Last night, Aaron Judge hit a home run—more exactly, he hit his 62nd home run, the most in American League history. For the first time in weeks, he saw a floating, middle-middle slider and promptly sent that ball to hell.
Writing—or thinking or talking—about Aaron Judge requires ambivalence. Despite the protestations of Roger Maris Jr., Aaron Judge isn’t the Dinger King; at best, he’s the Dinger Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, the British baby who’s seventh in line for the throne. All 62 of his homers are incredible and special, but they’ll never be the “real” record; Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, which is probably unmatchable. To a degree, the frenzy around Aaron Judge’s home run chase was propped up by a healthy dose of Yankees Exceptionalism, the belief that anything a Yankee does just means more; Giancarlo Stanton’s 59 homer campaign in 2017 with the Marlins generated a fraction as much hoopla. All of this is true and that’s fine.
But also, hitting 62 home runs is cool as hell, even if Judge himself is loath to admit it.
“In my book, it’s just another day,” Judge said after clobbering #62 in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers. “I wish we would have gotten the win, that would have made it a little sweeter I think. But I’m going to try to soak it in, soak in the moment with my family, and get ready for the game tomorrow. I think it won’t sink in until the offseason.”
In the end, it’s this coolness, the way that Judge turned baseball into the center of the sports universe that will be remembered. Even if college football fans carped that Judge’s at-bats were cut-in during games like the OJ chase, everything about these last few weeks ruled. The hush that fell over Yankee Stadium with Judge at the plate, the nervous countdown towards the end of the season as Judge got hung up on 60 and then 61, the cacophony of boos whenever some yellow-bellied pitcher refused to throw Judge a strike, the fact that there’s a guy named Frankie Lasagna: all objectively fun and good. This feeling, this experience, is more important than some number on Baseball Reference.
For the last month, Judge was the biggest athlete alive and he somehow made baseball take primacy over football and that all matters. By doing something that hasn’t been accomplished in nearly two decades, he sparked the kind of answer-less fan debate that once defined the sport before WAR solved them all for us. Is he the MVP? What does value mean? Is our understanding of history prescriptive or descriptive?
After he walloped his 60th bomb, Babe Ruth challenged “let’s see some other son of a bitch match that.” It’s been a pleasure to watch Judge try.