“The Tonight Show” skit was destined to go viral and did.
Aaron Judge, at Bryant Park in Manhattan, wearing a navy blue blazer, Yankees cap, Clark Kent glasses and a smile, asking Yankees fans questions about Aaron Judge.
The rightfielder, whom Yankees media relations head Jason Zillo recently described as “unique,” “personable” and “engaging” — a Triple Crown-winning combination for Madison Avenue and the mass media if there ever was one — surely had just experienced the first of what would be many introduction-to-the-masses moments.
And since that May 15 airing on NBC, the 6-7, 282-pound Judge, the story to this point of the baseball season because of his combination of size, personality and, most significantly, titanic home runs, has done exactly zero more of the out-of-the-box requests that have come his way.
Almost none of which the 25-year-old rookie and AL MVP candidate knows about. Which is by design.
“I haven’t heard of any of those,” Judge said by his locker in Oakland Sunday morning.
The “those” were a partial list — very partial — of outlets that have asked for some of Judge’s time of late.
And have they ever come calling.
Plenty of requests
The far-from-complete list of requests that have landed in Zillo’s email inbox in recent weeks includes GQ, TMZ, “CBS This Morning,” “Good Morning America,” Forbes, Fox News, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Maxim, and “The 700 Club.”
The Harlem Globetrotters (the Globetrotters annually “draft” honorary individuals from other sports or businesses, doing so with Mariano Rivera, for example, in 2013) even made their pitch.
And that’s not counting the sports publications and “every sports radio station you can think of” that have expressed an interest, Zillo said.
“He’s been that barrier, that buffer, because I don’t even know about that stuff,” Judge said, smile ever-present. “It’s allowed me to just go out there and focus on the field. I can’t thank him [Zillo] enough for that.”
Those who have inquired will be heartened to know that very few of the requests are absolute no’s.
It’s more that they’ve been tabled.
A chance, in Zillo’s words, to “let him breathe.”
Said Judge: “There will be a time and place for when I can knock out some of those things, but for me right now, personally, I feel like I have a job to do on the field and I feel like it’s been going well so far the way we’ve been doing it, so I’m just trying to keep it that way for a while.”
According to Zillo, there have been two tidal waves of appeals this season, the most recent being in the last week or two. Early in the season, as the first wave was coming in, the pair huddled.
“I said to him, ‘my inbox is blowing up, so what kind of strategy do you want to use?’ ” Zillo recalled. “He basically said, ‘I want you to simplify it for me.’ ”
And so there was a May Sports Illustrated cover story, the Jimmy Fallon bit a week later . . . and that’s been it, outside of the daily game-day interaction with the media, which is no minor detail in New York.
“I’m happy where I’m at,” Judge said. “Doing the Fallon thing, it was just Fallon’s been a big supporter of the New York Yankees and when Zillo brought it up to me, he said it would just be something good to do. I decided to do it. I think people liked it and enjoyed it. I was nervous doing it but it was good.”
Core Four a different era
Zillo, with the club since 1996, goes back to when the Core Four — Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte — were arriving on the scene. He called Judge “unique” in a different context but also used that word for the time in which the rookie’s star is rising.
All of the Yankees of that championship era dealt with celebrity and off-field demands to a degree — Jeter, obviously, heads the list — but the media and social media landscape isn’t comparable.
“Because of the age that we’re in,” Zillo said. “When Jeter and Mo and those guys were coming into the major-league scene, in that era, there was so little notoriety for guys coming up in the minor leagues . . . These [current] guys have to hit the ground running on all fronts. There’s no under the radar anymore. When they get to the big leagues, their story is already written.”
Judge, who leads the majors with 23 home runs, has long been in the spotlight. He took batting practice on the Oakland Coliseum field shortly after being drafted by the Yankees in June 2013 and was watched on the field that day by manager Joe Girardi, his staff and established big-leaguers such as Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner.
His charge through the minors was heavily chronicled, the same way as Greg Bird’s, Luis Severino’s and Gary Sanchez’s.
The Yankees are one of the few major-league teams that puts its players through extensive media training — Zillo oversees the sessions during spring training — but there’s little preparation for the level of attention and interest Judge is producing.
Not that Judge is complaining.
“Everyone just wants to be a baseball player, but this is what we signed up for, it’s part of the job,” he said. “So no matter what requests you get, no matter how crazy it may seem to you, it’s part of the job and you have to just get used to it. It doesn’t bother me or overwhelm me at times at all.”
General manager Brian Cashman said from afar he’s taken notice of the demands on Judge and added: “It’s not surprising to know and hear that his first priority is baseball. That’s always been the case and I’m sure that won’t change.”
Cashman also looked at it in practical terms.
“He’s creating a lot of buzz and with buzz comes a lot of demand and interest,” Cashman said. “Listen, that’s part of becoming one of the higher-end performers in this sport. I’m aware of it and hopefully he keeps performing to such a level that it continues because obviously the only reason he’s gotten that type of demand is because of the type of performance he’s been providing. So I hope he keeps performing.”