For the New York Yankees, on April 27, 1992, an African American biracial baby was adopted by Wayne and Patty Judge a day after he was born; that baby was Aaron Judge. When Judge was old enough to understand, his parents told him he was adopted. In high school in California, Judge was a multi-sport star who eventually choose baseball as his sport.
Judge was heavily recruited by teams like Notre Dame, Stanford, and ULCA as a tight end, but Judge wanted to play baseball. He was selected in the 2010 draft by Oakland but wanted to attend college instead. He played for Fresno State, where he was named a Freshman All-American. In 2012 he won the TD Ameritrade College home run, Derby. During the summer of 2012, he played for the Brewster White Caps of the Cape Cod League. This is where I may have seen him play and when he was drafted #1 by the New York Yankees.
Judge quickly worked his way through the New York Yankees minor league system, and In 2016 Aaron Judge made his major league debut in August of the year. In his first at-bat, he hit a home run. He also hit a homer in his second game, becoming the only player to do that since 1980. But again, Judge found himself on the DL, this time with a right oblique strain, the same injury that has caused him not to play in 2015.
For the New York Yankees, right fielder Aaron Judge in 2017 quickly became the Yankees’ face as he had a historic season and was projected to become the Yankee Captain of the future. Just as historic as that season was, so has been his precipitous drop to be in a conversation to be used as a trading piece, as his performance has never come close to that 2017 season.
Seldom do Yankees fans talk about that season anymore; they usually talk about how he is so often injured and has to be replaced in the field and lineup. Judge has had injury after injury, not all his fault, but his huge size and musculature have been criticized as often as admired and as a cause for his frequent injuries.
In 2018, Judge did not play in 50 games as injuries plagued his season; he dropped from 52 home runs to only 27, which is still good. But he also dropped from 114 RBI’s to just 67, which is not good from a player that is supposed to be a star. In 2019 he played in even fewer games (102). He struck out 141 times, and his RBI’s continued to drop to just 55. Unfortunately for the Yankees and Judge, his 2020 season was even worse; he played in less than half the games, with only 22 RBI’s. In 2017 he walked 127 times, only 10 times this past season.
The New York Yankees brass, and the Yankee fans, began to wonder if the once most favorite player would ever be healthy enough to become that star they once thought he would be. It has actually gotten so bad that there has been scuttlebutt on the Internet that he might be considered a trading piece to help the Yankees get a premium type pitcher to help the Yankees solve their pitching ills. As the video below shows, Judge can still have power and is heralded for the monster home runs. But the bottom line is that the club needs players that can stay on the field and impact the team’s success.
2017 saw Judge have his historic season. He finished the season second in the voting in the AL MVP behind Altuve of the Astros (since then, we have learned that Altuve may have cheated his way to that award). During the 2017-18 offseason, he underwent shoulder surgery to repair cartilage. The disturbing injury concerns mounted.
Still, Judge was receiving accolades; the Yankees even set up a special spot for fans, the Judge’s chambers. But for all the fanfare, there are some cracks in the armor. Judge, mostly due to his size and musculature, is subject to injury. He also is subject to the strikeout. He became the first MLB player to record eight strikeouts in a doubleheader. Itâ€™s the most in a doubleheader since strikeouts for hitters were first recorded in 1910.
Judge started the New York Yankees 2019 season off strong with a .288 batting average, five home runs, and 11 RBIâ€™s in 20 games played. However, on April 20, Judge suffered an oblique strain while hitting a single in the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals. He was immediately placed on the IL without a timetable on when heâ€™d be back. He ended up missing two months of the season.
2020 didn’t start well either. Judge came to spring training with a sore shoulder from a diving catch at the end of the 2019 season. That ended up be a collapsed lung and fractured rib that was going to cause him to miss the beginning of the season. As it turned out, the shortened season allowed him to be ready to play when the season started on July 23. Judge got off to a fiery start hitting 9 home runs in just 11 games. But then the injury bug hit again when he got a calf strain running the bases at Tampa.
Judge returned from the injury on August 26th; after more than two weeks in the IL, Judge never hit another home run in the regular season. Long story short, Judge drove in only 22 runs in the entire season. Brett Gardner got more hits than Judge.Â Judge hit 9 home runs; Luke Voit hit 22. DJ LeMahieu scored 41 runs, Judge only 23, just ahead of Gary Sanchez. This past season solidly put DJ LeMahieu as the most popular Yankee and not Aaron Judge.
The not so secret path to success for Aaron Judge is his ability to stay healthy. There is no question that Judge has talent as immense as his body, but if he can’t stay on the field, that talent goes to waste. With the unthinkable talk of using him as a trading piece, this next season will be telling for Judge. If he stays healthy the whole season and has a great season, he may find himself with a contract extension. If he has another season of injuries and no impact on the season, Yankee fans may see him on that trading block with his value greatly reduced. Neither the Yankees nor any team will want a player that can’t stay healthy.
As quickly as the memory of his historic 2017 is fading away, so is his future with the New York Yankees.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.