When Giancarlo Stanton hits one, and that doesn’t mean one of those cheapies to right, they stay hit. There was a time when Alex Rodriguez, in his prime, hit balls out of sight for the Yankees, though we’ll never know how many of those home runs were chemically aided. And we had Godzilla, Hideki Matsui, for a time, all the way through the homer he hit against the Phillies in Game 6 in ‘09, the last time the Yankees managed to win it all.
It’s different with Aaron Judge, who has gotten on the kind of tear we saw from him five years ago, when he hit 52 home runs in a season and set the rookie record until Pete Alonso came along on the other side of town to break it. In so many theatrical ways, No. 99 is the most exciting at-bat for the Yankees since Reggie, and one of the most exciting at-bats anywhere.
“They used to call me a hot dog,” Reggie told me one time. “But nobody goes to buy one when I step into the box.”
Judge is the Yankee everybody wants to watch, and not just Yankee fans. Derek Jeter was poise and excellence and grace and winning. And great precision, at the plate and in the field. And there was occasionally magic to Jeter’s game, the way there was with The Flip against the A’s back in 2001, and the night he hit that home run against the Diamondbacks and became Mr. November. There was even the night against the Red Sox when Jeter came sprinting over from shortstop and then did a face-plant into the third base stands to get his team an out.
Of course, there was that walk-off game-winning single on the last night Jeter ever had at either Yankee Stadium.
But ballparks didn’t come to a stop when Jeter stepped to the plate. They do for Aaron Judge. They did the other night when he hit that three-run, walk-off bomb to beat the Blue Jays in the bottom of the 9th. We are being reminded, over last season and this one and especially this one, why Judge matters to the Yankees and Yankee fans as much as he does.
Remember that old marketing campaign the Yankees had? At any moment a great moment? That’s Judge right now. Stanton has been just as hot as Judge over the past couple of weeks, no doubt. He and Judge are once again combining to be the best front line in baseball, Stanton at 6-6 and Judge at 6-7. But Stanton will never be embraced here the way Judge is, for as long as Judge is here. Nothing against Stanton. He has handled himself in New York about as well as you can, even in hard times for him, with the fans and when he was injured.
But Yankee fans look at Judge as one of their own, and always will. Maybe some of them are already wondering if Judge would already have his new, long-term contract extension if the Yankees weren’t paying crazy money to Stanton. No matter. It is Judge who is the most popular Yankee, by far. It is Judge who is the face of the franchise. It is Judge who placed a huge bet on himself, right before Opening Day, by turning down a $213 million, 7-year extension. Again: By the end of this season, if Judge stays healthy, that money might look like some sort of bargain price.
Stanton has done his part to carry the Yankees lately every bit as much as Judge has. In that 15-7 victory over the White Sox on Thursday night, Judge hit another homer and Stanton hit two. But when the Yankees were scoring seven in the 8th after two were out, maybe the most important moment was No. 99 not just beating out an infield hit to the shortstop side of second base, but plating two runs by the time the play was over.
When that game was over, here is what Judge said:
“It speaks volumes to the type of guys we have in this clubhouse. It doesn’t matter what the score is. It doesn’t matter if we’re down, it doesn’t matter if we’re up. We want to win.”
Now the Yankees are winning in a way they haven’t in years. They aren’t just making their own fans pay attention to them again. They aren’t just making the Rays and Jays, the two teams behind them in the American League East, pay attention. They are making all of baseball do that. They are the YANKEES again in April and May. All caps. So much of this has been built around Judge, as hot as Stanton has been going.
It is impossible to believe that Judge will be going anywhere if he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. But I thought the Yankees would lock him up to one of those $300 million contracts before they stopped negotiating right before Opening Day. They didn’t. The Yankees then announced to the whole wide world what they had offered Judge, as a way of letting you know how fair they were being, and what kind of effort they’d made. Except for this: There aren’t any medals for trying in situations like this.
I remember one time in the old days when the late George Young freely admitted that he’d paid his star running back, Joe Morris, far more than he’d intended when negotiations had begun between Morris and the organization. The Giants and Morris eventually reached an agreement in September of 1986. Then the Giants won their first Super Bowl around four months later.
“Your finances change,” Young told me one day on the telephone, “when you have a chance to win.”
That isn’t the case right now with Judge and the Yankees. He isn’t going anywhere for now, maybe forever. But if Judge didn’t go for the Yankees’ original offer, then it wasn’t enough, simple as that, even knowing how many games he missed because of injuries in 2018 and 2019 and 2020. Can I see him playing somewhere else next season? I can’t. I believe he is going to be a Yankee for life the way Jeter was, and Mo Rivera was. And Bernie and Posada. It will still be interesting, if he has a monster, MVP-type season, just how much more money than $213 million over seven it is going to cost Hal Steinbrenner.
And ask yourself this question: Do you think this narrative would still be open-ended if Steve Cohen owned the New York Yankees? Actually, there’s no need to ask the question, since everybody in town already knows the answer.
For now, Yankee fans are just enjoying the show. Enjoying having their team back. Before Judge came along, the big Yankee attraction for nearly a decade was farewell tours for Jeter and Mo. Now the big man is the big attraction again. Best Yankee at-bat since Reggie. You know the drill by now. All Rise.
HARDEN TURNS INTO BEN SIMMONS, GREG NORMAN’S DOUBLE BOGEY & BRADY FINALLY CATCHES A BREAK …
You know who won the Nets-Sixers trade?
No one did.
Maybe the most delicious irony of all is that when it was all on the line for the Sixers, James Harden turned into Ben Simmons.
And was afraid to shoot the ball.
No kidding, there was a point the other night when the Sixers were being eliminated by the Heat when I started to think I was going to have more shot attempts in the second half than Harden did.
One of these days maybe the Knicks will have a young star like Luka.
There had to be some times, during a couple of those blowout losses to the Penguins, when Rangers fans must have been wondering where Henrik Lundqvist was when their team really needed him.
Kyrie Irving just isn’t going to shut up, is he?
It’s worth noting that Erik Spoelstra of the Heat is already a Hall of Fame coach.
Jeanie Buss says she’s consulting with her old boyfriend, Phil Jackson, on how to fix the Lakers, and all I keep thinking is what could possibly go wrong with that?
My friend Barry Stanton, upon learning what Tom Brady is going to make from Fox when he retires, points out how short a run Joe Montana had at NBC when Joe was still the GOAT.
Greg Norman, who wants his shameless flacking for this new Saudi league to somehow appear noble, said this the other day when addressing the Saudi government’s alleged and brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi:
“Look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.”
Nobody asked this meathead how he thinks that helps Khashoggi.
Norman isn’t a frontman for this new league because he thinks it’s good for golf.
He thinks it’s good for Norman.
Same as Phil Mickelson did.
The two of them deserve each other.
It is going to be big tennis fun at Roland Garros to see if the kid, Carlos Alcaraz, is ready to win the French Open at the tender age of 19.
And while we’re on the subject of tennis:
Man oh man, wouldn’t it be something to see Roger Federer have one more great day on Centre Court at Wimbledon?
The way Jeff McNeil is hitting now for the Mets?
That’s the way he always hit before last season.
Gleyber Torres seems to have gotten it into his head that he’s still supposed to be a baseball star.
John Henry’s Penguins have more firepower than Henry’s Red Sox right now.
“Bosch: Legacy” is everything I thought it was going to be.
Does Kevin Durant still think Charles Barkley is being mean to him?
I really was genuinely happy for Touchdown Tom, though, when I heard about the Fox deal.
Finally, the guy catches a break.