Judge rules for Pinstriped Pride…
As the offseason winds down, it is hard not to wonder if the New York Yankees have done enough to improve their club for the 2023 campaign. Yet, regardless, Yankees fans are tremendously grateful that native Californian Aaron Judge chose to return to the Bronx.
After the unsuccessful attempt by the Yankees to sign Judge to an extension prior to the 2022 season, which got ugly when GM Brian Cashman publicly disclosed the dollars discussed, Aaron Judge played his cards very close to the vest. Although breadcrumbs showing his desire to remain in New York are evident now, it was not the case at the time when it seemed questionable whether Judge would stay or go home.
Bringing back first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and signing a top starting pitcher, Carlos Rodón, plus a high-leverage reliever, Tommy Kahnle, is important for the cause. Still, the offseason would have been an unmitigated disaster if Aaron Judge had decided to return to his Golden State roots.
Some fans will say they knew Judge would never leave the Yankees. I was hopeful for his return, but I was far from confident it would happen. While I understand and respect the deep, rich history of the Yankees, and the aura of being a star for a franchise that has featured some of the greatest legends in the game, there was a real possibility Judge might leave.
The San Francisco Giants came after Judge hard, even recruiting Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry to help seal the deal. I will never forget that sinking feeling when I saw Jon Heyman’s tweet with the infamous typographical error, “Arson Judge appears headed to the Giants.” Fortunately, it was quickly retracted, and with the help of Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner’s call to Aaron Judge the next morning while vacationing in Italy, Judge accepted the Yankees’ offer of nine years for $360 million.
The new contract matched the money and years offered by the Giants, a team that was allegedly willing to spend even more to sign Judge. Yet, Judge was satisfied with the commitment from the Yankees, and in retrospect, he showed staying with the Yankees was very important for him and his family. Certainly, the money played a huge part in the decision. Still, if Judge’s choice had been driven primarily by financial gain, he could have sought more from the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers if they had chosen to jump into the sweepstakes or the San Diego Padres, who made a late run at Judge before his final decision.
By retaining Judge and making him the latest Captain, the Yankees kept their best player and the most marketable talent on the team. The executives at YES Network surely breathed a huge sigh of relief.
During this past weekend’s Pinstripe Pride event in Rutherford, New Jersey, former Mets/Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry was quoted saying he believes Judge made the right decision. Strawberry speaks from experience, having left his original team, the Mets, through free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he was born, while he was still in his prime. He was only 29 when he took the field for the Dodgers in 1991 (a year before Aaron Judge was born).
Strawberry’s words spoke of how California fans arrive late and leave early, while New York fans show up early and never leave. Aaron Judge received a few boos in October despite setting the new American League home run record with 62 during the regular season. Those boos, according to Strawberry, help to make you a better player because the fans want you to do better.
Strawberry said that his biggest regret was leaving New York to play in L.A. Strawberry was released by the Dodgers during the 1994 season and played with the San Francisco Giants for the duration of the year until mid-September when a strike shut down the game, canceling the post-season including the World Series. The next year, Strawberry, at age 33 and past his prime, returned to New York, signing with the Yankees in June 1995 after his release by the Giants four months earlier. He was part of the historic 1998 World Series championship with the Yankees, playing in 101 games and hitting 24 home runs during the regular season.
Strawberry made poor personal choices that sabotaged what could have been a truly remarkable career, but that is not the point of this article. It is about what New York means to baseball players, especially the great ones. There is no greater honor than playing on the biggest stage in the World.
I am grateful Aaron Judge is a New York Yankee.