Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Let’s give Aaron Judge a little space

The Yankees' Aaron Judge walks to the outfield

The Yankees' Aaron Judge walks to the outfield against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium on June 13, 2017. Credit: Getty Images / Sean M. Haffey

Aaron Judge is the biggest sports star in New York — certainly now and perhaps ever. Bigger than Babe Ruth. Bigger than Lawrence Taylor. Bigger overall than even Patrick Ewing and Kristaps Porzingis.

OK, fine, CC Sabathia might have a case, as do assorted football linemen, such as Sachem High’s own Jumbo Elliott. But you get where we’re going.

Judge is big, so big the 6-7, 282-pound Yankees phenom seems physically capable of absorbing Gotham’s collective embrace.

Let’s not overdo it, though, and instead give the young man some space and ourselves some perspective.

Sure, it’s a challenge. How can we resist? The huggable hulk is tearing up the American League, even after a West Coast swing during which he was merely good, not great, playing near his childhood home in central California.

Throw in the upbeat personality, the plays-nicely-with-others vibe, the self-deprecating “Tonight Show” segment, the personalized seating section at Yankee Stadium, the cheerful interview with “Kidsday” . . . we could go on.

So we will:

He is nice to his mother, like Lou Gehrig. He is a small-town-kid who swats big-time homers, like Mickey Mantle. He has a gap-toothed smile, like Michael Strahan. He makes dramatic, one-handed catches, like Odell Beckham. He has a headline-friendly name, like Darryl Strawberry.

It’s all good for an area that, by New York standards, is a little light on championship teams to celebrate recently.

If someone doesn’t win a World Series or Super Bowl by February, this will be the area’s longest major pro sports title drought since 1905-21.

But, again: Be careful not to hug Judge too hard, lest we smother him.

As he returns to his new home in the Bronx on Tuesday, let’s turn down the expectations dial from 99 to 11, since all the single digits (and Phil Rizzuto’s No. 10) have been retired.

Are we certain yet that he is not a flash in the pan, like Kevin Maas or Shane Spencer . . . or Jeremy Lin? Almost, yes, but there are no guarantees.

Are we certain yet that he will not head down a dark path, like Dwight Gooden or Strawberry . . . or Taylor? Almost, yes, but there are no guarantees.

Are we certain yet that he will avoid souring on the press and/or public amid its suffocating love and attention, like Joe DiMaggio or Mantle? Almost, yes, but there are no guarantees.

None of which is to say that we should not celebrate what he has done and what he might do for this most likable Yankees team in many years.

It’s good fun for now. Just remember the guy is human and still only 25, and that baseball players are the most psychologically fragile of team sport athletes, especially those who strike out a lot.

Both Judge and his fans should play the long game because everyone concerned should want him around for the next 15 years or so, happy, healthy and productive.

The gold standards of affable blandness among modern New York-area sports superstars are Derek Jeter and Eli Manning, an approach that worked spectacularly well for both.

Judge should aim for that as he settles into his new role and keeps his eyes on the prize – the one the Yankees have won once since 2000, when he was 8.

As for the rest of us, sure, restraint does not come naturally for a region famous for overdoing it with both praise and criticism, not only in sports but in the arts, in politics and in pizza ratings.

Let’s try, though. The big guy might be more fragile than he looks.

New York Sports