BY KEVIN KERNAN
Looking back helps you look forward.
Especially in baseball.
There needs to be a point of reference. Aaron Judge is having a season for the ages. He bet on himself and he will be the Mega Millions jackpot winner once the Yankees sign him for the rest of his career.
Good for Judge and it’s a good thing the Yankees have the opportunity to keep Judge, who is on a home run pace that is extraordinary.
Judge blasted his 42nd home run of the season Saturday in an 8-2 win over the AAA Royals at Yankee Stadium. That gave him more home runs than Babe Ruth has ever hit before August 1. Ruth’s high before August was 41 in 1928. That gave Judge more home runs than everyone else heading into August except for two players. And you can put an asterisk on each of those two hitters.
The only sluggers to have more home runs going into August 1 than Judge are Barry Bonds, who hit 45 in 2001 and Mark McGwire who crushed 45 in 1998, the year of the Great Home Run Chase, that’s it. Bonds finished with 73 in 2001. McGwire hit 70 in 1998.
And of course, you well know there are major questions about how Bonds and McGwire arrived at those magic numbers.
“We found that it’s the guys who are the consistent line drive hitters who emerge with power down the road as part of their game…’’
There are no questions about Aaron Judge, other than how in the world do you get him out? His home runs are towering blasts and line drives.
To understand the present and see the future though you have to look back at the past and that is what we do here at The Story.
Back in 2012, wearing No. 37 for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League was a 20-year-old Aaron Judge. There were many reasons why the Yankees and their VP of domestic amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer made Judge the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft, one of the greatest draft picks in Major League history. Oppenheimer and Yankee scouts did their job, looking at every aspect. Included in the mix was California area scout Troy Afenir, New England and Cape Cod League scout Matt Hyde and special assignment scout Jim Hendry.
And that brings us to this story from Matt Hyde, how looking back can give you the kind of perspective you need to look forward.
Hyde has been around the Cape Cod League since 1984. In 1993 he was catching in a home run hitting contest that included George Foster, who retired after the 1986 season. Foster hit 348 home runs over his 18-year Major League career and in 1977 at the age of 28, Foster clubbed 52 home runs, drove in 149 runs, produced a .631 slugging percentage and was named the National League’s MVP for the Reds.
Foster was 44 years old at the time of that Home Run contest but he could still hit them a long, long way. On this day that Hyde was catching, in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Foster had it going.
“George Foster was hitting balls out of left field on a line across the street into a pond,’’ Hyde told BallNine. “I had never seen that done before and I had a front row seat to it.
“So fast forward to when Judge was playing for Brewster in the Cape League (in 2012) and the first time I saw him was at Falmouth and he took BP and he is hitting balls on a line to left field over the road and into the pond,’’ Hyde told me. “I’m looking at it and I go, ‘Man, the only other guy I’d seen do that was George Foster, who had a 50 home run season in the Major Leagues and was an MVP and all that stuff, it’s amazing had it has just all come around.’’
Amazing is the word.
Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees in action against the Kansas City Royals during a game at Yankee Stadium on July 30, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
The eye test is the greatest test in finding baseball players and Hyde had witnessed an incredible display of power in Falmouth.
That pond point of reference was important for Hyde and the Yankees, who had been keeping a close eye on Judge since his days at Linden High School in Northern California and then at Fresno State.
There is much more to the scouting story, and this is why I love the work scouts do, how they have to project ability. Here is another little chapter in the scouting of Aaron Judge.
“The Cape was kind of his breakthrough,’’ Hyde said. “And we did this workout at Fenway Park for all 10 Cape League teams. And that is where Judge really stood out among the rest, hitting in that Major League ballpark, watching him swing, it was a different sound, the ball was doing different things off the bat that you went, ‘Wow, this guy is head and shoulders different than any other player in the (Cape Cod) League.’’
Aaron Judge was to be the Yankees Summer Catch.
CCBL players working out at Fenway is a great tradition. And again, scouts can gain another point of reference. This isn’t just about numbers and exit velocity and distance, it’s about approach, it’s about showing who you are as a baseball player and not just being a 6-7, 250-pound hulk with a launch angle swing. It’s about hitting. Judge worked his batting practice at Fenway for contact as well as for the Green Monster
“It was line drives,’’ Hyde recalled.
And then this tidbit, something young hitters need to know.
“We found that it’s the guys who are the consistent line drive hitters who emerge with power down the road as part of their game,’’ Hyde said.
Line drives first, then comes real power.
No one could have predicted this season, although AMBS did say before the start of season after Judge turned down the Yankees contract offer that Judge was going to deliver big on this bet on himself.
Has he ever delivered, 42 times so far and July still has one day left on the calendar. Who knows what his final home run total may be. Roger Maris has what many consider the real single season home run record with 61 in 1961. Then Babe Ruth with his 60 home runs in 1927.
Cleats worn by Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees during a game against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on July 30, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Bonds has the record set in that 2001 season with 73 home runs. McGwire hit 70 in 1998. Sammy Sosa hit 66 in 1998. McGwire followed with 65 home runs in 1999 while Sosa pounded out 63. In 2001 Sosa blasted 64. The next big number is Maris hitting 61 in ’61, breaking Ruth’s mark of 60.
At this rate, Aaron Judge could break unbreakable records.
This month Judge has produced 13 home runs. The Angels, the entire team, the team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, have hit only 14 home runs, one more than Judge.
To see what Judge is doing now and doing it as a great teammate, a baseball player, moving to centerfield and then back to right field or DH, whatever the Yankees ask, is so rewarding for the many Yankee scouts who went to bat for Judge back in 2013.
In my opinion Judge will be the Next Yankees Captain.
Hyde said it best.
“Aaron Judge has really embodied what a Yankee is all about,’’ he told me. “He’s a leader and I think you roll the combination of tools, ability to use the tools and the ability to be clutch, that to me defines a Yankee and he’s got all of that.’’
Exactly. That’s Aaron Judge.
The same 20-year-old kid that was hitting line drives into a pond in Falmouth, Massachusetts has lifted his game to unbelievable heights at the age of 30. He carries the Yankees. Friday night and the 11-5 win over the Royals was a perfect example. Judge made a home run saving catch in the first inning, then came to bat in the bottom of the third inning and homered, and this was coming off his walk-off home run from Thursday night, the only run of the game in the 1-0 win over Kansas City. To top it all off, Judge crushed a grand slam in the eight-run eighth inning for the Yankees Friday night, the second grand slam of the season for Judge.
Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees is congratulated after he hit a two-run home run against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning of a game at Yankee Stadium on July 30, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
But of course, Judge was not done with the Royals. He hit another home run on Saturday, his 42nd.
This is one heck of a grand slam of a season for Judge. All Rise again and again. Judge is the American League MVP.
Home runs are the story but this is not just about home runs. Judge is hitting .300, and his OPS is 1.058. Judge is one of only 18 players with a .300 average and he is the only one with a .300 average and more than 30 home runs. He leads all of baseball in home runs (42), RBIs (91) and runs scored (86). His home run Saturday was the 200th of his career. Judge is the first player in MLB history to have nine multi-homer games before August in a season.
The only other player hitting .300 with at least 30 home runs is Yordan Alvarez (.316, 30 home runs).
By the way, Hyde has not seen any balls fly into that pond in Falmouth since Judge hit them there. Hyde has been around the Cape Cod League since 1984 and George Foster and Aaron Judge are the only two hitters that he has seen put line drives into that pond.
“It’s remarkable,’’ Hyde said.
Remarkable is the word.
It’s a point of reference that is important to the Aaron Judge story.
Judge is a home run hitter and a ballplayer and noted one talent evaluator from another Major League club: “He’s just being a good hitter. God bless him. You know what, God always takes care of good people. Judge bet on himself and God has kept him healthy and he has performed unbelievably well.’’
It’s an amazing story and to think his Yankees career was helped in part by lining baseballs into a pond in Cape Cod, making him the Yankees incredible Summer Catch.