A year ago, Aaron Judge was Vladimir Guerrero Jr., before that it was Mookie Betts, and before that it was Pete Alonso, and all the time he was trying to be Mike Trout. In fact, the judge was last judged five seasons ago, but that was while sharing the stage with Giancarlo Stanton — when everyone and their elderly aunt can crash home, but then come the injuries, COVID and industry-wide energy slump. A lot of things have changed, including how we perceive the damned game.
Now that the fact that Shohei Otani is just doing extraordinary things for an extraordinary team, this is the judge’s show alone. And it’s not just the 60th race at home, which Comrade Bechsky represents drooling in his eccentric cave, although we appreciate a nice rounded number. It’s about Judge doing it on a team that actually has lofty and measurable ambitions for the post-season. He hit milestones in an important year for an important team — meaning the Yankees are almost as good as the Houston Astros, who beat you with the eroding qualities of good players all around. It’s not that you’re supposed to love the Yankees on their own terms. Hell, if you’re going to love a team, you might as well Toronto.
More importantly, Judge is overall better at old stats and modern numbers, giving this oddly broken game the sense of common purpose last seen when the Astros played on timbales to two world championships and one championship and acted like wounded limbs the entire time.
The judge would win the title through an amount of home runs which, if tied to a fictional player, would net the said player a four-year contract worth $85 million. The player with the best season close to him is Yordan Alvarez of the Astros, but no one mentions him as a Player of the Year candidate, and the transition to Ohtani’s coronation as a unicorn has waned dramatically as the Angels return to the more famous ethereal world finishing 71-91.
No, this is Judge’s world, just as Guerrero had a year ago, and he kept his own level as the Yankees lost their world in a mid-season slump that lasted throughout July and most of August. Their advantage was that they had defeated both Toronto and Tampa until they had given up by then, and although miracles could happen, neither team had been within close range (three games or less) since May 9.
The only thing to bear in mind here is that years like this don’t often last, and it’s especially hard to maintain as baseball keeps changing its rules every year to please a generation that has never seen it and can never have it. In five years, they’ll be throwing bats and using Christmas wrapping paper tubes as bats, adding two more bases and making the spoiled lines movable, all in a big effort to be baseball and not baseball at the same time.
This is, however, for post-apocalyptic America. Right now, Aaron Judge has the most traditional of seasons: the Triple Crown. He also leads 19 baseball references 45 hit classes, many of which depend on the formula. He’s the one player who connects all the things ancients and moderns yearn for. Whatever Aaron Judge’s physical field of play, your field, his field, or an imaginary field in an alternate world where baseball wasn’t all white, pharmaceutical-pure, focused on numbers ending in zero, or even remotely played close to the way it She’s been down before he’s kicking that ass.
Until all odometers reset on October 7th, and everything that’s happened so far becomes nothing. This part of baseball has never changed.