Aaron Judge Has Something For Everyone

A year ago, Aaron Judge was Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and before that he had been Mookie Betts, and before that Pete Alonso, and all along he’d been trying to be Mike Trout. Indeed, Judge had last been Judge five seasons ago, but that was while sharing the stage with Giancarlo Stanton—when everyone and their elderly aunt could hit home runs, but then came injuries, COVID and an industrywide power slump. Lots of things have changed, including how we perceive the damned game.

Now that the reality that Shohei Ohtani is only doing extraordinary things for a sub-ordinary team, this is Judge’s show alone. And it’s not just the 60th home run, which Comrade Petchesky is drooling over in his Yankee-themed weirdo cave, although we do appreciate a nice round number. It’s that Judge is doing it on a team with actually lofty and measurable postseason aspirations. He is hitting important milestones in an important year for an important team—which is to say, the Yankees are almost as good as the Houston Astros, who beat you with the erosive qualities of good players everywhere. It is not that you are supposed to like the Yankees on their own terms. Hell, if you’re going to like a team, it might as well be Toronto.

More to the point, though, Judge is comprehensively better in old-timey stats and modern numbers, thus giving this oddly fractured game a sense of common purpose last seen when the Astros played timbales to two World Series and one championship and acted like the wounded parties all along.

Judge will win the crown by an amount of home runs which, if attached to a fictional player, would net said player a four-year, $85 million contract. The player with the best season within proximity to him is Yordan Alvarez of the Astros, but nobody is mentioning him as an MVP candidate, and the move to crown Ohtani for his unicornity has greatly diminished as the Angels return to the ethereal world most known for finishing 71-91.

But, this is Judge’s world, just as it was Guerrero’s a year ago, and he has maintained his own standard as the Yankees lost theirs in a midseason slump that took up all of July and most of August. Their advantage was that they had beaten both Toronto and Tampa into submission by then, and although miracles can happen, neither team has been within true striking distance (three games or fewer) since May 9.

The only thing to keep in mind here is that years like this do not often endure, and are especially difficult to maintain as baseball continues to change its rules every year to appease a generation it never had and can never obtain. In five years, they will be throwing underhand and using Christmas wrapping paper tubes as bats, and will add two extra bases and make the foul lines movable, all in a grand attempt to be baseball and not baseball at the same time.

That, though, is for post-apocalyptic America. For now, Aaron Judge is having the most traditional of traditionalist’s seasons: a Triple Crown. He also leads 19 of Baseball Reference’s 45 hitting categories, many of which are formula-based. He is the one player who bridges all the things old-timers and modernists both crave. Whatever playing field Aaron Judge is actually on, yours, his, or some imaginary one in an alternate universe in which baseball was never all-white or pharmaceutically pure or fixated on numbers that end in zero or even played remotely close to the way it once was, he is kicking that ass.

Until, that is, when all odometers are reset on October 7, and everything that happened up until now becomes nothing. That part of baseball has never changed.

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