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.
By 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.
Nick Swisher was a pretty productive presence in the Yankee lineup for the 4 years 2009-2012, with 105 homers, 134 doubles, an .850 OPS and countless utterances of "awesome" and "bro." Swisher's enthusiasm and output was, by and large, a very good thing for the Bronx Bombers.
But in a funny twist of fate, Swish's greatest contribution to the Yanks might end up being Aaron Judge himself. And it's their October, 2017 ALDS opponent, the Indians, who unwittingly supported the "swap." Judge was taken out of Fresno State with the No. 32 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft -- a pick the Yankees had received as compensation when Swisher signed with the Tribe as a free agent before the 2013 season.
"Cash [Yankees general manager Brian Cashman] showed some confidence in the scouting department and the process that we're involved in," said Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, "to let a Major League player with really high value leave, hoping we would turn it into something that had as much or more value."
Now, before you jump to conclusions, no, had the Indians not signed Swisher (or, for that matter, Michael Bourn, another free-agent foray that cost them a pick that winter), they still wouldn't have landed Judge, a viable 2017 AL MVP candidate and as obvious an AL Rookie of the Year choice as any in the history of the honor. The Indians didn't directly surrender No. 32. The pick they gave up was in the second round. So Judge likely would not have fallen to them, though they did like him.
"One of our scouts liked him over [No. 1 overall pick Mark] Appel, which is crazy to think about," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "It's not necessarily how we had him on our board, but one of our scouts felt strongly about it. There were some questions about his size, but he also did a lot of things really well, and he was renowned for having a great makeup."
Judge's 6-foot-7 frame in a game in which very few position players of that size have logged meaningful careers (Frank Howard, Richie Sexson and Tony Clark are the extent of the list) made him an unknown, even by baseball Draft standards.
"People have a hard time dealing with things outside the norm when it comes to scouting in baseball," Oppenheimer said. "That's why the [Jose] Altuves of the world and Judges of the world aren't always the consensus."
Judge wasn't even the Yankees' first choice in that general realm of selections in 2013. This is where the since-altered compensation system came into play. The Yankees' "real" pick in that Draft was at No. 26. They gained No. 32 because of the Swisher signing and No. 33 because reliever Rafael Soriano signed with the Nationals. This proliferation of picks made it easier for the Yanks to take the calculated gamble on Judge.
With No. 26, they went with the seemingly safer selection of Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo (who would later become fodder in the trade with the Reds for Aroldis Chapman). Then they nervously watched and waited through five more picks (Phillip Ervin to the Reds, Rob Kaminsky to the Cardinals, Ryne Stanek to the Rays, Travis Demeritte to the Rangers and Jason Hursh to the Braves) before, finally, Judge was sitting there waiting for them at No. 32. They took left-hander Ian Clarkin, who was later utilized in the trade for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnleand Todd Frazier, with the following compensation pick for Soriano.
"It's always nice to have the opportunity of multiple picks," Oppenheimer said. "But I think our process of evaluation and the depth of the evaluation gave us the comfort level [to pick Judge]." Anthony Castrovince - MLB.com - 10/08/2017)
Judge is superstitious. It begins just moments before first pitch -- with a superstition. Judge pops two pieces of Dubble Bubble sugar-free bubblegum in his mouth. Until he makes an out, he'll continue to chew it. If he picks up a hit in his first at-bat, it stays in. Another hit, and he keeps chewing. Another ---.
"Hopefully, by the end of the night, I have a nasty, old, unflavored piece of gum in my mouth," Judge says.
Aaron started the tasteless tradition in college and he doesn't plan on changing it. His outs do have a sweet ending, because if he makes one, he throws away the old gum and takes two fresh pieces. If he goes 3-for-3 and the game has a four-hour pace, Judge will just keep gnawing on the old gum, with no thought of changing it out or adding a new piece.
"No, I keep it in there," Aaron says. "It is lucky."
Occasionally, Judge will switch it up if he's in a rut. He'll go with sunflower seeds, available next to the gum in the middle of the Bombers' dugout.
Another superstition: Judge started the tasteless tradition in college and he doesn't plan on changing it. His outs do have a sweet ending, because if he makes one, he throws away the old gum and takes two fresh pieces.
If he goes 3-for-3 and the game has a four-hour pace, Judge will just keep gnawing on the old gum, with no thought of changing it out or adding a new piece.
"No, I keep it in there," Judge says. "It is lucky."
Occasionally, Judge will switch it up if he's in a rut. He'll go with sunflower seeds, available next to the gum in the middle of the Bombers' dugout. (Andrew Marchand - ESPN.com - 10/08/2017)
Judge credits his parents, who adopted him as a baby, for giving him his first lessons on putting team above self. He says he's been blessed with coaches who have done the same. Judge is accommodating in talking to the media, but he almost blushes when speaking about himself. The top-step move could be seen as grandstanding, if Judge didn’t act the right way.
"It’s genuine," third baseman Chase Headley says. "He is not doing it to have somebody write about it or see it."
Oct, 2017: Aaron Judge has the highest number in all of Major League Baseball, and this time we are talking about total sales of his No. 99 Yankees jersey. MLB and the MLB Players Association jointly announced the latest Most Popular Jerseys rankings, and the rookie slugger topped the list to add another distinction to an historic first full year. The list is based on sales of Majestic jerseys from MLBShop.com since Opening Day.
It marks the first time an outfielder has taken the honor, and only the second time a rookie has finished an MLB season with the most popular jersey. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, whose jersey is the second-most popular of 2017, also had the top-seller of '16 and '15 (his rookie campaign). MLB and the MLBPA have released these rankings since '10.
Judge set the rookie home run record in 2017, won the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, led American League All-Star voting, earned his own robed fan section at Yankee Stadium, and pushed the Yankees into the postseason as a bona fide AL MVP Award candidate.
His "ALL RISE" nickname, which he wore on his back for the inaugural Players Weekend in August, resulted in a fair number of those jersey sales. Judge joins Derek Jeter (six times) and Mariano Rivera (once) as Yankees who have topped a Most Popular Jerseys ranking. (M Newman - MLB.com - Oct 3, 2017)
October 2017: Judge won the Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year award. Also the Baseball America and BBWAA 2017 Rookie of the Year.
Oct 24, 2017: The season ended too abruptly for Aaron Judge to provide an honest assessment of his personal performance, but CC Sabathia spoke for many when he called it "the best rookie season I've ever seen."
"I've never been around a group like this before," Judge said. "With the leadership we have in from veteran guys to the younger guys, it was fun coming to the ballpark every day. Whether we were down or up, we had fun every day." "We didn't win the World Series. You're not really satisfied," Judge said. "That's what you want. That's why you play and why you train in the offseason. It's all for the opportunity to win the World Series, and we came up short."
Judge finished the season with a .284/.422/.627 split line, impressive numbers that had been dented by a six-week slump following his victorious performance at the T-Mobile Home Run Derby in July. Judge said that he was able to learn a lot by watching the Yankees' veteran players prepare, naming Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday and Sabathia in particular.
"Through injuries, ups and downs, this team always came to play every day," Judge said. "It's something that as a rookie seeing the veterans do that, I had a lot of fun playing with them. What a crew we had. We have a great team. We have a lot of guys coming back. We have a lot of guys in Minor Leagues waiting for their turn to come up here and do their thing. We're all excited for next year, 2018 and what it holds for us." (B Hoch - MLB.com - Oct 24, 2017)
He's been called the most famous Judge in baseball since Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the sport's first commissioner.
Aaron hails from Linden, California, a close-knit farming community of about 1,800 people some 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.
"There were no strangers in the town," Judge recalls of his upbringing. He was raised by adoptive parents, retired physical education teachers Wayne and Patty Judge. "I'm blessed," Aaron proudly says of his parents. "We're more blessed than he is," Patty Judge said.
Both of the Judge children are adopted. Aaron has an older brother, John, five years older, who is teaching English in Korea.
"We're real proud of him, too. Really, it was all meant to be," Patty says. (Aaron was adopted when he was two days old.) "I feel they kind of picked me -- I feel that God was the one who put us together."
Aaron has never had contact with his biological parents.
"I'm fine with it," Judge says. "It really didn't bother me because they're the only parents I've ever known."
Judge was on the cover athlete for "MLB The Show 18." It is a popular Play Station game.
November 2017: Judge was named the 2017 winner of the American League's Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award. He was the runner up in the MVP award to Jose Altuve
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Bryan Hoch's first book, "The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty," which is being published by Diversion Books and includes a foreword by Mark Teixeira.
Feb 24, 2017: The concept of "The Judge's Chambers" was first floated in the spring of 2017, during a time in which team officials were brainstorming avenues to make Yankee Stadium more appealing to a younger generation of fans. Work had already begun in The Bronx to add children's play areas, terraces and party decks to the facility, which was readying for its ninth year of service. Noting the popular response that Aaron Judge had received during the exhibition games in Florida, the Yanks' decision-makers deemed a dedicated cheering section to be a logical next step.
Similar concepts had been successful in other ballparks, such as the Astros' "Keuchel's Korner" for ace Dallas Keuchel and the Mariners' "King Felix's Court" for standout pitcher Felix Hernandez. It may not have been groundbreaking, but it seemed that way for the Yankees, a team that often had to fight the temptation of simply leaning upon their storied history to sell tickets.
Though some would argue that there had never been a special section devoted to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera, the willingness to innovate represented a refreshing change of pace. Judge told the Yankees that he thought the idea was "cool," but first, he had to actually make the team. It may seem difficult to believe in hindsight, given how sensational Judge's rookie season turned out to be, but there was legitimate consideration given to having Judge begin the season in the Minors. Because Judge still had Minor League options remaining and Aaron Hicks did not, the Yankees decided to carry Judge on the roster only if he won the starting right-field job, believing that a backup role would stunt his development.
"He never had a full year in the big leagues," general manager Brian Cashman said. "He had competition that was legitimate with Aaron Hicks. Aaron Hicks had performed just as well for a period of time, if not better, for the first half of the spring. It was a tight competition. I'd say halfway through camp, Hicks was winning by a hair."
Driven to convince management that he was ready for the opportunity, Judge said that he locked his focus on having quality at-bats for 30 days straight. The organization held daily meetings in the final weeks of camp, with Cashman, Tim Naehring and numerous other assistants disappearing into then-manager Joe Girardi's office. Judge ignored their lengthy chats, saying that he couldn't afford to waste time worrying about whether he would begin the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or the Yankees.
"I wasn't getting paid enough to make that decision," Judge said. "I had one goal in my mind: to go out there and compete and do whatever I can to fight for a job. Every day, I was just taking that mindset, 'I've got to go out there and work my butt off to get this job.'"
At 10:07 a.m. on March 30, 2017 the heavy steel door to the manager's office swung open, indicating that a decision had been made. Someone joked that it reminded them of the clouds of smoke that rise over the Sistine Chapel to announce the selection of a new Pope. Girardi summoned the team's beat reporters and lauded both Hicks and Judge for making it a very tough call, but announced that Judge's late-spring surge had tipped the scales in his favor. Hicks took a couple of days to stew over the decision, and though he was disappointed with the outcome, he acknowledged that the team had given him a fair shot. The job had been given to the man who had played the best.
"The last two or three weeks of camp, Hicks didn't necessarily lose it as much as Judge took it," Cashman said. "Those weren't false conversations. It was more like, 'You've got to win that everyday job, or you're going to Triple-A,' and Judge knew that. Aaron Hicks is an above-average right fielder in this game, but Judge has turned out to be an MVP candidate. It was real. I guess we made the right decision."
Judge, meanwhile, was elated. He responded by saying that "now the real work starts," adding that the challenge would be to ward off the competition from Hicks and the team's stable of talented Minor Leaguers. Girardi said that the Yankees were now locked in and would give Judge plenty of leeway if he got off to a slow start. With the Yankees about to open the regular season, Judge called his folks in California, urging them to hop on the next flight to Florida. "They were worrying about it, just like any parent would," Judge said. "They just wanted to know what was going on, so I just called them and let them know, 'Hey, I'll be in Tampa on Opening Day.'"
After asking one fan how much he thought the rookie might be able to bench press, Judge nonchalantly replied, "400? You're right." One fan referred to the prospect as "Adam Judge," and another passerby wearing a Yankees jersey figured out the gag when Judge held up his SI cover, offering a double take before taking note of Judge's toothy smile.
"It was the gap," he said. "There's only two gaps in New York, you and [Michael] Strahan, man."
The Yankees were visiting Kansas City the day after that segment aired, and Judge said that his phone had been overwhelmed with text messages and voicemails. Judge had tipped off his parents to the upcoming bit, asking them to set their DVRs, but the late-night appearance had come as a surprise to most of Judge's friends and family. "I'm not really a comedian at all, but I think it turned out great," Judge said. "I was nervous the whole time. When I was going through it, I didn't think I was doing well at all. They did a lot of editing, and it really turned into something great."
When several groups of fans began attending games in black robes and white powder wigs, waving signs that included variations of "All Rise," the Yankees responded by unveiling the project that they had discussed during the spring. When the Yankees took the field for batting practice on May 22, "The Judge's Chambers" appeared at the rear of Section 104 in right field, 18 seats boxed in by wood to create the appearance of a courtroom jury box.
New York vs. Kansas City was first on the docket. It would only be Judge's 66th Major League game, but Jason Zillo, the Yankees' director of media relations, said that "The Judge's Chambers" had simply continued the momentum that the fans established on their own.
"It's all part of a shift toward making the experience more interactive," Zillo said. "It's a different era. It's a different group of fans. Fans are looking for things in their trip to a stadium that fans weren't looking for 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago."
The seats became a wildly popular attraction, with fans lining up early for the opportunity to snap selfies in the area. Fans flooded the team's ticket office with inquiries about the section and were told that they could not buy their way into "The Judge's Chambers." Instead, Yankees employees roamed the concourses prior to first pitch, looking for fans who were wearing Judge paraphernalia and offering them the opportunity to upgrade their seat location.
Upon entry, fans were issued black robes with the Yankees logo on the front and Judge's No. 99 on the back, as well as foam gavels. The gavels (also sold in stadium gift shops) were theirs to keep, but the robes were washed and reissued for the next home game. On one occasion, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor spent a few innings in the Chambers, cheering along with her fellow Yankees fans.
"It's pretty unreal," Judge said. "I never would have thought [this could happen] so soon. But the fans like it, so I'm glad they're having fun." (B Hoch - MLB.com - Feb 24, 2018)
This was a moment that happened even before Aaron Judge lost one over the center-field wall at Yankee Stadium in the ninth inning Red Sox closer, Craig Kimbrel. It was in the fifth inning, when the Yankees' right fielder -- once described by his former manager, Joe Girardi, as a defensive end -- closed on a ball hit by J.D. Martinez like a sprinter before making a diving-and-sliding catch.
Tony La Russa, who now works in the Red Sox's front office, was seated in the Yankee Stadium press box when Judge made that catch. La Russa did a lot as a manager on his way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and has seen a lot during his baseball life. At that point, he turned, smiled and said this about Judge: "He can't be that good."
But "All Rise" Judge is that good. And as much as anybody else in the game right now -- his new teammate Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Manny Machado or any of the other young guys tearing it up -- Judge is dramatic. He is a moment, especially at Yankee Stadium. When he comes walking in the direction of home plate, that place comes to a stop. He is the one the fans have come to see, about to do what they have paid to see, which is to try to hit another ball toward Monument Park or into the upper deck.
Crowds come to watch Judge do what Babe Ruth once did on the other side of 161st Street at the old Stadium -- the one New York legend, baseball legend and sports legend says Ruth built. They want to see him hit balls the way Mickey Mantle did in that same place, when he was young. They want to see home runs. The Yankees first became glamorous because of home runs. Now, they are hitting them again.
Alex Rodriguez hit a ton of home runs for the Yankees. But Yankee fans never considered Rodriguez one of their own, the way Derek Jeter was. It was the same way when Roger Maris was hitting more home runs in the summer of 1961 than Mantle did, when they were both chasing the records and ghost of Ruth. Yankee fans of that time grew up with Mickey, the way young Yankee fans are growing up with Judge now. Stanton may hit more home runs than Judge this season, the way he did last season when he was with Miami. But Judge came to the Stadium first. He was the great big action hero first -- and was first to 50 homers for this generation of Yankee fans. It matters.
In addition to everything else, Judge carries himself with the kind of old-Yankee grace that even young Yankee fans appreciate. So in addition to grading high on just about all aspects of the game, Judge grades high on accountability, too. It matters in sports the way it does everywhere else. You wondered how he would hit in 2018, after the way he hit in 2017 on his way to finishing second in the American League MVP voting behind Altuve. Now, he is showing everybody.
Betts has been superb for the Red Sox so far, while Machado is putting up crazy-good numbers for the Orioles -- even in a lost season in Baltimore. But Trout is still the best player.
Yeah, Judge is that good. There is no reason, if he is blessed with good health, to think he won't continue to get better. There is a lot to see right now with the Yankees. He is the one the people most want to see at Yankee Stadium.
There are a lot of at-bats to watch in baseball in this time when we're blessed to watch as much young talent as there has ever been, and not just in Boston and New York. Judge is the at-bat you most want to watch. There is no stat to measure that, no analytics. It is something you just see, feel, and know -- especially on 161st Street in the Bronx. (Lupica - mlb.com - 5/12/18)
Aaron Judge has become one of the biggest names in Major League Baseball, though his road to stardom was a long and winding one.From his time as a marginal prospect in high school to his selection by the Yankees in the first round of the 2013 Draft, Judge went through plenty of ups before emerging as the superstar you see today.MLB.com spoke with more than two dozen people who witnessed Judge's journey through the Draft process. They shared their memories of the Linden, Calif., native and his ascent through the amateur ranks.(Note: Although many of the people interviewed for this story currently have different titles -- in some cases, with different organizations -- the titles listed below represent their jobs during the period they are discussing.)CHAPTER 1: SCHOOL DAZEA six-foot freshman is guaranteed to catch the eye of any high school baseball coach, so when Judge started at Linden High School as a ninth-grader, he joined the junior varsity team. He had obvious physical tools, but the teenage version of Judge was not yet the fierce hitter we now see in the Majors.Joe Piombo Jr., Linden High School assistant coach (2005-14): He was talented as a freshman, but to be honest, he was kind of soft. By his junior year, he had the size, the skill set and the work ethic; he's always been a kid that's going to outwork anybody on the field.
Don Lyle, Indians area scout (2002-present): The first people who even knew about Aaron were me and a friend of mine named Howard Bowens, who worked for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau at the time. He called me one day and said, "Hey, do you know this guy named Judge?"Aaron Judge: It was all new to me. Coming from a small town, I was like, "Scouts from pro baseball want to talk to me?"Tim McIntosh, Yankees area scout (2001-03, '10-12): My ex-wife grew up in Linden. Everybody knows everybody. Somebody said, "There's a big kid playing and you've got go look at him." My cousin coached [Judge] in basketball and said, "He's kind of passive; he's soft. He's the kind of guy that if he knocks you over, he'd let the play go down the court and help the guy up."Kendall Carter, Yankees national cross-checker (2007-13): Tim McIntosh kept telling me, "I want you to come out and see this guy. I don't know what to think of him; he's huge."Even with the rawness in his game, Judge's athletic talent was undeniable. Despite missing much of his junior year with an elbow injury he suffered during a basketball game, Judge became a three-sport star at Linden, catching the eye of scouts as he moved toward his senior year.Matt Curtis, Fresno State assistant coach (2000-10): Donnie [Lyle] was a big advocate for Aaron, who had slipped through the cracks because of his injury [during his] junior year. Donnie kept saying, "You need to look at this kid." We wound up recruiting him to Fresno.Aaron Judge: Once I committed to Fresno, I was solely focused on baseball. All the way through high school, I was playing three sports and just enjoying it; I wasn't too serious about any of them. To be honest, I would get tired of the sports. Once it got near the end of football, I'd say, "I can't wait for basketball season to get here; I'm tired of getting hit every day." Then once it got to the end of basketball, it was, "I'm tired of running up and down the court; when does baseball start?" Then when baseball was deep in the season, I would start getting excited for football again. It was a cycle. I think that helps me now, because it's still fresh for me; I'm not worn out from playing 8-and-under travel ball when I was a kid.Jermaine Clark, Athletics area scout (2008-17): [Judge] came to a pre-Draft workout at the [Oakland] Coliseum. All of our scouts and player development people kept asking me, "What college does he go to?" He was putting balls up in the suite area as a 17- or 18-year-old kid.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees vice president of domestic amateur scouting: We recognized that there was future big, raw power; we had future-plus-power numbers on him there. In our mind, we thought, "This guy's got potential, but college is probably going to be the best route for him."The Athletics selected Judge with their pick in the 31st round of the 2010 Draft, perhaps hoping the opportunity to play less than 90 miles from home would persuade him to skip college and turn pro.Matt Curtis, Fresno State coach: The power was the last thing to come; he never had a big power surge in high school. With Aaron on the professional side, it was more projection than performance.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: You get to a point where sometimes it's a local guy, sometimes it's somebody you're taking just a wild shot that maybe this guy will all of a sudden want to go play for the right amount of money. My guess is [the A's] had a pretty good feeling he was going to go to college.Judge was honored to be drafted by Oakland, but he turned down the chance to sign -- not to mention recruitment by several football schools -- to attend Fresno State on a baseball scholarship.Aaron Judge: When you get the opportunity like that, getting drafted -- especially by Oakland, a California team, pretty close to home -- it was tempting. At the time, I just didn't think I was ready or mature enough mentally or physically to start pro ball.Jermaine Clark, Athletics: He was a 31st-round high school kid with a scholarship to a powerhouse college program whose parents graduated from that college. When you factor in everything that was in play, there was no way we were going to sign him.CHAPTER 2: FEELING OUT FRESNOJudge went to Fresno State in the fall of 2010, playing center field on a team that featured future draftees Daniel Muno, Tyler Linehan, Justin Haley, Taylor Garrison and Cody Kendall, all of whom would be drafted in the first 10 rounds. Also on the team was Jordan Ribera, who would lead the NCAA with 27 home runs that season.Kendall Carter, Yankees: I don't want to say he was uncoordinated, but [in high school] he was almost like a newborn giraffe. The difference between his senior year in high school and his freshman year of college was a huge jump in the way he moved around.
Tim McIntosh, Yankees: He transformed overnight. He went from being a gangly, "This is not pretty" kid to, "Oh my God, did I miss on this guy."Keith Snider, Giants area scout (2006-present): He was a completely different guy. It looked like he put on at least 15-20 pounds from his senior year into his freshman year, and his swing got nice and short to the ball. It was night and day.CHAPTER 3: THE TURNING POINTJudge would earn All-Western Athletic Conference honors in each of his first two years at Fresno State, though he hit only six home runs in that span. Following Judge's sophomore year, he headed east to play for the Brewster Whitecaps in the famed Cape Cod Baseball League, which features many of the country's top collegiate players.Aaron Judge: The biggest thing for me was getting a chance to face some of the best college players in the game. Whenever you face better competition, you always rise to the occasion. I enjoyed every bit of that summer.John Altobelli, Brewster Manager (2012-14): We'd watch him take batting practice, and it looked like he was hitting Pro V1 golf balls out of the ballpark.John Schiffner, Chatham Anglers manager (1993-2017): The Cape Cod League is the great equalizer. If you can perform there and hit .250, .260 or anything above that for the length of the season, you've shown you can hit the best college pitching in the country.Matt Hyde, Yankees area scout (2005-present): John Schiffner called me up and said, "We just played against Brewster, and they've got a kid who is the biggest player I've ever seen on a baseball field. He's got power, but he also stole a base against us and he's an incredible athlete."Brad Grant, Indians director of amateur scouting (2007-17): Some of our scouts started to put some really high grades on him during the course of that summer.Ryon Healy, Brewster first baseman (2012): The guy gave me a concussion; I hit a home run and he hit me on the helmet congratulating me. He didn't know his own strength, and I didn't know his own strength, either. I legitimately got mad at him because it really hurt. To this day, we'll joke about it.Judge played 32 games in the Cape that summer, hitting .270 (27-for-100) with five home runs, 16 RBI and 33 strikeouts. Other players including Healy, Sean Manaea, Eric Jagielo and Phil Ervin had much better summers statistically, but Judge opened as many eyes as anybody in the league.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: I get my first oral report from Matt Hyde. He tells me, "Hey Damon, when you're up here, make sure you spend some time seeing Aaron Judge. He's really made progress, he's got big power, he's swinging the bat well, and he plays center field." Brian Barber, our national crosschecker, submitted a report, and it's got 80 raw power, 65 arm, 50 run, a future 55 hitter and future 70 power. That gets him up high on our follow board. When we see sevens and eights, it's like diamonds: [Bryce] Harper, [Mike] Trout, A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] kind of guys.John Altobelli, Brewster: Teams would stop what they were doing to watch him take batting practice.Ray Montgomery, D-backs scouting director, 2011-14: He hit a line drive at the shortstop, who thought he had a chance to make a play if he could jump a little higher; then the ball ends up hitting the fence on a line. That actually happened. It was one of those rare things you see and you go, "That's not supposed to happen."Matt Hyde, Yankees: It seems like the good ones always have a legendary story in the Cape League. That's Aaron's story.John Altobelli, Brewster: He hit one ball to left field that the left fielder actually came in on, but the ball went over the scoreboard in left field, it had so much backspin on it. He had some legendary shots, that's for sure.
Rob Metzler, Rays assistant director of amateur scouting (2012-15): Looking back at it, people say, "Oh, it was so obvious" or "Remember the summer Aaron Judge was up here? It was the most amazing thing ever. He hit balls to the moon." What did he hit, five home runs up there that summer?CHAPTER 4: MEETING THE MONSTERThe Cape Cod Baseball League plays its games on local high school fields, leaving scouts to imagine what players might look like in big league ballparks. But one day each summer, the entire league heads about 70 miles to the northwest, taking over Fenway Park for a team-by-team workout session.Aaron Judge: It was kind of a blur. They had us on such a tight time schedule, so I really don't remember that much of it. They told us, "You only have this amount of time for BP, and we have so many guys to go through, so after you hit it, get back in there and get ready for the next one, because the next one is coming." We kind of rushed through it so we could get all the guys through, but I enjoyed it. My first time getting to hit BP on a Major League field, taking infield and outfield there; it was all-around a great experience.John Altobelli, Brewster: Pretty sure I threw BP to him that day. The effortless swing that he had; a lot of guys were going max effort, grunting as they tried to hit them over the [Green] Monster so they could have something to talk about. The ease of his swing, the way the [hits] sounded -- especially with no fans in the stadium -- it was a different sound than everyone else.
Matt Hyde, Yankees: You look at that and you go, "That would look really good in our road grays in this ballpark."Aaron Judge: [Playing in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry] never really crossed my mind. I thought it would be pretty cool to play here in an actual game one day, but I didn't know that day would actually come so soon.CHAPTER 5: JUNIOR MINTJudge's solid summer on the Cape gave him some momentum heading into his junior year at Fresno State. He would hit .369 with a 1.116 OPS in 56 games, belting 12 home runs after hitting only six over his first two college seasons. He was named first-team All-Mountain West.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: You'd go to watch Aaron take batting practice in college, and sometimes he would not hit a home run, because he was working on something in his swing and was just hitting line drives. Some people probably doubted that there was going to be some huge, raw power there, because they'd go watch him and he wasn't hitting the ball out of the park.Brian Barber, Yankees: One day in batting practice, he didn't hit a single home run. What he did was probably hit about 10 line drives that didn't get more than 20 feet in the air and still hit the wall. We didn't have a machine there doing exit velocities, but it had to be one after another that were at least 115 mph.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: I saw him at Stanford, and he had a tremendous day. I remember it well. He hit five missiles that day and made a good play in the outfield. We ended up having nine different scouts see him and put reports in on him that all said "first round."Billy Eppler, Yankees assistant general manager (2012-15): There was a "Wow" factor, even at that time. The thing that gave you the most confidence walking out of those games was how well [Judge] moved. Not just the run speed, but just how agile he was for that kind of size.
Don Lyle, Indians: My mind was already set that this guy was going to be special, but trying to sell it to the industry was mighty hard. This was before Statcast™, so we weren't measuring stuff the way we can now. A lot of people were at the Fresno-Reno game to see [Braden] Shipley, but I was there to see Aaron. He hit a ball past third base that was only two feet off the ground, and it didn't bounce until it was past the bag. I turned to the other scouts and said, "That is the hardest ball I've ever seen hit in my life." I couldn't put the numbers on it, but if you have never seen a tornado before and you drive through it, the next time you see a tornado, you'll know what it looks like. That's how I felt with Aaron. I couldn't tell you what 119 mph looked like off the bat back then, but I knew it was the hardest ball I'd ever seen hit.Aaron Judge: It's an exciting time, but it's stressful, too. Especially in college, where you're worried about academics, classwork, making sure you're on time for practice. Then you've got meetings with scouts; after practice, can you meet at a Starbucks to do this? You have different tests you're taking. It's just overwhelming. You've got 30 questionnaires to fill out; they want to know everything about you. They want to know your dog's name.CHAPTER 6: SIZE MATTERSJudge had done his part to impress a number of scouts, but some teams remained skeptical of his pro prospects. After all, successful position players with Judge's body type were few and far between. Why would he be the exception rather than the rule?Jim Hendry, Yankees special assignment scout (2012-present): [Judge] obviously doesn't fit the normal mold. There aren't a lot of people in history [who were] 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 that became outstanding Major League hitters. Whether it was Frank Howard, Dave Winfield or Richie Sexson, the common denominator for me is when you're that big, you're going to have some issues with certain parts of the strike zone. Do you have the athleticism and the makeup to overcome that?Brian Barber, Yankees: I don't like comparing somebody I'm seeing as an amateur to somebody that's played in the big leagues, but when you get a guy that's so big, you try to rack your brain to think of who in the big leagues has played at this size. At the time, it was Giancarlo Stanton and nobody else.CHAPTER 7: MAKEUP ARTISTIn an age where professional athletes have countless distractions to deal with away from the field, a player's mental makeup and mindset can be as important as the physical tools they take between the white lines. With that in mind, the Yankees sent Chad Bohling, the team's director of mental conditioning, to meet with Judge as they contemplated using a first-round pick on him.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: Chad goes in there and comes back with, "I'm all in." He raved about the guy's makeup; the way he is, he's going to fit in as a teammate and be a hard-worker. Chad doesn't know much about the ability of the player, but he said his makeup is going to allow him to exceed whatever tools he has. That makes you feel good.Brian Cashman, Yankees senior vice president, general manager (1998-present): Damon definitely factors in Chad Bohling's opinions. They weigh heavily, whether it's "He stays on the board" or "Push him down the ranks and elevate other people."Aaron Judge: It felt like any other old meeting; like any other time I met a scout. That's how it was in my mind; I really didn't see it as "Hey, they sent one of their bigger guys out here; maybe this might mean something." It was a little different than the usual meetings. He wanted to get to know me; like, "How's your family, how do you enjoy it here in school, what makes you tick?"Kendall Carter, Yankees: Mike Batesole, the coach at Fresno State, he's tough on his players; for him to compliment a player is pretty rare. Before the 2011 WAC tournament, I was sitting down the line with a group of scouts, and Batesole was sitting there. I remember he said Aaron Judge was the best makeup guy he's ever had. That really stuck with me. I know the coach, and coming from him, that was a huge compliment.CHAPTER 8: FEELING A DRAFTThe Yankees were excited about the prospect of selecting Judge in the Draft, but other teams -- including the D-backs and Padres -- also had him high on their Draft boards in the weeks leading up to the big day. Indians area scout Don Lyle may have been Judge's biggest champion, but Cleveland was not considering him at No. 5, and the Tribe didn't have another pick until the third round.Don Lyle, Indians: Kevin Towers [then the D-backs' GM] was at the game one day with Jim Hendry for the Yankees. Nobody else was in the stadium but us three. I walked down and asked Batesole if I could say something to Aaron. I told him, "I've been telling you for the last three years, to hit the ball as hard as you can dead-center and let everything take care of itself. Today, I want you to hit the ball out of the park. Don't try to hit it to right field. Hit it out of the ballpark in BP, and let these two people see your power." He had the most massive BP I've ever seen. I called Brad [Grant] and said, "Are you sure we don't want to come back and see this guy one more time? He's hitting balls I've never seen before."Brad Grant, Indians: Our picks didn't line up. And the Yankees actually had our [No. 32] pick, which they got [as compensation] for [when we signed] Nick Swisher.Brian Cashman, Yankees: There were nothing but green lights coming from Damon's end. What was overwhelming in his mind is that the [amateur] scouting assessment and the makeup assessments that come from our mental-skills side, too, that this is someone that if you're going to bet on somebody's competitive nature, ability to compete and find a way, this was one of the unique people to do it with.The Yankees had three first-round picks (Nos. 26, 32, 33) in the Draft, but they were not the only team with multiple selections in the first round. The Marlins (Nos. 6, 35), Royals (Nos. 8, 34), Pirates (Nos. 9, 14) D-backs (Nos. 15, 36), Cardinals (Nos. 19, 28), Tigers (Nos. 20, 39, Rays (Nos. 21, 29), Orioles (Nos. 22, 37), Rangers (Nos. 23, 30) and Reds (Nos. 27, 38) had two picks apiece.Ray Montgomery, D-backs: I don't think there's anybody that's put on a bigger display of just pure, raw power at any one of our pre-Draft workouts [at Salt River Fields] while I was there. Certainly not at that stadium -- and we're talking about the [Paul] Goldschmidts and every Major League player I've seen play there. He was hitting balls over the batter's eye in straightaway center field, and it was just like, "Man!" When you see it in the Cape, it's the Cape. You see it at Fenway, you start to compare it to the guys who have played at Fenway. When you see it in your own Spring Training facility, it just solidifies what you're hoping.Aaron Judge: The ones I saw the most interest from were a lot of West Coast teams for the most part; Arizona, San Diego. I went to a couple of their pre-Draft workouts, so I kind of thought those were some of the teams that might show some interest and potentially draft me. The Yankees were the last ones on my mind, because I really didn't talk to them that much. I had a meeting with one of their mental conditioning guys, but other than that, there wasn't much contact.
CHAPTER 9: THE BIG NIGHTJudge was one of the potential draftees invited to attend the Draft in person at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J. He made the trip with his parents, Wayne and Patty, who were with him as he waited to find out which team would take him.Aaron Judge: I was nervous. I couldn't sleep. It was cool getting a chance to tour New York City; I had a chance to come to Yankee Stadium, sit right here in this dugout and look out [and think] "Wow, this is an amazing place to play at some point." I never thought it would be so soon.Despite Don Lyle's belief that Judge had the tools to become a big-time Major League player, the Indians never considered him with the No. 5 pick, selecting another outfielder -- Clint Frazier -- in that spot.Brad Grant, Indians: Don Lyle was the one who saw something really special in there. Don scouted for 30-something years, and this was a player that he stood up and said, "This guy has a chance to be really, really special."Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: I knew Donnie Lyle loved him. But they picked way up top, and I was under the impression he wasn't going to be in their plans. Other than that, it wasn't like I had a bunch of teams that seemed like they'd be in on Judge.Harold Reynolds, MLB Network analyst (2009-present): A lot of people thought [Judge] would probably be [like] Chris Carter -- he'd hit .200 and maybe give you 40 homers.One by one, players went off the board. The D-backs, a team that scouted Judge heavily, selected right-hander Braden Shipley at No. 15. When it was the Yankees' turn at No. 26, they drafted Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo, giving five teams -- the Reds, Cardinals, Rays, Rangers and Braves -- the opportunity to take Judge before New York picked again.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: We did our recon and the work that our scouts do. We thought we could get [Judge] where we got him. There was some risk in taking Jagielo over Judge, but we felt that was the move.Jim Hendry, Yankees: I don't think any of us thought [Judge] would go before 20, but after 20, all bets are off. Jagielo would have gone the next pick to Cincinnati.Billy Eppler, Yankees: Damon slid the magnet on the board and said, "This is the guy we're taking next if he's there."The Yankees weren't the only team holding their breath with regard to Judge. The D-backs were convinced they would get the slugger at No. 36. Even Judge seemed to believe he was headed to Arizona.Ray Montgomery, D-backs: I thought that [Judge] and [No. 2 pick Kris] Bryant were probably the only two guys that had that 40-home-run potential. I was handicapping it strongly that [Judge] was going to be a D-back.Jim Hendry, Yankees: That just goes to prove that Damon runs his department and carries himself in a way that, as a general manager, you'd want him to. Why would you ever show your cards to somebody else that you might have interest?Brian Barber, Yankees: We were nervous. We had three picks, and we spent months leading up to it with scenario after scenario after scenario of how we could maximize those picks. Those minutes leading up to it, the 20 minutes between 26 and 32, the heart rate was definitely elevated.
When the Yankees' turn came around at No. 32, they made Judge the second of their three first-round picks.Aaron Judge: Usually, you get a call from your agent ahead of time saying, "We just spoke to this team, and we think they're going to take you with this pick." I didn't hear anything. The funny thing is, moments before that pick, I actually almost got up and went to the bathroom. I kind of had an idea of where I was going to go, so I figured I'd go to the bathroom here in the next couple picks, then come back and hopefully get drafted. Right before I stood up to go to the bathroom, they said, "With the 32nd pick, the Yankees take Aaron Judge." It took me by surprise.Kendall Carter, Yankees: I'm a West Coast guy; I had him higher on my list than where we took him, to be honest with you. I was surprised he was there.Ray Montgomery, D-backs: We were lined up to take him with our next pick there, but it just kind of fell the Yankees' way with the picks that they had. Those guys with the Yankees have done such a good job with the Draft in recent years. You look back and think, "If I'd have just flipped [the 15 and 36 picks], took that guy first and took the other guy behind him." I think everybody would love to have a couple mulligans; you look back at some things three or four years later and you might do it differently.Jim Hendry, Yankees: A lot of people had a hand in liking [Judge], but Damon is the guy that deserves the ultimate credit, because he pulls the trigger. Everybody is smart now, but if they were that confident in what he was going to become, he would have been in the top fiive or 10 picks in the country.
Five days after selecting Judge in the Draft, the Yankees were in Oakland to play the Athletics. Judge was invited to join the team, taking batting practice before the game on June 11.
Joe Girardi, Yankees Manager (2008-17): The first thing that stood out the most was [Judge's] size. The second thing that stood out was how far he hit the ball. The third thing that stood out? How respectful he was. His personality, how mature he was; you had a feeling that this kid had a chance to be really, really special.Billy Eppler, Yankees: We set up early hitting for him. At the end of early hitting, Girardi said, "Let's fold him in with the rest of the guys," so we put him in the last hitting group.
The gates were open, and he was hitting balls where [Yoenis] Cespedes hit them, up into that first row of luxury boxes in dead-center field; I think he hit one off one of the windows up there. The crowd was kind of oohing and aahing and all that. That was a pretty cool moment for him.Aaron Judge: The whole day, I was just trying to stay out of their way. I had Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, CC Sabathia and all these guys that I've watched growing up; now I'm sitting here in the clubhouse with them and hitting BP with them.
The cool thing about that clubhouse is we had so many great guys, they were going out of their way. They were coming up to me saying, "Hey Aaron, how are you doing? Andy Pettitte. Great to meet you." I was like, "Andy, I know who you are. You don't have to introduce yourself."Five weeks after Judge was drafted, he signed with the Yankees, receiving an over-slot bonus of $1.8 million to officially begin his professional career.
Aaron Judge: I was excited, but I knew this was just the beginning. It's never guaranteed; even though you signed that contract and you're playing for a professional team, there's no guarantee you're ever going to make it to the Major Leagues.Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees: You feel fortunate that you got a guy who had the talent that we saw, but also the makeup to maximize that talent. This is about him. It's great that we identified some things and did what we're supposed to do, but the bulk of the credit goes to Aaron Judge for what he's done to make those tools play. You just hope it continues, because he's still kind of in the infancy of his career. (Mark Feinsand - MLB.com.-May 29, 2018)
Aaron more than likely never has to struggle to find a throwing partner. Whether it's Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius or any number of his teammates, he doesn't have to go out of his way to find someone to toss with. And in this case, when it came to a game of catch, all he had to do was turn around and make a fan's day.
In between innings of the Yankees' 4-2 win over the Phillies on June 25, 2018, Judge walked out to his position in right field. He saw a young fan in the stands with a glove and proceeded to play catch with him.
Judge made the kid's night. That young man had to have strength to toss with a guy like he did and he held his own! Really cool moment. (Kleinschmidt - mlb.com - 6/25/18)
- July 2018 : Judge was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.