When Aaron Judge stepped to the plate on Tuesday night to lead off the second game of a doubleheader at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, he was still sitting on 61 home runs. That had to be a lot of pressure.
On Judge, sure. But also on Michael Kay, the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer on YES Network who was tasked with making the big call when and if Judge passed Roger Maris to set the American League record with No. 62.
After hitting No. 61 on Sept. 28 in Toronto, Judge finally did it on Tuesday with a blast into the leftfield stands.
Kay made the call, saying: “There it goes! Soaring into history! He’s done it, he has done it, 62! Aaron Judge is the American League single-season home run leader. The AL king. Case closed.”
David Cone, Kay’s boothmate, turned to Kay and pumped his fist, as if to say, you nailed it, pal.
Did Kay nail it? That will be left for history to, well, judge. But the early reviews of his historic call were very positive.
“I feel relieved,” Kay told Newsday in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I mean, after a while, the repetition of setting it up every time he came up to the plate, I just became concerned that that was wearing on the viewers. They have to hear the same thing. But you have to do that because that call’s going to stand alone one day. I was just glad for him that he did it, and I'm glad that it was what I thought was a pretty decent call. All things considered, I'm happy that the way it turned out.”
Kay did not use his signature “See Ya!” line.
“There was a ‘See Ya! for 60,” Kay said. “There was a ‘See Ya! for 61. ‘See Ya!’ isn’t automatic . . . I feel so silly talking about this . . . I think I said something like, ‘Soaring into history.’ I just didn't know if 'See Ya!' fit right there. You're doing all that calculus in your brain like in a third of a second, and I just didn't think that ‘See Ya!’ fit there . . . It stands out almost because it wasn't in there. But it wasn't not in there for any strategic reasons.”
Kay said he had pretty good recall of his call because he knew it would be instantly scrutinized.
“I remembered this one because I think there was such pressure on everybody that was behind the mic for it,” he said. “That if you screwed it up, people were going to really make a big deal out of it, because there aren't just three radio and TV columnists in New York now, it's everybody has Twitter, has an opinion. I knew I didn't mess up and I knew I didn't stumble, which was obviously something that you don't want to do because you owe that to Aaron Judge.”
Over on WFAN Radio, Kay’s old broadcast booth partner John Sterling did get in his iconic “It Is High! It Is Far!” on Judge’s home run.
The homer went 391 feet, which isn’t as far as some of Judge’s other blasts, but it would have been out of every MLB ballpark. It was high, with a launch angle of 35 degrees. That allowed the homer to be admired as it made its journey to the stands.
Sterling finished his call with, “This is judgement day. Case closed.”
Kay said he and Sterling did not compare notes before the milestone blast. It was just a coincidence that they both closed with “case closed.”
YES had a camera on Kay and WFAN had a camera on Sterling, who raised his right arm in triumph as he made his call. Kay stood up as he made the call and was able to see the fist pump from Cone.
“That meant a lot to me,” Kay said. “It's funny because just working with David all these years, you could see why he was such an unbelievable teammate as a ballplayer because he's just a great teammate in the booth. That was his way of saying, ‘Good call.’ He’s been with me now most of this ride. I was truly stressed out about it and I've never been stressed out about calls before. But so many people were making such a big deal about this call and really, the whole thing is about Aaron Judge’s home run, but obviously people need to make things about other things. It became, ‘Would the call be good enough?’ Obviously, after the call’s made, people are going to either complement it or criticize it. But when he gave me that fist pump, that was the confirmation I need.”
With the Yankees' regular season ending on Wednesday and national networks picking up the playoffs, Kay will move on to a new assignment: calling the Philles-Cardinals Wild Card series for ESPN with Alex Rodriguez starting Friday in St. Louis.
It’s the first time Kay will be calling a postseason series on a national television network. He called two on ESPN radio, one with Aaron Boone and one with former Mets general manager Steve Phillips.
Kay called it “one more check on the bucket list . . . this is going to be a legitimate just straight baseball game, a playoff series, and it's going to mean a lot to a lot of people. I know that Alex is excited and I'm excited. I'm really pumped up about it. I don't think it's going be a problem shifting from this to that.”