Baseball’s proudest franchise is tearing up the American League, on its way to another postseason for New York Yankee fans to embrace. The problem is this grandest of teams doesn’t always embrace its icons.
The Yankees allowed Babe Ruth to finish his career in Boston and then as a trophy coach in Brooklyn. Joe DiMaggio showed up coaching the Oakland A’s. Yogi Berra was fired as manager twice, once after 16 games, and surfaced across town with the Mets and also coaching in Houston. Phil Rizzuto was released on Oldtimers Day with many of his old teammates in the building. Derek Jeter was invited to shop around free agency to see if he could get a better deal than his team was willing to offer the club’s captain.
All of that brings us to Aaron Judge, centerpiece of the current Yankees juggernaut. He is in his walk year, closing in on free agency. The Yankees tried to sign him to an extension before the season, offering a lowball $230 million package. This on a team paying well over $300 million to Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole.
Judge cleverly said “No, thank you,’’ and cut off any talks during the season, essentially betting on himself. He then went on a season-long MVP-type tear that has him at 30 home runs halfway through the season. He is leading the league in runs scored and is second in runs batted in.
Hal Steinbrenner, who runs this show, decided to talk about the team at the halfway mark, enjoying the .700-plus pace. And, oh, about Judge’s contract. Well, we’ll talk about that later, the boss said.
Judge celebrated Steinbrenner’s comments with a grand slam home run, a sort of exclamation point on his first half of the season.
The Yankees may have made a strategic mistake when they revealed the terms they had offered judge, a strange tactic that left the slugger unhappy. Salary numbers should be private, although they inevitably leak. By announcing the terms of their offer, the Yankees may have tried to squeeze Judge. Instead, he squeezed back, cutting off all future talks until after the season, when 29 other clubs can enter the auction.
In the meanwhile, there was an arbitration hearing scheduled to set his salary for the current season. The Yankees offered $17 million. Judge countered with $21 million. They settled on $19 million, avoiding any unpleasantness in the middle of a magical season.
The next time they talk contract numbers, it could be very unpleasant for a team that sometimes turns its back on its most important employees.
Did somebody say $300 million?