Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season on Wednesday night in Toronto. It was the kind of homer that has become synonymous with the big Yankee slugger — a ball that left the court so quickly that the broadcast barely had time to switch camera angles to track its trajectory. Watch it sail and you might instinctively wince as the poor sap in the stands accidentally gets in its way. Perhaps for the best, this one hit the bullpen wall.
Judge is now tied with Roger Maris for the most single-season home runs in American League history, an achievement with a level of prestige that can be defined and redefined entirely from your own perspective. One of the things I found charming about Judge’s Hunt for 61 is how many different ways there were for fans to interpret it. For some, the fun was in the chase rather than the finish. Others found a few smiles in it take the piss and to remind everyone how far Judge is from the actual top of the leaderboard. The worst among us rushed to rewrite history making an extremely annoying face, which I can only assume.
With all of these options at my disposal, I was surprised Wednesday night as I pondered what the judge’s 61st homer meant in the context of his Yankee status. That came as a bit of a shock since I don’t care about the Yankees and was on the verge of gagging whenever the word “legacy” or the phrase “deserves its pinstripes” was uttered near me. But I couldn’t deny that there was something impressive about Judge turning 61 while wearing a Yankees uniform, and after some thought it occurred to me that I wasn’t intrigued by the added glamor the pinstripes might have added to Judge’s performance, but what he himself did for the uniform.
It was impossible to become a young baseball fan in the 1990s without learning about the Yankees as a brand and team very early on. From the moment I knew what Major League Baseball was, I knew the deal with the Yankees, and they’ve occupied two poles in my mind ever since. On one side are the Yankees of yesteryear, the teams made up of guys I saw less as baseball players and more as mythical heroes. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle – all of these guys were filed in the same place I kept facts about my favorite medieval swords and thoughts like, “Hercules is cool, but Achilles is one of Greek mythology’s most underrated heroes in my opinion.” .” At the other pole lived the Yankees, who looked me in the face every day. Jeter, Rivera and the rest of the “Core Four”. Four titles in a decade. Damn Paul O’Neill. I learned to hate those Yankees not only because they won all the time and everyone outside of New York seemed to agree that I should hate them, but also because they didn’t look like the pictures of Ruth and the other old legends that I did I had summoned myself. The Yankees of the ’90s provided many victories and some historic moments, but most of all they were a monument to extreme professionalism and competence. Nobody on those teams was ever in danger of hitting 61 home runs. Their most important player’s trademark was the inside-out of a ball to the opposite field. Their most dominant player was a closer who threw a pitch.
The problem with legacy is that the people building it have a lot more fun than those tasked with maintaining it. It was those great players from the past that made the Yankees The Yankees, and in the process left everyone who has followed them something to reach for. The Yankees teams of my youth certainly lived up to the winning standard, but there was always something bloodless about how they did it. Gone were the figurative and literal behemoths who remade the game itself with their individual talents and personalities. In their place came a collection of guys happy to be defined by stoic title-picking and a lack of facial hair.
That’s what I loved about Aaron Judge’s season: He brought back the old days that only existed in my imagination over the course of 155 games. If you had asked the 9 year old what Babe Ruth actually looked like and acted like, I would have pictured Aaron Judge. Just look at this damn guy. He’s 6ft 7, weighs almost 300lbs and hits the ball harder and further than it should seem possible. Seeing what he’s done this year — it’s worth remembering that even aside from the 61 homers he had one of the best offensive seasons of all time — is like watching a myth come to life.
All of this is sweetened by the fact that the Yankees tried to keep Judge down during the offseason and were ready to let him step in as a free agent next winter. There was again the arrogance that has characterized the Yankees of late, the notion that the institution will always be greater than the people chosen to uphold it. In one season, Judge reversed that equation. This guy didn’t earn his future spot in Monument Park by investing his time and becoming an effective steward of the culture of victory; he took it by force. Earn his pinstripes? Of the? He doesn’t even play for the Yankees. He plays for the Yankees.
https://defector.com/aaron-judge-is-the-good-part-of-the-yankees/ Aaron Judge is the good part of the Yankees