FOX Sports MLB Analyst
New York – “Welcome home Aaron Judge. “
That phrase, tattooed on Yankee Stadium’s Jumbotron on a chilly New York City morning, seemed like a pointed and deliberate choice of words. That the crowded, jumbled, crowded anarchy of the city, and not the rolling green-and-yellow hills of Northern California, could be considered a judge’s “home” must have seemed impossible for the 31-year-old when he made his debut here in 2016.
All winter, the judge’s hometown San Francisco Giants They’ve positioned themselves as a worthy destination for the 2022 AL MVP. Familiarity was their biggest draw, and their best advertising exposure. They hoped that the chance to play for the team he grew up loving, just two hours from his small hometown of Linden, California, would be tempting enough to make a giant judge. It used to not be.
And here it was Yankeeson the morning of Judge’s big intro press conference to announce his new nine-year, $360 million deal, reminding everyone where home really is.
But for all those appearances and typical Yankee pomp—from the surprise appearance of former captain Derek Jeter to the bouquet of flowers presented to the judge’s wife, Samantha, and his parents, Wayne and Patty—the morning was most notable for the extent of its revelations. The Pragmatic Truth of Judge’s Free Agent Experience. His return to the Bronx was not destiny or loyalty. It was not a foregone conclusion. This ceremony was a reminder of how close Judge came to leaving and how cold cash, a willingness to commit, and a timely transatlantic phone call made sure that never happened.
After some introductory remarks from manager Aaron Boone, general manager Brian Cashman, and owner Hal Steinbrenner, Judge donned his 99 jersey and took to the stage. On that platform, he stood above the norms in the crowd that braved the wintry weather to report this moment. At 6-foot-8, Judge was a magnet for looks in every room he ever entered. This was no different.
As he prepared to speak, the crowded press conference room in the bowels of the stadium fell completely silent, as if it had been upstairs all year during his bat, the only sound coming from the clatter of subway cars passing above.
The captain’s coronation was forever the next player in the franchise with an entire memorial dedicated to them.
But baseball and the truth are rarely that simple.
Several times, on the stand and in a subsequent session with the media, the 2022 AL MVP was asked, in several words, if his return home with the Yankees was inevitable, and if all those free agency shenanigans were just shenanigans.
Fake TMZ-style video of him in San Francisco? His exciting eleventh hour trip to san diego for winter meetings you sit with parents? Those quotes in Time magazine about feeling offended by Brian Cashman and revealing what the judge believes were private contract negotiations in April? These were all just negotiation tactics designed to drive up his price, right? right?
Each time Judge was questioned about the predetermination of this encounter, he had the opportunity to expand the truth with emotion, a simple opportunity to write his own storybook that ends with a love story in baseball. He could have easily said they were Yankees, they always were Yankees. Since he had absolutely no interest in any team besides the one who drafted him back in 2013, his free agent journey would always lead him to the Bronx.
A reporter asked, Did the judge imagine he wasn’t a New York Yankee?
Instead of an immediate yes, the judge paused, collected his thoughts, flashed his coy smile, and then gave a diplomatic yet incredibly revealing answer.
“it was hard.” said the judge. “That’s why the whole free agency process was a different case. I think it was helpful to see some other places and hear some opinions.”
Although the judge shared that he and his wife eventually came to the conclusion that they “belong in New York,” he refused to portray the situation as predictable. Instead of crafting an adequate account of his experience with the free agent, Judge voluntarily admitted that, yes, he had actually envisioned himself, this winter’s times, in another team’s uniform. The interest in his native Giants’ home jersey was real. The Padres’ massive late game showing convinced Judge to reformulate his travel plans en route to a Hawaiian getaway.
Boone echoed those sentiments. The Yankees captain admitted that there were moments during Judge’s free agency where he worried his most important player might not return. And the infamous “Arson Judge to the Giants” moment in particular sent the New York skipper into a panic.
“It was like losing your cell phone, keys, wallet, and iPad all at once,” Boone joked.
And in the end, the Yankees made this historic deal, not because the weight of life in pinstripes was so irresistible, and not because Judge felt a deep sense of loyalty to the only team he’d ever known. Aaron Judge is a Yankee, and would stay for the next nine seasons, because Steinbrenner was willing to make the necessary financial commitment.
This is how this (capitalist) world works. Loyalty is as strong as the next payday. Steinbrenner, like his late father, knows this. the judge as well. Perhaps this is an unromantic reading of the situation, but it’s as true as a well-trained baseball game and shouldn’t dampen the judge’s comeback excitement a bit.
The tall Linden kid is a Yankee and he will be for life because Steinbrenner did the necessary thing—contact the outside player personally, mid-vacation, from a roadside break in eastern Italy like something out of a succession ring—to get the deal done. He knew the Yankees couldn’t afford a future without Judge, so he asked Judge what it would take. When the big guy admitted he needed a ninth year, Steinbrenner gave it to him.
“I’ve already told him,” Steinbrenner revealed from the stand on Wednesday, “As far as I’m concerned, you’re not a free agent. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a Yankee and we have to do everything we can to ensure he stays the same.”
That’s exactly what Steinbrenner and the Yankees did. And now, Judge has a new home for the long haul.
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Jake Mintz, Louder Half @tweet He is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is an Orioles fan and lives in New York City, and thus leads a reclusive life in most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter at @tweet.
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