Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge against the Chicago Cubs at Yankee...

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge against the Chicago Cubs at Yankee Stadium on June 12, 2022. Credit: Noah K. Murray

On the topic of Aaron Judge’s upcoming arbitration hearing with the Yankees, I was reminded that we’re all old enough to remember when Judge was booed at Yankee Stadium.  

It was April 12.

The Yankees had fallen to 2-2 with a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays. Judge went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts and didn’t have a home run or an RBI on the season.

Also -- most audaciously – Judge had a few days earlier turned down the Yankees’ $230 million contract extension offer.

So we’re also all old enough to remember when $230 million seemed like a really competitive offer for Judge’s services.

Now? Judge hears “MVP” chants at Yankee Stadium (and in a lot of opposing ballparks). He is having the season of his life on the best team in baseball. He is the leading vote-getter in the entire sport for the All-Star Game.

He bet on himself and looks as if he’s going to cash in big-time on that bet, whether it’s with the Yankees or another team.

Unless he suffers a major injury or his bat turns into a wet noodle, whatever contract Judge ends up signing is going to start with a “3,” as in $300 million or more.

That’s the situation the Yankees put themselves in when they made Judge an offer they knew he was going to refuse and then publicly announced the numbers in an attempt to win a short-sighted public relations battle with their best player and face of the franchise.

And for a few cold days in April, it worked.

Judge hadn’t hit any of his MLB-leading 25 homers yet. The idea of a ballplayer turning down that much money – an average value of $30.5 million per year, according to the helpfully “transparent” Yankees – is unfathomable.

Except for the average ticket-buyer, an athlete turning down $1 million is unfathomable. So is $10 million. Turning down $20 million? Can’t understand it.

The exact offer didn’t matter. The amounts started becoming impossible-to-grasp decades ago. Monopoly money for playing a kid’s game.  

“I would play for free!” some fans bellow, probably the same ones who chanted, “Sign the Contract” and “Take the Deal” at Judge on Opening Day.

Before the season, the Yankees and Judge could have a reasonable disagreement about whether he was truly one of the best players in baseball. He was always really, really good, but he had also been injury-prone and turned 30 on April 26, his age making any long-term deal extra risky.  

And then came this special season.

With all the pressure he put on himself by turning down that contract – and all the pressure the Yankees put on him by announcing how much dough he had turned down – Judge has performed majestically.

Were the Yankees somehow trying to motivate Judge?

“I’m not really motivated by that kind of stuff,” he said on Tuesday. “I'm motivated by the type of team we've got, the special talent we have here and the opportunity we have ahead of us. So I try to just keep focusing on that and that makes it pretty easy for me to kind of block this other stuff, the business side of it, out.”

Judge, who was not in the lineup on Tuesday at Tampa Bay, is batting .301 with four more home runs than anyone in baseball. He has moved from right to become the centerfielder on a 50-17 team.

The arbitration hearing is to determine if Judge’s 2022 salary will be $21 million (his ask) or $17 million (the Yankees’ offer). It was delayed to in-season because of the lockout.

A $4 million difference being fought over by a team that is worth an estimated $7.01 billion and a player who, at this time next year, might be in the first year of a $300-million plus contract.

For some team. Once he gets to free agency, it doesn’t have to be the one in the Bronx.

Judge said he’s going to attend the hearing via Zoom. (He also said, “I never really liked Zoom” because of those “little boxes.” Agreed.)

If it gets ugly in those little boxes, and if the sides never reach a long-term deal, we might one day be old enough to remember when Aaron Judge played for the Yankees.