Yankees' organization who are willing to sing Judge's praises. Take manager Joe Girardi: Judge hasn't been in the league a full season, and his skipper is already comparing his star player with Yankees legend Derek Jeter.
"He's a little bit like Derek, to me," Girardi said of Judge. "He's got a smile all the time. He loves to play the game. You always think that he's going to do the right thing on the field and off the field when you look at him. He's got a presence about him. He plays the game to win all the time. That's the most important thing. It's not about what you did that day.
"I understand that's a big comparison, but I remember Derek when he was young. He grew into that leadership role, but that was Derek. Derek loved to have fun, loved to laugh and loved to play the game. Always had a smile on his face and was energetic, and that's what I see from this kid. I see him doing things the right way on the field and off the field, and that's the way Derek was as well when he was young." (Ladson - mlb.com - 5/1/17)
Teammate Didi Gregorius noticed a difference in Judge's approach at the plate in 2017. It's rare that Judge is swinging at pitcher's pitches.
"He means a lot to the team and everybody can see what he can do. He's got to keep that up. Just keep it simple like he has. … He is a big part of the team," Gregorius said. "He is laying off all the nasty pitches. That's the main thing that's going on. He is more selective and he puts his 120-mph swing on the ball."
One thing is certain: Judge doesn't feel the pressure of playing in New York. Nothing seems to faze him. He credits the Yankees' organization for preparing him for the big city.
"The New York Yankees' organization -- they train us well from the get-go," Judge said. "They tell us how to handle everything. This is the biggest media market. A lot of people love to watch the Yankees. They just prepared us well for the situation. When we come up here, it's like second nature. Nothing is a surprise to us.
"I love the city of New York. It's kind of fun. I grew up in the country, so I'm getting a little change of pace. The city has been great. Playing in front of these fans has been amazing. They are always yelling. They are always screaming. They are always on their feet. They have a lot of good energy that we can feed off of." (Ladson - mlb.com - 5/1/17)
Aaron's power was on display in April and early May 2017. But don't let the big power distract you from the small means by which he has become the most valuable player on the surprisingly unstoppable Yankees.
Judge -- a player whose ceiling had seemed somewhat limited (ironically) by his tall body, ample strike zone and huge strikeout rate in his small big league sample last season -- has had as large an individual impact as any player in the Majors in the first month of action. And though Statcast™ tells us he has had nine batted balls with an exit velocity of 115 mph, while the rest of MLB has just 16 combined, his Major League-leading 2.5 Wins Above Replacement mark, per Baseball Reference, isn't based on dinger distance.
No, Judge has been brilliant on both sides of the ball, to say nothing of the immeasurables that have led Yankee personnel and pundits to throw out Derek Jeter comps. "Very, very poised individual," Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson said. "We saw it last year when he was striking out in close to half his at-bats. He walked into the clubhouse with his chest out and chin up every day. You really get a feel for people when they're not playing well."
Judge had a .179/.263/.345 slash line in his first 95 plate appearances in the bigs, striking out 44.2 percent of the time. This was nowhere near as serious an issue, but he also had negative defensive metrics (-1 defensive runs saved) in 216 innings in right field.
All that time, Judge wasn't fretting his early foibles but learning from them. "I'm not afraid to fail," Judge said. "You can't have all the good without the bad. That's how sports work and how life works."
Example: When Judge got to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2015, the Yanks' coaches talked to him about implementing some mechanical changes to improve his timing. But they wanted to wait until the offseason to address them because they didn't want to affect his rhythm in what was, at the time, a strong offensive season.
"I told them, 'Hey guys, I'd rather work on it now than in the offseason,'" Judge said. "'Let me struggle now so I can come into '16 and do better.' It's constant growth." Judge's growth in 2017 is in his drastic minimization of his chase rate (from 33.6 percent to 24.2 percent, per FanGraphs) and improvement of his contact rate (from 60.2 to 70.5).
A scout who saw Judge regularly in Double-A and Triple-A admitted he's shocked at how quickly Judge has made this adjustment. But when told Judge has been worth six defensive runs saved (the most of any right fielder and the most of any outfielder not named Kevin Kiermaier), he was less surprised.
"This guy's an athlete," the scout said. "He's not just a big guy, he's an athlete -- a coordinated athlete that gets decent jumps on the ball." Dedication is what will allow this early-season star to stick. (Castrovince - mlb.com - 5/10/17)
When Aaron goes back to his family's home in Linden, Calif., he jokes that he should make time to doublecheck the closet in his parents' bedroom, surprised that a Superwoman cape hasn't surfaced at some point over the past 25 years.
While Judge possesses a hulking build that appears to have been stripped from the pages of a comic book, his mother, Patty, represents the true strength behind the slugger. Judge said that his mom has influenced every decision that he has ever made, describing her as an incredibly caring individual.
"I know I wouldn't be a New York Yankee if it wasn't for my mom," Judge said. "The guidance she gave me as a kid growing up, knowing the difference from right and wrong, how to treat people, and how to go the extra mile and put in extra work, all that kind of stuff. She's molded me into the person that I am today."
On a recent afternoon -- hours before he was in the lineup for a game at Yankee Stadium -- Judge said that he had just hung up the phone with his mom, who had been doing some yard work.
On 2017 Mother's Day, Judge said that he plans to send his mother flowers and a card, then will call to tell her what he always does. "I'll just thank her again for everything she's done, and tell her again I know I wouldn't be in the position I am now if it wasn't for her love and guidance," Judge said. (Hoch – mlb.com – 5/12/17)
When Joe Girardi recently paid Judge a compliment of the highest pinstriped order, comparing his presence and personality to that of Derek Jeter, Judge said that he was honored, but that he was simply trying to be "the best Aaron Judge I can be." That mission started about 100 miles northeast of San Francisco, where Judge took his first cues from Patty and Wayne Judge, recently retired schoolteachers who ensured that education was a priority in their son's young life.
"It's helped me try to live to a higher standard," Judge said. "They wanted me to always make sure I put education first and make sure I prioritized everything. If I was going to make plans, stick to them. Make sure I'm on a tight schedule and make sure I don't miss anything."
Not that Judge was always so understanding, something that he laughs about now.
"I wanted to go outside and play with my friends or play some video games, but they were tough on me," Judge said. "They'd say, 'Hey, you've got homework to do. You've got to finish your math homework and science homework. Then if you have time left over before dinner, you can go play.' Something like that. I didn't like it as a kid, but looking back on it, I really appreciate what they did for me."
Judge was adopted by his parents, Patty and Wayne, the day after he was born in April 1992. He has an older brother, John, who has also become a teacher. Judge was in elementary school when he asked why he and his parents did not look alike.
"I think it was like, 'I don't look like you, Mom. I don't look like you, Dad. Like, what's going on here?'" Judge said. "They just kind of told me I was adopted. I was like, 'OK, that's fine with me.' You're still my mom, the only mom I know. You're still my dad, the only dad I know.
"Nothing really changed. I honestly can't even remember too much, because it wasn't that big of a deal. They just told me I was adopted, and I said, 'OK, can I go outside and play?'"
Judge said that he still speaks with his parents every day. (Hoch – mlb.com – 5/12/17)
Aaron stormed the baseball world in 2017. The large adult son/rookie was an absolute revelation. He'd blasted a Major League-leading 15 home runs by May 22, 2017 and had put to rest any questions about his penchant for striking out in the Minors. He's even shown off his 6-foot-7 frame in the outfield with a series of amazing catches.
It inspired some truly invested fans to show up in judges' robes and white wigs. Now, the Yankees have made it official. With faux wood paneling to resemble a courtroom's jury box, the team has officially marked three rows in section 104 as the "Judge's Chambers."
"It's pretty cool," Judge said. "When you come to a game, it's supposed to be fun for the players and the fans. I feel like it might be something that's fun for the fans out there."
As to whether he was asked about it beforehand: "They just brought it up to me and said 'Hey, this is what we're going to do.' They're going to put out a section and call it Judge's Chambers and give them little judge outfits and we'll see what happens. I think it turned out great."
Judge was also pretty surprised to already have a permanent spot in the stadium: "It's pretty unreal. I never would have thought so soon. But the fans like it, so I'm glad they're having fun."
Brett Gardner also appreciated the new attraction: "I think it's great. Obviously, the fans get excited about seeing him play on both sides of the ball. I might go up there early when I get to the field tomorrow before BP and check it out. I think it's a good addition."
While fans in the Judge's Chambers will get a good view of the rookie in right field, if you want to snag one of Judge's rulings (what we should be calling his home runs), your best bet is in left field -- even if the slugger has managed to hit dingers to every part of the yard. (Clair & Hoch - mlb.com - 5/22/17)
Aaron spent the 2017 season living out of two suitcases in an Art Deco hotel in the heart of Times Square. Why hasn't he looked for an apartment yet?
"I don't want to put all my cards that I'm going to be in New York and then I go to Triple-A," Judge says. "Maybe next year, if everything goes well."
His lobby is one of the few places he can watch people, tourists who aren't watching him. He hears a different language seemingly every time he rides the elevator. This place could not be less like teeny Linden, California, where Aaron grew up.
But his favorite part of the Times Square location, he explains eagerly, is that "if I want to get frozen yogurt at 12 o'clock at night, I can do it." (Stephanie Apstein - Sports Illustrated - 5/10/2017)
June 17, 2017: The homecoming weekend for Yankees sensation Aaron Judge continued at the Coliseum.
Judge grew up in Linden, Calif., which is about 75 miles east of Oakland. While fans from the area made it to the Coliseum for the two previous games, the largest contingent was on hand, with Judge requesting around 150 tickets. Two buses of people came to the game, and Judge said his entire church community was coming, too.
"It's great. I'm excited to see some family and friends," said Judge, who met with a contingent for 10 minutes before the game. "A lot of people supporting me and helping me along the way, and a lot of people are going to be at the games this weekend. I'm excited for that."
The A's selected Judge in the 31st round of the 2010 MLB Draft, a few weeks after Judge came to the Coliseum to participate in a prospect workout. It was the first time Judge had ever hit in a Major League park, leaving an impression on the then 18-year-old.
"It's a big park. Getting a chance to hit on the field was pretty cool," Judge said. "The day flew by, to be honest. I was nervous. I was trying to put on a good show. But I enjoyed every minute of it, and it was the best field I had played on at the time."
And Aaron felt a little extra satisfaction in knocking one over the wall in the first Major League stadium he hit in.
"Yeah, it is," Judge said with a smile and a laugh. "It is." (A Simon - MLB.com - June 17, 2017)
Aaron couldn't help but smile at reporters when he answered questions about his chipped tooth, amused that it became a bigger story than the Yankees' walk-off win the night before.
"I tried to rush off the field before anyone would notice," Judge said. "But there's a lot of cameras around."
Judge first clarified that he was fine after having dental work done on his front left tooth. The tooth chipped when Brett Gardner's helmet was knocked out of Judge's hand and into his face during the Yankees' walk-off celebration. It turns out, Judge took the blow, in part, because he was trying to prevent his teammates from getting hurt as they mobbed Gardner at home plate.
After the clubhouse closed to the media, a Yankees security guard was outside combing the area around home plate for Judge's tooth. The search was for naught, though, as nobody found it, Judge said.
Judge said he took one picture of his chipped-tooth mouth that night, but he said he'll "keep that for myself." (Martell - mlb.co - 7/28/17)
Aaron has racked up quite a few accolades during his remarkable 2017 season, from an All-Star selection to a Home Run Derby crown to his very own fan section. But despite that barrage of dingers, he was still missing out on one particular prize: his very own championship belt.
Luckily, Alexa Bliss, Braun Strowman and Big Cass of the WWE stopped by Yankee Stadium prior Tuesday's Mets-Yankees game to fix that. Judge was awarded the WWE championship belt!
Sure, the belt is generally reserved for World Series champions and Cy Young Award winners, but when you can hit a baseball off of a ballpark roof, they're willing to make an exception. (Landers - mlb.com - 8/16/17)
Aaron was asked what would be his occupation if he wasn't a baseball player.
"I'd be a teacher, just like my parents. I like helping people and teaching kids and teaching people. It seems pretty rewarding," Judge said.