‘My great grandkids will know about Aaron Judge’: Yankees teammates on the home runs that made history
- Previously a Staff Writer at Bleacher Report
Cornell University graduate
THROUGHOUT THE 2022 SEASON, as much as New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said publicly he was not thinking about home run records, about the history around his 2022 season, the legends of baseball lore found him anyway.
Before a game against the Boston Red Sox in late September, Judge stood at his locker as a clubhouse attendant handed him an August 1961 issue of Life Magazine, featuring Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris on the cover. Judge held the magazine for a few beats, staring at the Yankees legends, before putting the magazine on the shelf of his locker. Since then, it has stared back at him every time he gets ready for a game.
“Ruth, Mantle, Maris,” Judge says. “You never imagined as a kid getting mentioned with them.”
With an American League record 62-home run season, Judge has joined those Yankees in the record books — and on covers of magazines like The New Yorker. Even before this year, Judge was one of the few baseball stars whose celebrity transcended the sport, but his remarkable 2022 season took him to a new level. Heading into Thursday’s awards unveiling, the coveted free agent is the favorite to be named AL Most Valuable Player.
The spotlight wasn’t always comfortable.
“I try to lessen my time outside,” Judge tells ESPN. “Don’t get asked questions or stopped by TV cameras about certain things.”
As Judge approached the 61-home-run mark set by Maris in 1961, the dynamic during every Judge at-bat changed. Fans at Yankee Stadium and on the road stood up for every pitch, taking out their smartphones to document history. Crowds roared up until the moment the pitchers began striding toward the plate, when they’d go silent until the pitch crossed. Every Judge at-bat prompted a notification on smartphones or a live cut-in on ESPN. They became the defining positive memories of the Yankees’ 2022 season, especially after the team bowed out of the playoffs, when Judge hit .138/.184/.306 with two homers in nine games.
While Judge wanted to block out the noise, the difference in the atmosphere at the stadium was palpable.
“I really first heard it against the Pittsburgh Pirates where I led the game with a double and I didn’t hear any cheers,” Judge says. “I felt like people were disappointed. Even later in the game, I had another double and I almost heard a sigh of, like, ‘Ahh.’ Like come on, it’s a close game and that’s a double. It should be cheering.”
As much as Judge wanted to treat 2022 like any other season, it clearly was not. It was clear to those of us watching at home, as well as those with him at the stadium every day — every time he stepped to the plate, his teammates moved to the top step of the dugout to watch history in the making. This is their perspective on his season, and on some of his most memorable home runs along the way to No. 62.
April 13: Home run No. 1
It’s hard to imagine that in a season in which Aaron Judge hits 62 home runs, it takes him 13 games — a relative drought — to get his first dinger on the board. No. 1 comes off Jose Berrios on a 91.9 mph sinker going 413 feet during a 6-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Despite the “drought” to start the season, Judge’s teammates and those around the Yankees do not need much evidence for them to believe 2022 could be a historic year.
DJ LeMahieu, Yankees infielder: Pretty early on we knew he’s capable. He’s hit 50 before. He’s capable every year in The Show. And he was just in a groove early on in the season.
Jameson Taillon, Yankees pitcher: In the clubhouse, the conversations just happened organically. Everybody was watching the number go up and then it started really becoming a thing in here the last few weeks. He’s been so freaking steady the whole time. We’ve all been individually just watching, like, he’s got a shot.
Michael King, Yankees pitcher: Oh my god, it feels like you’re back in history watching Babe Ruth.
Judge: It’s just never been a focus of mine. It was never a focus of mine to go out there and hit 70 homers. If it was, I think I’d be thinking about that all year. Focus on mindset. Hit .300 and drive in a certain amount of runs. My main focus is always what can I do to help this team? First win the division and then go out there and hopefully win the World Series.
May 3: Home run No. 9
During a 9-1 blowout of the Blue Jays in Toronto, Judge hits a 427-foot homer into the second deck off Alek Manoah that is more memorable for everything that happens after the ball lands in the stands. After Blue Jays fan Mike Lanzillotta catches the moonshot, he hands the ball to 9-year-old Yankees fan Derek Rodriguez, who begins sobbing with joy and thanks Lanzillotta with a massive hug in a moment that goes viral on social media.
Derek Rodriguez, Yankees fan: I was so happy. All I can remember is I said thank you and I hugged [Lanzillotta]. I brought it to school; my friends and teacher congratulated me. They all wanted to hear what happened. It was just amazing. My teacher even made a presentation where she showed what happened, and people got to touch the ball.
Judge: For a Blue Jays fan to have that moment with a Yankee fan, that’s a moment seen around the world. It speaks volumes to the Blue Jays fans they have here.
Aaron Boone, Yankees manager: That’s tough to beat. That’s one of those moments that warms your heart.
On the following day, Judge meets with both Rodriguez and Lanzillotta on the field.
Judge: I asked him who his favorite player was, and he turned around with his little jersey. It still gives me goosebumps seeing little kids wearing my number, my jersey.
May 10: Home run No. 10
Judge hits his first walk-off homer of the season on a hanging slider from Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano. With one out in the inning, Romano walked catcher Jose Trevino and infielder DJ LeMahieu to bring Judge up to the plate.
LeMahieu: You just want to get on base for him. That’s kind of how all of us feel. Because we just want to get on base because something good is going to happen. If you’re behind him, he’s going to get on and you just want to keep the line moving.
Jose Trevino, Yankees catcher: We’re going back and forth and for us to get on base for him to come up hit and walk off, I was just getting ready to run.
June 26: Home run No. 28
Judge hits his second walk-off home run of the season, a three-run, 417-foot homer in the 10th inning off Houston Astros reliever Seth Martinez on an 80.2 mph slider, bringing home Matt Carpenter and Aaron Hicks — and a 6-3 victory.
Matt Carpenter, Yankees INF/OF: I just think that he’s going to hit a home run every time he goes up there. He’s a robot.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Yankees shortstop: It’s hard to explain, but it’s just his personality. The way he goes about his business, the confidence, the humbleness. If you’re in the locker room, you don’t think he’s a superstar because of the way he acts. It’s the same every day, no matter what. If we’re winning or losing, he stays the same, and I think the fact that he can stay neutral is really allowing him to do what he’s doing.
July 16: Home runs No. 32 and 33
During a 14-0 rout of the Boston Red Sox in the Bronx, Judge hits his 32nd and 33rd home runs of the season, the first a 401-foot shot off Nick Pivetta on a 85.6 mph slider and the second a 444-foot moonshot to center off reliever Kaleb Ort on a 86.4 mph slider.
As Judge charges into the All-Star break with 33 homers, some members of the Yankees clubhouse begin to ponder how many the slugger could finish the season with.
Trevino: Guys were talking about it in July.
Aaron Hicks, Yankees outfielder: It’s like f—, let’s see how much more you can do.
Trevino: We all thought he was just going to keep going, keep hitting homers.
Taillon: After the first half, you have time to reflect and you see those 33 home runs. But it might be unrealistic to expect him to just repeat that.
July 22: Home runs No. 35 and 36
Still fresh off the All-Star break, Judge hits two homers against the Baltimore Orioles, his seventh multi-home run game of the season at the time. His second homer of the game is his longest of the year, a 465-foot shot to center.
For the Yankees, the home run tear marks a moment when Judge chasing the home run record transitions from possibility to reality.
Taillon: We’d have a couple of talks about it before the All-Star break, but it’s like, man, he’s going to need to repeat in the second half what he did in the first. And then he comes out of the gate and pops off. That’s when it becomes real. He means business.
Dillon Lawson, Yankees hitting coach: He doesn’t waste any time. He does exactly what he needs. There is a precision that’s impressive and a lot of mental toughness, which he works on. He doesn’t have to feel good in order to play good, which is unique. Everyone wants to feel good before the game. That’s going to lead to good performance, but he leaves the cage on a foul ball or a swing-and-miss off the machine. It’s not about how he feels. It’s about what he does.
Anthony Rizzo, Yankees first baseman: He’s always asking questions. He by no means thinks he has anything figured out and he has fun. Being an everyday position player, you kind of have to be selfish as far as getting ready and making sure your body’s ready and getting your routine right. It’s harder to be a vocal, louder leader, but he does such a good job at being vocal and having fun.
Kyle Higashioka, Yankees catcher: He’s taken up the mantle of team captain.
July 24: Home run No. 37
During his second at-bat of the day against Orioles pitcher Dean Kremer, a fan at Camden Yards is clearly heard yelling, “He’s going to strike out!” immediately before Judge hits a 456-foot homer on a 75.6 mph curveball.
Fan: “He’s gonna strikeout!”
Judge: *Hits a 460 foot homer on the next pitch pic.twitter.com/8mIb4jN4qQ
It’s that kind of calm in the midst of jeering from fans and outside noise around the Yankees that inspires confidence in Judge’s teammates.
Taillon: When you take the field knowing you have probably the best position player in the world behind you, that’s a good feeling. I used to get really, really nervous on start days and I saw our lineup in my first three starts last year and I’m looking around and I’m like, Aaron Judge is behind me, Giancarlo Stanton, those guys are backing you up every day. Judge is at the center of that.
July 28: Home run No. 39
Judge hits his third walk-off homer of the year off Kansas City Royals reliever Scott Barlow on a 95.4 mph fastball that flies 431 feet to center field. The Yankees struggle early in the game, not scoring off starter Brady Singer, who strikes out 10 batters in seven shutout innings of one-hit ball, allowing just three baserunners, none of whom advance past second base.
The homer is Judge’s sixth in seven games.
Boone: It doesn’t cease to amaze the season he’s putting together. Barlow is obviously really tough. He just got a pitch and put it up in the air where he did. Not many people can get it up and ride it out the way that he did. I didn’t [think it was out], but I was talking to it, trying to give it a kick. I knew it had a chance because it was [Judge].
Gerrit Cole, Yankees pitcher: It’s historical. It’s unbelievable because middle relievers are throwing 95 mph these days, and the quality of stuff that the league is challenging him with is as good as it’s ever been. And he’s been as good as it’s ever, ever been in the face of all that.
Aug. 22 and 23: Home runs No. 47 and 48
After nine straight games without a home run, Judge hits two in two days — both wins — against the New York Mets in a two-game Subway Series sweep. The first comes on a 95.7 mph fastball from Max Scherzer over the right-field fence and the second off Taijuan Walker, a 456-foot moonshot to left.
While the Yankees end the month with a 10-18 record, the second worst mark in the American League in that span, Judge carries the team’s offense, hitting .289/.458/.633 with nine homers and 22 RBIs.
Taijuan Walker, Mets pitcher: The biggest thing is that you can’t let him be the guy to beat you. You’re just trying to minimize the damage as much as possible. You know a guy like him is going to take his walks, he doesn’t care. He’s just locked in on every pitch. He was always a guy that hits for homers and hits for average, so this year hasn’t really been surprising. We all know who he is, but you’re trying to pitch to him and avoid damage.
Pete Alonso, Mets first baseman: It’s special to watch for sure. I mean, he’s a big strong guy and being a slugger is obviously hitting the ball over the fence, people pay a lot of attention to home runs and stuff like that. But the most impressive thing is his approach and how he’s been chasing down the batting title as a big guy and pitchers pitching around him because they are scared, or being extra careful in the zone. He can hit the ball hard anywhere. It’s truly so impressive and what a testament to his approach and his ability to keep his timing and rhythm throughout the whole year.
Francisco Lindor, Mets shortstop: His concentration level has been through the roof because to have a season like that, the consistency, you have to be locked in day in, day out. You appreciate that because that’s so hard to do and it says so much about his work ethic and how he’s been able to concentrate.
Michael Kay, Yankees announcer: You began to feel that something could happen in August because he just kept hitting home runs and they just kept pitching to him. The numbers just kept going up, and I said he’s got a chance. I thought he could get to 64.
Sept. 7: Home run No. 55
Judge sets the new single-season Yankees home run record for a right-handed hitter in his fourth straight game with a home run. He hits it off Louie Varland in a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Cole: When you talk about consistency, you look at the poorest stretches of his season and it’s not even that bad. It’s actually good. You look at those stretches, stretches where there aren’t a lot of home runs, and try to tell me there’s any discrepancy in the quality of the at-bats that he’s giving. There’s no discrepancy. He’s giving you a quality at-bat every time.
Sept. 18: Home runs No. 58 and 59
Judge hits two home runs against the Milwaukee Brewers, and finishes the series with seven hits in 12 at-bats. Judge raises his average six points, which vaults him into the race for the batting title and the Triple Crown.
Lawson: It felt like his average went up 15 points against the Brewers. You start to look up and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, he’s one point away from the Triple Crown and you know to that point that he’s having a historic season with the home run record, potentially. A home run record plus a Triple Crown, that’s unheard of.
Cole: We’re trying to make sure that these moments are special, and we kind of try our best to understand the gravity of the situation. There’s been a back and forth in that aspect, thinking about the grandeur and the historical significance of it all. We’re extremely focused on what we’re trying to do as a club, trying to win, so there’s never a full opportunity to really sit there and soak it all in as a fan.
Sept. 21: Home run No. 60
Judge ties Babe Ruth’s mark from 1927, MLB’s home run record before Maris broke it in 1961. Judge’s 60th home run doesn’t seem dramatic in the story of the game, only cutting the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lead to 8-5 in the ninth inning. But four batters later, Giancarlo Stanton hits a walk-off grand slam, giving the Bronx Bombers an improbable comeback victory.
Judge: I was kicking myself as I was running around the bases, “Idiot, you should’ve done this earlier.”
King: Whether we’re winning or losing or in a tight situation, you just think he’s going to hit a home run.
LeMahieu: He’s just stayed in that groove all year. As a kid, we all watched a couple of those guys break the record. [Mark] McGwire, [Sammy] Sosa, [Barry] Bonds. And how fun was it as fans to watch that. We all know he’s capable of it. So just to watch it unfold, it’s not at all surprising.
Nestor Cortes, Yankees pitcher: He’s the same guy always. You can’t even notice that he’s about to hit his 61st homer, inside the clubhouse and behind the scenes. He’s the same guy and I think that’s what makes him so special. No matter if he’s on a tear or if he’s struggling, he’s the same guy always and we feed off that energy, you know. No matter how good or bad you’re doing, we got to keep it level for every other guy that’s in there. Aaron Judge has been the same guy since day one.
Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees outfielder: It’s unreal. Amazing to watch, 60 like nothing happened.
Boone: It was one of those sort of unreachable numbers.
Sept. 28: Home run No. 61
Heading into the game in Toronto, Judge had gone seven games without hitting a home run. Of the previous seven times a player hit 61 homers, four reached the mark the game after hitting 60 — and none took more than three games to reach the milestone.
Lawson: He gets 60, and everyone is trying to get a good seat. Everyone is trying to position themselves for a good view. You don’t want to miss this. I’m usually charting pitches and taking notes and I stop. It can stop because we want to be present.
Kay: You’re certainly prepared, but you don’t script because you don’t know what type of home run he is going to hit. The only thing I had planned for the call was that I wanted to pay some homage to Phil Rizzuto, when he said that, “This could be it.”
With his mother, Patty, and Roger Maris Jr. in attendance, and Hicks standing on first base, Judge takes a 94.5 mph sinker from Tim Mayza and pulls the baseball just over the left-field fence for a 394-foot dinger. The crowd in Toronto gives him a standing ovation as he circles the bases.
Cole: It felt like we were the only ones there. It was just a really good moment of togetherness. We’re all so proud of him and know how hard he works. He wants to keep it low key, but boy, does he deserve it.
Hicks: It’s just fun to be a part of history. You just want him to have that moment. You want him to have that homer, you want him to have everything. It felt like forever from 60 to 61.
Cole: Everybody was making a big deal about him not hitting 61 for a week. Yeah, yeah. But his batting average was .300 and he’s walking two and a half times per game, which is absurd. That’s a great week of baseball right there. That player should never sit in any situation. He’s not getting pitched to hit a home run and he’s still walking. He’s on base, he’s leading off, he was still doing his job at an extremely high level.
Judge: Words can’t describe it. That’s one thing so special about the Yankee organization is all the guys that came before us and kind of paved the way and played the game the right way, did things the right way, did a lot of great things in this game and getting a chance to be mentioned with those guys now is, I can’t even describe it, it’s an incredible honor, that’s for sure. Getting a chance to tie Roger Maris, you dream about that kind of stuff, it’s unreal.
Boone: I got to believe it’s right there with some of the very short list of all-time seasons. I go back to the context of the season, and the more I look at it and dive into it, it’s got to be an all-time great season.
Trevino: I was telling somebody the other day, “Do they make movies about this stuff?” There’s somebody that’s going to play us in a movie. I watched “61*” and I mean, that’s what’s going on right here, right now.
In a postgame news conference, Maris Jr. takes the opportunity to question the legitimacy of Bonds’ single-season home run record of 73, set in 2001.
Roger Maris Jr.: [Judge] should be revered for being the actual single-season home run champ. I mean, that’s really who he is if he hits 62, and I think that’s what needs to happen. I think baseball needs to look at the records and I think baseball should do something.
For his part, Judge says he thinks the record should stand as is.
Judge: That’s the record. I watched [Bonds] do it. I stayed up late watching him do it. That’s the record. No one can take that from him.
Oct. 4: Home run No. 62
Six days after 61, after coming up short in the Yankees’ final homestand of the season, Judge hits his 62nd home run in Texas, a 391-foot blast over the left-field wall off Rangers right-hander Jesus Tinoco on a 88.4 mph slider right over the middle of the plate.
Judge: It’s a big relief. I think everybody can finally sit down in their seats and watch the ballgame.
Judge’s accomplishments this year force the Yankees to take a step back and appreciate history.
Cole: When you think about the Yankees, oftentimes you are reminded of the legends that live in Monument Park and the accomplishments that they’ve had and the types of players that they were and what they did for our organization. Even just to tie the record, let alone break it, is a bit surreal. And obviously on a night like tonight, it’s just like, “Woah.”
Judge: I kind of felt bad for my teammates because every at-bat, I had teammates on the top step waiting for me to do this and I’d hit a double or walk and I felt like I was letting them down. Even the fans, the fans that packed Yankee Stadium or being here the last two games. … There’s definitely a little pressure in there but you try to block that out.
Boone: The history of this game is one of its calling cards. The number 61. I’ve known about that number for my entire life. I think one thing that makes our sport a little more special than the others is the history of it all. We do history really well. And this has been a year and a season where we’re in the middle of one of those magical historical moments, and that’s tied to a number.
Lawson: You walk around Yankee Stadium and you see photos of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Maris, Jeter. The photos are in black and white. It’s really hard sometimes to believe that those are real people, like that actually happened. It seems like a fairytale. Like it’s just a movie like, “The “Sandlot” or “Field of Dreams” or “61*.” They made a movie about Roger Maris hitting 61. Judge is movie worthy. One day, we’ll all be long gone, and they will still have pictures of Judge and they will tell stories about him that are legendary. My great, great grandkids will know about Aaron Judge.
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