Aaron Judge spoke bluntly, as he had when the Yankees came up short of their ultimate goal in each of his previous big-league seasons.
Whether it be a one-game loss in the wild-card round (such as in 2021) or heartbreaking ousters in the ALCS (such as in 2017 or 2019, or eve n last year’s four-game sweep at the hands of the Astros), the rightfielder has always used one word to sum up a championship-less campaign.
Judge dipped into that well again late Sunday afternoon after the Yankees officially put themselves out of their 2023 misery with a 7-1 loss to the Diamondbacks on an appropriately wet, cold and dreary afternoon. The defeat officially eliminated them from postseason contention.
“I’ll tell you guys every year, [if] I’m not standing here talking to you after a championship, it’s a failure,” Judge said. “All the work you put in in the offseason in training, preparation, coming out here on a daily basis, rain or shine, to play a game, it’s about bringing a championship back. That’s why we play. That’s why I’m here.
“That’s why I came back to New York with this group of guys was to build something and getting New York back to where it’s supposed to be. And when you don’t show up and you don’t produce and get kicked out like this in the regular season, that’s a big failure right there.”
The Yankees (78-77), who came into the season with the highest of expectations after winning 99 games, capturing the AL East title and falling to the Astros in the ALCS in 2022, will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Judge, who debuted in August 2016 as part of a group dubbed the Baby Bombers that was supposed to restore the Yankees to championship glory, signed a nine-year, $360 million free-agent contract over the winter to stay with the club, one he felt was primed for a title run.
Instead, injuries beset the rotation at the season’s start and the year began careening into a ditch on June 3 at Dodger Stadium when Judge suffered a right big toe sprain while crashing into a bullpen fence making a late-inning catch. It cost the reigning AL MVP 42 games.
Although that injury and a slew of others contributed to a lost season, there was much more to it than that. However, it isn’t clear how seriously the organization will address those problems.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said several weeks ago that he will be overseeing a top-to-bottom review of his club, with everything from player health, the minor leagues and an all-powerful analytics department that has its hands in virtually every aspect of the organization subject to evaluation.
“We’re going to take a very deep dive into everything we’re doing,” Steinbrenner told The Associated Press in late August. “We’re looking to bring in possibly an outside company to really take a look at the analytics side of what we do. Baseball operations in general. We’re going to have some very frank conversations with each other.”
Judge, without specifying, indicated Sunday that he hopes to be a part of those talks. In spring training, he told Newsday that among the things he and Steinbrenner discussed when he agreed to the free- agent deal was that he wanted to “build a relationship” with the self-acknowledged introverted owner. The two indeed have kept in regular contact during the season.
“I’ve got some ideas,” Judge said. “But it’s going to take all of us. It’s going to be talking with everybody in the organization, all the way down through the minor-league stuff, all the way up to the top. There’s a lot of stuff we have to work on to improve, but there’s a lot of bright spots that we’ve seen with these young guys coming up, and this is the time to build on that and start building that next foundation.”
As for this season, which still has seven games left, it was nothing short of a bust.
“What could go wrong has kind of gone wrong, and we just haven’t put it all together collectively at the same time,” DJ LeMahieu said. “It’s been a frustrating year.”