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Mudville: May 22, 2024 1:32 am PDT

Showing Respect

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Last year on his way to a 62 home run MVP season, Aaron Judge paid homage to fellow Yankee right-fielder Roger Maris, who hit 61 home runs in 1961 to break that other Yankee right-fielder Babe Ruth’s single season home run record.

It’s my contention that Roger Maris should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for breaking the Babe’s home run record; in addition, Maris won two MVP awards and three World Series championship rings.

Judge knows baseball history and more importantly, respects baseball history.

People still don’t seem to understand how difficult it was for Maris to break the Babe’s record in an era when the Babe meant everything to baseball; and there was jealousy aimed at Maris, yet he still produced, breaking the Babe’s mark.

On Saturday on a 4-for-4 day in Cincinnati (and if he keeps this up this will be a second MVP season), Aaron Judge paid homage to Hit King Pete Rose, going over to shake his hand at Great American Ballpark.

It is my contention that Pete Rose should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame for setting the record for most base hits in a career with 4,256 hits, in addition to winning an MVP award and two World Series championship rings.

“Hey, when the Hit King is here I’ve got to put some hits out there, you know that,’’ Judge said as he shook Pete’s hand after the Yankees’ win over the Reds. Judge made his way over to Rose before he put on the headset to be interviewed on the post-game show for delivering his 10th-inning single that put the Yankees on top.

Judge has yet to win a World Series like Maris or Rose, but if he keeps this up the Yankees at least have a chance. Without him, they would have no chance.

Winning players find a way to win. And Judge once again is showing that Hal Steinbrenner would have been run out of town if he had let Judge get away to the Giants or Padres.

Judge saw the value of the pinstripes and stayed in New York – and Hal should be forever thankful that Judge did not take the bigger check from the Padres. Judge respected Yankee tradition.

Think the struggling Padres might look a little different with Judge in their shaky lineup?

Think the struggling Giants might look a little different with Judge in their shaky lineup?

I thought so.

When Judge tied Maris with home run No. 61 last year, he said this about Maris – and it meant so much to the Maris family, knowing the family as I do:

“It’s an incredible honor to be associated with one of the Yankee greats, with one of baseball’s greats,’’ a beaming Judge said. “To be enshrined with him forever, words can’t describe it. That’s one thing that is so special about the Yankee organization is all the guys that came before us and kind of paved the way, played the game the right way, did things the right way, did a lot of great things in this game; and getting the chance to being mentioned with those guys, now, I can’t even describe it. It’s an incredible honor, that’s for sure.’’

You would think that at some point pitchers would be a little more wary of Judge. I mean the guy hit 62 home runs last year and has 14 this year to lead the American League. There still is an American League, right?

The players who came before Judge and played the game the right way. That is what he values.

Winning was the theme here last Sunday at The Story with “Give Me a W’’ and I am sticking with that winning theme for Baseball or Bust. Winning a certain way is important and I think Judge has set the standard. Turns out that Buck Showalter did not enjoy Pete Alonso’s F-bomb during an on-field interview the other day and he let his star home run hitter know about it, and that’s a good thing.

Good for Buck and good for Alonso for listening. I think this also has something to do with the way Judge plays the game.

This day and age it’s more important than ever to bring respect back to baseball.

The value of winning and winning the right way has been lessened.

Why? Mainly because the Nerds don’t understand the art of winning. They boil everything down to numbers and not to the heart of a ballplayer or doing little things along with big things that win games and playing the game the right way.

Understanding the beating heart of a player worked to the Yankees’ advantage when scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was able to steal away Judge with the 32nd pick of the 2013 amateur baseball draft. To Oppenheimer’s credit he always says, “It’s all about the players,’’ and he said that to me again this week.

The 10-year anniversary of that Yankee-altering draft is coming up on June 6th.  Mark your calendars. The Yankees are home that night playing the White Sox. By the way, in that 2013 draft the White Sox did okay for themselves, too, drafting Tim Anderson with the 17th pick – but he is no Judge.

The Astros that year selected No. 1 and picked right-handed pitcher Mark Appel. See, the Astros aren’t always geniuses.

The Cleveland team formerly known as the Indians picked Clint Frazier with the fifth pick. I know the Cleveland front office is held up as a model to all – but they are not always right either.

The Yankees should have Oppenheimer throw out the ceremonial first pitch June 6th to Judge.

Of course there’s luck involved with any draft, but the Yankees and their scouts really did their homework on Judge to understand what kind of person he is, the strength of his character and his parents’ character; and let’s not overlook Judge’s intelligence.

He is such a smart baseball player.

Even with the Blue Jays throwing the “what’s he looking at’’ accusations at Judge, none of that threw him off his game and actually he has turned it into a “You can’t see me’’ moment for Yankee hitters now when they reach base.

Have what opponents throw at you bounce back in their direction. Brilliant.

I think you are seeing an even better Judge this year because he has more power within the team, and not just on the field. His mentoring of Anthony Volpe has been terrific and will help Volpe as he climbs the ladder of Yankee success.

The Judge-Volpe combination was a winner for the Yankees on Tuesday against the Orioles when the Yankees were in danger of a bad loss, having Gerrit Cole put up a clunker; but Judge saved the day with his one-out ninth inning home run to tie the game off Felix Bautista and then Volpe won it in extra innings, driving home the fake runner with a sacrifice fly.

Winning players find a way to win.

Aaron Judge #99, Anthony Rizzo #48 and Anthony Volpe #11 of the New York Yankees celebrate the win over the Baltimore Orioles after Volpe drove in the game winning run with a sac fly in the 10th at Yankee Stadium on May 23, 2023. The Yankees defeated the Orioles 6-5 in 10 innings. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees still have many issues to overcome – but isn’t it interesting that since they DFA’d Aaron Hicks, who never lived up to the hype or the contract, they have only lost one game.

The Judge home run on Tuesday was particularly telling for 2023. It also is my contention that pitchers and catchers have never made dumber decisions than now simply because they have too much information running around in their heads. Bautista got ahead 0-2 with two blazing fastballs. Then he does what pitchers and catchers do in 2023, thanks to all the analytics and iPad baseball.

Instead of sticking with the fastball, he tried what I call The Trickery.

Most nights, The Trickery will backfire – but not as badly as it backfired on Bautista and young catcher Adley Rutschman. They went with The Split, a pitch you have to bury in that count; and Judge did not miss the 88-mph middle-middle hanger. Judge was looking fastball but was ready to react to anything and that is a good lesson for all young hitters.

Bautista has been struggling with his split lately so naturally he tried to fix it against the game’s hottest hitter. Just before the pitch, Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer, who knows something about pitching, said, “The split can’t be in the zone. You cannot speed up his bat.’’

Then there was a groan.

Not that pitchers from Palmer’s generation didn’t make mistakes, but they did not leave as many 0-2 mistakes over the plate as this generation of pitchers. Just as the strikeout has become kind of blasé for hitters, one of the worst things to ever happen to the game, 0-2 mistakes are now kind of blasé for pitchers; and managers make excuses for those pitchers because we are in the era of you can’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

Feelings are more important than results.

How do you think Earl Weaver would have handled that 87.8 mph hanging splitter on an 0-2 count to Judge that cost his Orioles a game in the ninth inning?

Would he just have shrugged it off? No, he would’ve made it clear that 0-2 means throw something in the dirt if you are throwing the splitter.

The irony of all this is that Palmer was totally tuned into the situation as if he were still on the mound and he’s 77 years old. He even pointed out Judge’s .585 batting average on pitches middle middle. And he also made the point, “You still have to hit it,’’ giving Judge credit where credit is due.

You would think that at some point pitchers would be a little more wary of Judge. I mean the guy hit 62 home runs last year and has 14 this year to lead the American League. There still is an American League, right? And he has missed games because of a hip injury.

All this speaks to Judge’s intelligence as a hitter. But it’s more than that.

Taking the time to go over and shake Pete Rose’s hand after his 4-for-4 day in front of the Hit King and mentioning the Hit King by name is a class act by Judge. And don’t forget Pete chastised Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in April of 2021 saying, “Judge and Stanton, the only problem with those two guys, they’re really good players, but they’re always hurt.’’

Remember, Pete played 24 years. He twice played 163 games in a season. In 10 seasons he played at least 160 games. Two other seasons he played 159 games. You had to have a crowbar to get Pete Rose out of the lineup and then it was still difficult.

Say what you want about Pete the manager betting on games. Pete the player played the most games in MLB history with 3,562 games, Pete the player put up the most hits with 4,256. Pete the player posted the most plate appearances with 15,890, and Pete the player produced the most at-bats in Major League history with 14,053.

A plaque with those numbers and his betting suspension should be posted in Cooperstown because you can’t tell the story of baseball without Pete Rose. And the hypocrisy of betting now being a major revenue stream for MLB has to be taken into account.

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees stands next to a plaque of Roger Maris in Monument Park after a press conference at Yankee Stadium on December 21, 2022 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images)

Roger Maris broke the most hallowed single season record in MLB history, surpassing Babe Ruth’s 60 home run mark, and had to pay a difficult price for that fame when he was only doing his job. Maris’ teams appeared in seven World Series. Six times Pete Rose’s team went to the World Series.

Yes the Hall of Fame is all about numbers; but it should be about winning, too. The veteran committees really need to adjust. Just to irritate all the Yankee-haters out there, Thurman Munson, in my book, is a Hall of Famer too – and look back at the BallNine archive for the details. Suffice it to say, he played 11 seasons before his tragic death, won two World Series and appeared in three, and was the AL MVP in 1976. In addition the catcher had to navigate teams that had fiery personalities that included Reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin.

How can you put a number on that?

Aaron Judge got me thinking about all this because of the way he treats baseball history. It is not just about him.

If Pete Rose is in the house, he pays the Hit King respect.

When Judge broke Roger Maris’ AL home run record, he paid respect to Maris and the Maris family.

And by his doing all that, baseball also now respects Aaron Judge.

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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