ORLANDO, Fla. — The only surprise would have been if it had not been unanimous.
On Monday night came the official announcement of what had become fairly obvious by the end of May: Aaron Judge is the American League Rookie of the Year.
Judge, who hit a rookie-record 52 homers, received all 30 first-place votes in voting released by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He became the first Yankee to be named Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996.
“Quite an honor,” Judge said Monday night in a conference call. “Especially going into the spring, fighting for a job.”
Judge, 25, who didn’t win the starting rightfield job over Aaron Hicks until the final days of spring training, produced a .284/.422/.627 slash line in 155 games. He led the AL in homers, runs (128) and walks (127) and was second in OPS (1.049) and RBIs (114).
“Obviously, it was an amazing, remarkable year that no one would have predicted,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Monday. “Just an incredible year.”
Judge finished ahead of Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox and Trey Mancini of the Orioles in the voting. Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers was a unanimous winner of the National League award, beating out Paul DeJong of the Cardinals and Josh Bell of the Pirates.
Judge’s performance also made him a strong contender for the American League MVP award, which will be announced Thursday night. The other finalists are Jose Altuve of the Astros and Jose Ramirez of the Indians.
“I’m still sitting back trying to think about what happened this first year. It was quite a journey,” Judge said. “From battling in spring training to the highs and lows throughout the season, the playoff run we had and coming up short. I wouldn’t change a thing. It’ll mold you into who you are now. It was an incredible year.”
It was a year in which the Yankees made it to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series before falling to the eventual World Series champion Astros, and a year in which Judge emerged as one of the faces of the game, something commissioner Rob Manfred noted during the All-Star break.
“The cool thing about that is if you look around the league, there’s a lot of young faces who can be the face of MLB,” said Judge, who’s been on a bit of a whirlwind this offseason, most recently Monday, when he signed a deal with Pepsi. “If you look around, from a lot of the rookies we had this year, a lot of the younger guys are in their early, mid-20s, how they’ve impacted the game . . . We’ve got a special group here in Major League Baseball. I feel like how the playoffs went this year, the excitement around this game right now, it’s a special time to be in the big leagues. I’m just glad to be mentioned with a lot of these great guys as faces of MLB.”
During his conference call, Judge again was asked about the Yankees’ decision to not bring back Joe Girardi as manager and his thoughts about the communication issues mentioned as the reason.
“I had a great relationship with Joe,” Judge said. “He was my first manager in the big leagues. He stuck with me through the good times and bad times. He always had my back. I felt like I had a great relationship with him. We communicated well. But my goal is go out and play. I’m excited to see who we get, but I have a lot of respect and love for Joe and what he did for me my first year.”
As for next year, it can’t arrive soon enough.
“Our goal was not only get to the World Series but win it, and we came up short,” Judge said. “So I think I can speak for all of us in the Yankees’ organization: We can’t wait to get the season started.”
Aaron Judge’s numbers towered over the American League rookie field in 2017:
HRs (1st in AL)
SLG % (2nd)
Yankees who won AL Rookie of the Year
Gil McDougald, 3B 1951
Bob Grim, RHP 1954
Tony Kubek, SS 1957
Tom Tresh, SS/OF 1962
Stan Bahnsen, RHP 1968
Thurman Munson, C 1970
Dave Righetti, LHP 1981
Derek Jeter, SS 1996
Aaron Judge, RF 2017