Aaron Judge is all smiles at the news conference announcing his new...

Aaron Judge is all smiles at the news conference announcing his new contract and captaincy at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The saying “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” certainly doesn’t apply when a billionaire is on the other end of the phone.

The Yankees held a news conference to reintroduce Aaron Judge on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium after coming to terms on a nine-year deal worth $360 million in the early morning of Dec. 7. As a part of Wednesday’s events, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner named Judge the team’s 16th captain and the first since Derek Jeter retired in 2014.

“It goes without saying what an honor that is,” Judge said. “I look back at the list of Thurman Munson, Lou Gehrig, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, that’s a pretty good list right there.”

As for the events that took place in the 24-48 hours before agreeing to terms, Judge called that a “whirlwind.”

After weeks of negotiations between general manager Brian Cashman and Judge’s agent, it ultimately took one phone call from Italy to California to return Judge to New York. Steinbrenner, who was vacationing in Italy, called Judge, who was at his family home in California, at 3 a.m. Pacific time and was determined to finalize a deal right there and then.

Steinbrenner said the Yankees had an eight-year offer to Judgebefore that 1-on-1 call. Judge told Steinbrenner he wanted a ninth year and the 53-year-old owner obliged.

“I just felt like we were at the point where he and I could get it over the finish line,” Steinbrenner said.

Judge, the 30-year-old outfielder coming off a season in which he hit an American League record 62 home runs, said he was willing to sign elsewhere if the Yankees didn’t offer him a ninth year. He had an offer from San Francisco and received late interest from San Diego.

“There were some pretty good offers out there so it would have been a tough financial decision to turn down some things,” Judge said. “But ultimately it came down to Hal saying we want you here, if nine years is what it will take, it’s nine years.”

Judge, who was selected No. 32 overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, had 62 home runs and 131 RBIs in winning his first American League MVP last season. He also had the highest batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.425) and slugging percentage (.686) of his career.  

Despite some temptations to leave, Judge also said he knew in his heart he wanted to return to the Yankees. Steinbrenner said it was difficult to imagine Judge playing in another uniform. All this led to a reunion in New York.

“I told him, ‘You’re not a free agent as far as I’m concerned. You’re a Yankee,” Steinbrenner said. “And we just need to make sure that stays the same.’”

Steinbrenner said he didn’t involve the captaincy during the negotiations. He said he didn’t want the honor perceived as a negotiating tool, but offered it to Judge once he agreed to the contract.

The Yankees had a surprise awaiting Judge when he arrived at Wednesday's news conference. Jeter, the team’s captain from 2003 to 2014, attended the event.

Jeter said he hadn’t talked directly to Judge about being a captain but he’s confident that the 6-7 slugger has the abilities to serve the role.

“It’s not a title that gets thrown around lightly,” Jeter said. “I know there were a lot of whispers, and calls and wants for Aaron to be named captain from what I understand. But he deserves it and I’m sure Yankees fans are very happy.”

Cashman added he and the Yankees knew signing Judge was more than just getting one of the most talented players in baseball back in pinstripes. It went beyond the field.

“This was not just a baseball situation you’re talking about,” he said. “This is someone where people stop doing what they’re doing and watch every at-bat.”

The general manager credited Steinbrenner for bringing Judge back. Cashman said when situations got tense and there was a real sense the Yankees may lose Judge, Hal Steinbrenner acted like George Steinbrenner would have and stepped in to close the deal.

“Hal was the starter and the finisher in this in every which way,” Cashman said, “and it reminds me a lot of how Hal’s dad went about his business, too.”

As for Judge, he wants to go down as an all-time great Yankee. He wants to bring a championship back to New York and cement a legacy. And maybe even play beyond his nine-year contract.

“There’s a lot of unfinished business in New York,” Judge said, “and I’m looking forward to finishing that here and building a legacy.”

Yankees captains

1. Clark Griffith: 1903-05

2. Norman “Kid” Elberfeld: 1906-08

3. Willie Keeler: 1909

4. Hal Chase: 1910-11

5. Frank Chance: start 1913 - midseason

6. Rollie Zeider: midseason 1913 - end of season

7. Roger Peckinpaugh: 1914-21

8. Babe Ruth: 3/13/1922-5/25/1922*

9. Lou Gehrig: 4/12/1935-1939

10. Thurman Munson: 4/17/1976-8/2/1979

11. Graig Nettles: 1/29/1982-3/30/1984

12. Willie Randolph: 3/4/1986-10/2/1988

13. Ron Guidry: 3/4/1986-7/12/1989

14. Don Mattingly: 2/28/1991-1995

15. Derek Jeter: 6/3/2003-2014

16. Aaron Judge: 12/21/2022-present

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