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Mudville: September 29, 2022 12:55 am PDT
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The Babe, Roger and The Judge

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Talkin’ Baseball was a popular song in the ‘80s about Willie, Mickey and The Duke. That would be Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider.

Here we are now 41 years from the song’s 1981 release date and today’s baseball song is all about The Babe, Roger and The Judge.

Aaron Judge caught up to Babe Ruth on Tuesday night, launching his 60th home run, another booming blast. Roger Maris is next in line at 61 and the American League home run record that has stood for 61 years. Barry Bonds has the MLB record at 73 home runs set in 2001 but that is steroid tainted as are the single season totals of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when they passed Maris.

This is what I love most about Judge’s home run march, it shines a light on the greatness of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris as well. It makes it special for all three men. We are seeing what it takes to get to 60 home runs and, in my mind, this should be an open door to Cooperstown for Maris, who also was a two-time MVP and played in seven World Series (winning three) with the Yankees and Cardinals – and yes – for Judge as his career continues to move forward.

Baseball, forever, will be about the Babe.

I reached out to Michael Gibbons, who has put his heart and soul into the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore since he first became the executive director in 1982, one year after Terry Cashman sang “Willie, Mickey and The Duke”, and I asked Gibbons what the Judge pursuit and the catching of the Babe means in the big picture of baseball.

The Babe, Roger and The Judge sounds so perfect, three Yankees forever together in the record books no matter what Judge’s final home run total is this season.

Gibbons’ official title now is Director Emeritus & Historian, but consider him the living pulse of Babe Ruth. “Judge has hit No. 60 in fewer games than Ruth hit No. 60. So that just shows you the incredible power and batting ability of Aaron Judge,’’ Gibbons told BallNine. “That is pretty cool.’’

Ruth hit his 60th home run on September 30, 1927, the Yankees 153rd game of the season; Judge’s 60th came in the Yankees 147th game. On Wednesday night Judge laced two doubles to raise his average to .317 as he takes aim at winning the Triple Crown. Judge would become the first Yankee to win the Triple Crown since Mickey Mantle in 1956.

“We embrace all of this because it casts further light on our guy, The Babe, and we maintain that all baseball players, current and past – judge their abilities – they measure their abilities against Babe Ruth because he is the game’s greatest hitter, greatest slugger to this day,’’ Gibbons said. “I’m sure Aaron Judge is thinking about the Babe and even when he breaks Maris’ record, he’ll be talking Maris but really it’s Ruth who is just still out there.’’

It always comes back to Babe Ruth.

“As it should,’’ Gibbons said.

Baseball is a game of records and Roger Maris held the biggest record – the single season home run record – until PEDs took over the game and messed up the record books. The great Hank Aaron topped Babe’s career home run record but was eclipsed by Bonds.

What’s done is done, but don’t let the PED numbers impact the single season home run numbers of The Babe, Roger and The Judge.

This is their time. Aaron Judge is sharing that spotlight and clearly was emotional when he came back to the dugout after rounding the bases Tuesday night and reluctantly came back up the top step for a curtain call.

The Babe

Maris is Hall of Fame worthy and after just being up in Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, I can tell you that a display with Ruth, Maris and Judge together would be a home run, especially if it is coupled with a video – because as we all know in today’s TikTok World, it didn’t happen unless you have the video.

The Babe, Roger and The Judge sounds so perfect, three Yankees forever together in the record books no matter what Judge’s final home run total is this season.

Bringing Babe and the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore back into the spotlight is wonderful, too. I am a big believer in fans visiting museums, especially younger fans to understand there is a much bigger world out there than the one you see on social media and on highlight shows. And letting this generation of baseball fans know about Roger Maris’ will to succeed in 1961 when he was never shown the kind of love that Judge has been shown this season is a win for the Maris family, and the work they have done to keep their father’s legacy alive. This season also will be a tremendous kickoff for Judge and his All Rise Foundation that will have an All-Star Evening gala in New York on Friday, November 18th.

Judge should be an easy MVP winner. No question. And then there is that little thing of becoming a free agent at the end of the season as well.

As for the incredible numbers Judge is posting across the board, one top baseball executive mentioned to me on Wednesday, “I guess batting average matters to him.’’

It sure does. What a great comment. Batting average may not matter to the Nerds, but it is all part of winning and that is the bottom line for Judge.

Let me take you back to the first extensive interview anyone did with Aaron Judge as a Yankee – and this took place in March of 2015 when Judge was ticketed for AA Trenton. That interview was done by me because I saw Judge on the back fields in Tampa and marveled at his talent and his size, 6-7, 275 and wanted to know the rest of the story.

To make sure my eyes were not playing tricks on me I sought out Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, who knows a thing or two about succeeding in New York, home runs and being a superstar.

Roger Maris

And this is what Reggie told me more than seven years ago.

“Judge has got power like (Willie) Stargell. He’s got outstanding plate discipline. It’s nice to see him at home plate with a 3-1 count.’’

Reggie knows.

Home run No. 60 off the Pirates’ Wil Crowe, by the way, came in the ninth inning Tuesday on a 3-1 sinker. Judge’s pitch recognition is the best in the game. And this was a typical monster shot by Judge and sent the Yankees crowd into a frenzy and sparked the Yankees’ five-run ninth inning with Giancarlo Stanton’s grand slam off Crowe for the 9-8 win over the pathetic Pirates, another one of those teams with a seven-year rebuilding plan. The Pirates were slammed 14-2 by the Yankees on Wednesday night.

Judge has carried the Yankees on his massive shoulders and that was another reason I wrote what I wrote in 2015 because I could see after spending time with Judge that he was raised right by his parents Patty and Wayne Judge, and would become a leader of the Yankees. He was a natural and that drew me to Judge as well. In that story Judge was quick to credit his parents for his approach to the game and life. “My parents are amazing, they’ve taught me so many lessons,’’ Judge told me in front of his locker at Steinbrenner Field. “I honestly can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me.’’

As a parent of three children, that was encouraging to hear. Parents can make all the difference in the world.

And as Patty Judge told me that day when I called her, “Aaron has a pretty good compass. At a young age, he knew the difference between right and wrong.’’

Judge also explained to me in that interview that he was adopted at one day old.

This is such a wonderful American success story and of course Patty and Wayne are attending all the games during this historic chase. Through the years we have stayed in touch, and I would often see Judge’s parents – who live in Northern California – at games on the road and at Yankee Stadium, the same down to earth people as that first day we talked.

And The Judge.

Even without the historic total of home runs, Judge would be MVP because he has carried this Yankees team across the finish line. All this coming after the Yankees let out that he rejected a long-term extension for $213.5 million.

I said at the time that Judge would bet on himself and win big.

The Yankees had no clue how big – but this is the greatest contract season any athlete in any sport has put together. Of course I was always of the belief that the Yankees should have signed Judge four or five years ago to a career contract, but the Yankees did not have the same vision I had about Judge’s ability and character.

Once Judge figured out it was not a good idea to run into walls or dive for balls in games that were well in hand, he became unstoppable and was able to stay on the field. Less weight training and more flexibility training made a huge difference, too. Judge also had faith he could play centerfield, something the Yankees did not really recognize.

That day in March of 2015 Judge told me how blessed he was to have the life that he had and the parents he has and he repeated that to me through the years.

That day, Patty Judge put it all in perspective telling me: “We’re more blessed than he is. Both of our children are adopted. Aaron has an older brother, John, who is teaching English in Korea and we’re real proud of him, too. Really, it was all meant to be.’’

It was all meant to be.

That certainly showed itself to be the case on Tuesday night when Judge blasted No. 60.

A big part of this story too is the faith shown in Judge by Yankees Director of Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer, who made Judge the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft, just two years before my first long conversation with Judge. That pick has saved this team from disaster.

Say what you want about the value of analytics, but scouts on the ground and getting to know a young player inside and out – and knowing his family as well – can make all the difference in the baseball world. The Yankees did their scouting homework on Aaron Judge.

Press Credential from the '98 Home Run Chase. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)

Stargell, by the way, never hit more than 48 home runs in a season so Judge has left that number in the dust. The Maris family is at Yankee Stadium this week and good for them. I first met them in 1998 when I was chasing Mark McGwire around the country during his home run binge. At the time, the Maris family embraced McGwire, but it turns out McGwire had some PED help to beat Roger’s record.

I still have the press credential with the 62 baseball button in Cardinal colors that was given to the media during the chase.

It is a new chase now and the Maris family once again has that spotlight shining on Roger’s incredible mark of 61 home runs in ’61, 61 years ago.

Numbers tie the game together through the generations and the Maris family and the Judge family are now linked. That is the beauty of baseball. In 1961 Maris Yankees, the M&M Boys Yankees won 109 games. At that time, and all the way up until 1998, that 1961 team had the second-most victories ever for a Yankee team in a season. The only Yankee team with more victories, you guessed it, was Babe Ruth’s 1927 Yankees with 110 victories in Babe’s 60 home run season.

In 1998, Derek Jeter’s Yankees won 114 games.

In 1927, Babe’s Yankees swept the Pirates in four games to win the World Series. In 1961, Roger’s Yankees stomped the Reds in five games to win the World Series.

This year the Yankees were on an all-time victory pace but then injuries, the schedule and their loss of energy turned against them – but Judge has saved them and I expect them to hang on to win the AL East. Then come the playoff challenges.

Perhaps like in the home run record years of 1927 and 1961, these Yankees will get it all together in October, in this, the Year of the Judge.

The Babe, Roger & The Judge, forever linked.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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