Though pretty much everyone in the sport saw Aaron Judge turning down the $213.5 million extension the Yankees offered him just before Opening Day as Exhibit A of a player “betting on himself,” the outfielder didn’t see it that way then.
And still doesn’t.
Even after already turning in what many in the game see as perhaps the greatest walk year an impending free agent has ever had.
Not only has Judge hit an American League record-tying 61 homers — you may have seen or heard he tied Roger Maris Wednesday night in an 8-3 victory over the Blue Jays with a seventh-inning rocket off Toronto lefthander Tim Mayza — Judge enters the final seven games with a legitimate chance at winning the AL Triple Crown.
Judge comes into Friday night’s series opener against the Orioles at the Stadium not only the AL leader in homers and RBIs (130) — he leads both categories by a mile — he’s also in a close race for the league batting title. Judge, with the Yankees off on Thursday, is hitting .313. The Twins' Luis Arraez went 2-for-4 on Thursday to take the lead at .315, and Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, 1-for-3 on Thursday, is at .309.
So, Judge’s thoughts on his 2022 season given the circumstances he started the year under? (Which included not an insignificant amount of anger on his part at the team for publicizing the contract offer.)
“Like I said in the beginning, I never saw it as a bet, I never saw it as a bet on myself,” Judge said. “I knew no matter what I’d be playing this year for the New York Yankees wearing pinstripes. We weren’t able to agree on something [before Opening Day], but I changed my focus right then and there to, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and have a great season for my teammates and do what I can to help put us in a good position for a long postseason run.' I’m just out there playing baseball. I don’t look at the stats, look at the numbers. Just the incredible group of guys we have in that room who continue to motivate me and push each other day in and day out. That’s what it’s all about.”
And what Judge has publicly been about since his AL Rookie of the Year season in 2017, when he hit a then-rookie record 52 homers, are consistent expressions of celebration of, as Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler famously put it in a speech, "The Team, The Team, The Team, The Team."
“He’s as beloved as they come, and I think everyone is just so excited for him but — and I think it’s partly because of how Aaron is — but everyone feels a part of it,” Aaron Boone said of Judge. “And that’s who he is as a teammate and that’s, I think, part of the reason guys were so excited is because they feel like they’re a big part of it and that’s a tribute to him. Pretty awesome setting up now for just an amazing atmosphere I’m sure again in the Bronx Friday night. Good script so far.”
Boone added: “He never makes it about himself. A lot of people can talk that, he lives that. And he’s just an all-time kind of teammate. And the fact that he’s the face of your team and the best player and the fact that he is completely about others on the team, it just makes me proud to have been his skipper for the last five years now.”
Attributes that are among the primary reasons the son of the man Judge is sure to pass soon in the record book said there would be nothing but approval and warmth from his famous father toward this generation’s iconic Yankee.
“He would be very proud of Aaron because of the way he carries himself,” Roger Maris Jr. said. “He comes to the ballpark every day mentally prepared, physically prepared. He’s all about doing the team thing, he’s all about winning. He’s all about winning a championship.”