Fennelly: Bigger-Than-Life Aaron Judge Taking Aim at Yankees’ Legacies, Record Book

What? You haven’t heard of Aaron Judge? C’mon, everyone has by now. He’s that huge rookie on the New York Yankees that is absolutely destroying baseballs this season. On Monday night in Miami at the run up events to this year’s All-Star game, Judge made a mockery of the annual Home Run Derby, smashing dingers high and far in becoming the first rookie ever to win the event outright. He is the fourth Yankee to win the title (Tino Martinez (1997), Jason Giambi (2002), Robinson Cano (2011)).

Judge’s average blast traveled 435 feet, far from a record, but his four shots of over 500 feet were what left the crowd aghast. The 6-foot-7, 282 pound Yankees rookie, who leads the majors in HRs with 30, defeated the Minnesota Twins’ Miguel Sano in the final round of the derby. He did it in a definitive manner, just like he’s done everything else this season.

“Adrenaline was pumping a little bit,” Judge said at a press conference afterward. “But yeah, I tried to use the whole field and just square up every ball I could. Since there was a clock on there, you can’t really take pitches and pick one out. If it’s away, I try to drive it to right. If it’s middle in, try to hit the glass out there.”

He has immense power to all fields, and with the baseball taking off like it’s never done before in the history of the game, Judge has become the centerpiece of baseball’s home run craze. Pitchers have to be extremely careful with him as he is hitting everything out of the park these days.

Judge said he felt no pressure coming into the event even though he knew that he and the reigning HR Derby champ – the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton – were the heavy favorites. It was a showdown that never materialized as Stanton was eliminated by Judge’s Yankee teammate, Gary Sanchez, in the first round.

“Like you said, I’m a rookie,” said Judge. “This is my first time doing it. For me I got no expectations. I’m just going to go in there and have some fun and see what we can do tonight. It was a blast. I enjoyed every minute of it – watching the other guys swing, coming here early and talking to the media. Everything about today was fantastic.”

Actually, it is not Judge’s first time doing this. He won a HR Derby while at Fresno State at the 2012 College World Series back in 2012. He’s custom made for these moments.

“A lot more fans. A lot more fans,” Judge said when asked to compare the two events. “It was about the same. Your adrenaline is pumping, you’re nervous, you’re excited. But this was an incredible experience.”

It was an incredible experience for the fans, too. They have not seen baseballs travel this far this often in many years. There is no scientific evidence the baseballs these days are designed to travel further, but many have their suspicions. Then again, looking at Monday night’s contestants in the HR Derby contest, one would be in awe of their physical stature. Judge is the largest, but Stanton has the body of an NFL tight end at 6’6″, 245. Sano is 6’4″, 260 and Stanton’s Miami teammate, Justin Bour checks in at 6’3″, 265. Sanchez is the runt at 6’2″, 230.

Judge has the baseball world’s imagination running wild. He’s probably not going to challenge the asterisk-riddled MLB single-season record of 73 set by Barry Bonds in 2001 but could end up somewhere near those other PED-infused records set by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the late 1990’s.

The one record Judge has in his sights is the Yankees’ team record of 61, set by Roger Maris back in 1961, which to many is still the watermark for home runs in a season. He’s already broken Joe DiMaggio’s Yankee rookie record for HRs (29 in 1936) and is aiming to become the third Yankees, behind Maris and Babe Ruth, to hit 60 in a season.

He has been an absolute monster at home in the Bronx, batting .381 with 21 HR and 42 RBI in 41 in 41 games in 2017, hitting safely in 33-of-41 and reaching safely in 38 of those 41. Not to mention he is just 5 HRs away from tying the single-season Yankee Stadium record of 26 set by Curtis Granderson in 2012.

But Judge’s game extends beyond home runs. He has proven to be a fine defensive player, has hit for average (his .329 ranks third in the AL) and has been consistent at the plate all year, reaching base safely in each of his last 39 starts since May 28, tops in MLB in 2017 and the Yankees’ longest streak since Mark Teixeira’s 42 game stretch during the 2010 season.

The Yankees may or may not end up competing or the playoffs this year but the one constant has been that Judge’s at-bats have been “must-see” television. That figures to continue no matter where the Yankees are in the standings.

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