MIAMI — Count Rob Manfred among Aaron Judge’s biggest fans.
“Aaron Judge has been absolutely phenomenal,” the Major League Baseball commissioner said during a lunch with BBWAA members Tuesday afternoon before the All-Star Game. “There is no other word to describe it. He is a tremendous talent on the field, a really appealing off-the-field personality, the kind of player that can become the face of the game.”
No pressure, kid.
Then again, pressure hasn’t seemed to impact the 25-year-old to this point of his not-yet-finished first full season in the big leagues.
Judge, MLB’s leader in homers with 30 and slated to bat third and start in right for the American League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, entered Monday night’s Home Run Derby as the favorite and prevailed, launching four balls in excess of 500 feet, including one that traveled 513 feet.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” former Yankee and current Mariner Robinson Cano said in the AL clubhouse afterward. “Not only the home runs, but to go opposite field so many times. He made this ballpark look like nothing. I thought I’d seen it all before, but he’s something else. He didn’t even look tired.”
Alex Rodriguez, who retired last August and is now a FOX MLB analyst, raved about Judge last season and did so again Tuesday during an interview on The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
“Here is a guy that I’m so excited for,” Rodriguez said. “For the first time in a long-time we have a LeBron James type of personality and size that can transcend sports. Here’s a guy who’s 6-7, 275 pounds, nine percent body fat, 32-inch vertical. The guy bench presses 400 pounds, squats 500 pounds, and he’s an amazing figure. For the next generation to say, ‘Well, there’s a guy who can be a tight end and an All Pro, and he chose baseball. Why can’t I?’ So, hopefully kids are taking notes on Aaron Judge.”
Judge, seeded second, was given his biggest challenge of the night in the first round when Justin Bour, the Marlins’ first baseman and a crowd favorite, hit 22.
Judge rallied to tie Bour, and ultimately passed him, winning, 23-22. The 6-7, 282-pound Judge beat the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger in the semifinals and the Twins’ Miguel Sano in the final.
“I was nervous going into it, I think everybody was a little nervous, but once Justin put on a show like that, it was just, ‘I have to go to work,’ ” he said afterward.
Judge, who’s thrown most of the credit for his first-half success to his teammates, touted Yankees batting practice specialist Danilo Valiente for Monday night’s victory.
“Danilo just kept hitting my barrel,” Judge said. “So he made it easy.”