Aaron Judge might very well stay, be a Yankee for life the way Lou Gehrig was, and Joe D., and The Mick, and Yogi and Whitey and Derek Jeter and Mo Rivera. But there is a chance now, and a real one, that he might walk right out one of the gates on 161st St., down the steps in front of Yankee Stadium, past the sign for Babe Ruth Plaza, and just keep going. And it never should have come to this.
The Yankees should never have put themselves in a position where Judge could put other teams into play, and that means even before he tied Ruth at 60 and then finally passed Roger Maris to get to 62 home runs; before he had one of the surpassing seasons that any Yankee hitter has ever had, with the 62 homers and the 131 RBI and the .311 batting average and an OPS of 1.111, on his way to the Hank Aaron Award as the best offensive player in his league.
Before we even find out if he wins the MVP award, he hits a Ruthian number of home runs, and wins an award named after Mr. Aaron.
Of course, nobody saw this kind of season coming from Judge. Not even Judge himself could have imagined numbers like these. No matter. Now his walk year might actually be a walk year.
And it never should have come to this, if Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman don’t realize it by now their fans certainly do. We know what Steinbrenner and Cashman thought Judge was worth to them in the spring, $213 million over seven years. This is what they thought they could offer him against all that bad money they have put on the books in the recent past, starting with the day they absorbed a contract for Giancarlo Stanton even bigger than he is, and bigger than Judge is. It’s the Yankee version of Freakanomics.
Understand something: What has happened with Judge and the Yankees hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Now the Yankees are where they are with Judge. Even if they throw enough money at him and convince him to stay, it is going to cost them about $100 million more than they offered No. 99, the offer he turned down on Opening Day, one then broadcast by the Yankees for all the world to see and hear. Hey, Cashman seemed to be saying, we did our best. Sure they did. They offered to pay the biggest homegrown position player they’ve had since Jeter over $100 million less than they paid Gerrit Cole.
“We’re all disappointed right now that we can’t be talking about a contract extension today. Not now, but hopefully later,” Cashman said in April. “… Both sides would like to be here. I think Aaron Judge doesn’t want to be anywhere but here, and we’d love to make that happen as well.”
In the history of free agency, exactly one MVP — Barry Bonds — played out his contract and was playing somewhere else by the next Opening Day. Bonds left the Pirates and went to the Giants, who we keep hearing are extremely interested in Judge, and promptly won another MVP award in San Francisco. Now Judge, if he so chooses — and if the Giants or somebody else choose to bowl him over with an offer that might average out to $40 million for as many as eight years — has the opportunity to do the same.
I got this email the other day from my friend Pete, a great Yankee fan who follows his team as closely as anybody covering it. He was a young guy when Jeter and Mo and the rest of the Core Four were young guys.
Here is what he said about a situation that the Yankees created for themselves with their best player and one of the best players in baseball even before he knocked the ball around like Mickey Mantle in his Triple Crown season of 1956:
“This cannot be said enough — there is no excuse for an organization of the New York Yankees stature and means to be in the position they are in right now with Aaron Judge. He didn’t suddenly become their franchise player in 2022, no matter how historic his season was.”
He is absolutely right. Judge didn’t become their franchise player when they were pushing their best offer to the middle of the table. But when they had the chance to swing for the fences themselves, they were the ones who struck out. Looking. Now they can lose him. Ruth left the Yankees when he was old and broken down. No great player has ever walked away from the Yankees in his prime. Only now the Yankees have opened the door wide to that possibility.
The Yankees absorbed what had been a $300 million contract that Stanton had signed with the Marlins. They signed Cole, a starting pitcher, to a $324 million contract. They brought in Josh Donaldson this year and $21 million on his previous deal went on the books. Did any of this influence the budget under which Cashman is operating? It had to. Only Steinbrenner and Cashman know how much. What we all know for sure is how much dead money there is around the Yankees.
Everybody knows there were injury concerns about Judge. He missed 50 games one year and 60 another and didn’t even play half the Yankees’ games in the COVID-shortened season of 2020. But he didn’t turn 30 until a couple of weeks after he turned down the extension that the Yankees had presented him. He had set the all-time rookie home run record until Pete Alonso broke it when he hit 52 homers in 2017. In the process he became one of just five players to ever hit more than 50 home runs for the New York Yankees: Ruth, Mantle, Maris and the captain of the Biogenesis All-Stars, Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees became the Yankees because of baseball’s first home run star. That means Babe Ruth. Now here came this big young guy out of northern California and out of their farm system. Stanton had hit 59 home runs, but he’d done that in Miami. Yankee fans didn’t look at Stanton as one of their own. Aaron Judge, though, he is one of their own, all day.
He placed that big bet on himself and hit 62 and became the biggest star in baseball this season. Do I think he’ll leave? I don’t. But I also don’t know that he’ll stay, and neither do you. And neither do the bosses at Yankee Stadium who never should have let it come to this.
We used to hear that money was no object around the Yankees. It is now. The biggest guy in town might go find himself another town.
WHO’S RUNNING THE KNICKS, CARROLL’S FINEST WORK & A VETERAN’S DAY SALUTE …
Nic Claxton said the other day that he’d spoken with Kyrie Irving and that Irving was in great spirits, so that means all Nets fans can call off the prayer vigil.
My pal Barry Stanton is wondering how the Utah Jazz, who traded away Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, still have a better roster than the Knicks.
You want to know how?
The Jazz have Danny Ainge running their basketball operation and the Knicks have a former CAA agent.
Well, that’s not the whole answer, but not a bad place to start.
Just when you were ready to send Touchdown Tom Brady to the home, he up and gives you a fourth quarter like the one he gave you against the Rams last Sunday.
It made you wonder, all over again, if he and the Bucs might have won another Super Bowl last season if the Bucs hadn’t ignored Cooper Kupp flying down the middle of the field in what turned out to be the biggest moment of their season.
Is the Murdoch media still waiting for that red wave they kept telling us was going to come crashing through our front doors?
Oh, and one more thing:
Has anybody broken it to them that Zeldin lost?
Pete Carroll has won titles at USC and with the Seahawks, and still hasn’t ever done a better coaching job than he’s done so far this season with Geno Smith.
It has reached the point with the Packers where it’s hard for anybody, Aaron Rodgers included, to sustain the narrative that this is all about B-list receivers.
When Zach Wilson absolutely had to make a throw last Sunday against the Bills, he sure stuffed in that slant pass to Denzel Mims, 12 yards in the red zone when he needed five, didn’t he?
Wilson still looks young enough to play the lead in a “Friday Night Lights” remake, and flings the ball around like a Favre on training wheels way too often.
But he is one very tough out.
OK, you need to read the new Alex Cross, “Triple Cross,” by my friend (and occasional writing partner) James Patterson, just because it’s the best Cross yet, which is saying plenty.
And while you’re at the bookstore, you need to pick up “Racing the Light,” by Robert Crais, the latest in the fine, fine series about Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.
I give, and I give, and I give.
On Veterans Day, I celebrated the service of my Pops, Bene Lupica, 465th Bombardment Group, 783rd Bombardment Squadron, who was flying in B24s over Europe before he turned 21, a kid who grew up in Sherrill, N.Y. and had never been further away from home than Albany.
And this coming Thursday we will celebrate another birthday for my mom, Lee Lupica, who continues to be the beating heart of our family, two months away from welcoming her first great-grandchild into this world.
I could tell you which birthday it is.
But my mom takes pride in not having raised no fools.