Aaron Judge defines excellence for the Yankees as they embark upon the second half of the season

Aaron Judge waits for a pitch to be delivered at Minute Maid Park in Houston.|Art or Photo Credit: AP

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge is a three-time American League All-Star whose name has been penciled into the starting lineup in each of these appearances thanks to voting results by fans. According to the ballclub’s public relations department, Judge is one of five position players drafted by the Yankees to participate in the All-Star Game multiple times representing the legendary pinstripes. He is part of a prestigious group which includes Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Along with pitchers Ron Guidry, Andy Pettitte and Dellin Betances, there are only eight ballplayers who have achieved this feat for the Yankees since Major League Baseball’s first amateur draft was held in 1965.

As Major League Baseball has recently concluded its 2021 All-Star Game and draft, Judge’s success and popularity epitomized the essence of both crown jewel events. A ballplayer defined by extraordinary talent and high moral character; Judge has already attained beloved status among the fans while striving to become an iconic Yankee. His journey to the Bronx began with another Yankee favorite, former outfielder and first baseman Nick Swisher. As the ebullient Swisher declined a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer and elected to sign a multi-year contract with the Cleveland Indians, the Yankees were given a compensatory pick (32nd overall) in the 2013 draft which was used to select Judge.

After hours of All-Star Game festivities and draft coverage, two questions immediately come to mind regarding Judge and his draft experience: what were the downsides to drafting him and why was he overlooked by nearly every major league ballclub in the first round? Judge’s power was undeniable, but there were concerns regarding his bat speed and the propensity to strike out often at the collegiate level. Judge’s massive size was also considered a deterrent as many did not believe it would translate well to professional baseball.

In drafting Judge and awarding him with a $1.8 million signing bonus, the Yankees successfully demonstrated an important aspect to the evaluation process: character. As a ballplayer embarks upon a professional career in baseball, there are several challenges they will encounter and the ability to successfully confront adversity can sometimes far outweigh the analytics. The Yankees discovered a rare gem in Judge due to their thorough examination beyond the statistics. Many of his finest attributes are not captured by triple digit exit velocities and mammoth home runs. Judge is the personification of humility and perseverance while adhering to a voracious work ethic that is built upon accountability and constant improvement.

Sometimes, it is difficult to comprehend all of Judge’s accomplishments. He burst onto the scene in August 2016 by hitting a home run in his first Major League at bat that traveled 446 feet at an exit velocity of 108.8 miles per hour. No one will forget Judge’s awesome display of power when he won the 2017 Home Run Derby in Miami by hitting 47 balls that traveled close to four miles in distance. According to a tweet by YES Network researcher and booth statistician James Smyth courtesy of Stats by STATS, Judge has recently become the second fastest Yankee to 500 hits and 100 home runs in 506 ball games. The incomparable Joe DiMaggio achieved this outstanding feat in 395 games.

Fans have an instantaneous connection with Judge for a variety of reasons beginning with his homegrown status. There is something magical that emanates from ballplayers who have come up through the Yankees farm system and find success at the Major League level. It is a rare combination of pride and authenticity. Even though the Yankees have excelled in acquiring All-Star caliber ballplayers through free agency and trades, nothing compares to the stories told by scouts on how they helped discover the next generation of Bronx Bombers.

The true beauty of Major League Baseball’s draft is defined by uncertainty through an inexact science. No one possesses a crystal ball and can see into a ballplayer’s future while a return on investment might take years to come to fruition or never happen at all. On those rare occasions when the stars perfectly align, a ballclub discovers an Aaron Judge. Sometimes it is by design but mostly it comes by happenstance, luck or accident.

In one of the All-Star Game’s most touching and beautiful moments, who did Major League Baseball call upon to escort Mrs. Billye Aaron onto the field for a pre-game ceremony honoring her late husband, the iconic Hank Aaron? It was Judge and Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. As Judge towered over Mrs. Aaron and even Freeman, one could not help but notice the grace and reverence he demonstrated as the grieving octogenarian wrapped her gentle hand around his mammoth arm.

Judge embodies the blueprint for the Yankees’ success in the second half of the regular season. It begins with character. The Yankees have been tested and faced multiple challenges during the first half of the season. Even though it is easy to find fault with the ballclub’s performance, Judge remains eternally optimistic because he believes in his teammates’ abilities and the winning culture within the clubhouse. Adversity and perseverance instill character during times of distress and Judge is ready to lead the Yankees back into the hunt for the American League East crown this season.

Judge is one of Major League Baseball’s most important ballplayers both on and off the field. As an ambassador and role model, Judge once again reminded us that he is the embodiment of excellence at the recently concluded All-Star Game. He continues to cement his legacy as a homegrown superstar. Most importantly, Judge regularly demonstrates why he is an indispensable asset for Major League Baseball while proudly representing the New York Yankees.