This was a moment — Aaron Judge’s everlasting moment and, surely, it could not have been a better ending. As he walked up to the plate, fans pulled out their phones, held them up, pushed or started record to capture history. The record-holding slugger stood there at home plate as the ball soared over the fence and landed in the stands in Texas, where a fan corralled the ball for a souvenir or a huge payday. The spectators that came to witness history came to life. They roared. His teammates erupted and emerged from the dugout on the third-base side to congratulate him.
The season was one to celebrate for Judge. What has been made is history. That’s what fans want. History. Most heartily embraced it. After weeks of anticipation and of eagerly awaiting the kind of milestone that warranted such a celebration, Judge’s chase for the home run record is finally over. His bat-to-ball skills, and power or approach were necessary to reach the kind of unparalleled feat that provided fans with a taste of excitement and a sense of enjoyment. And just as he showed on his big night during what was a historic season, it can be done the right way.
But as the final days of the regular season started to wind down, Judge lived and died by the long ball, particularly focused strictly on driving the ball with power. He chased more than he ever had, and was popping out, lining out or grounding out, missing pitches he’d normally send into the seats. Just as recently, Judge’s home run slump had an impact on him mentally. Mostly, he was eager to get back to the slugger he really has been all season long. It’s been a memorable one for the slugging outfielder. He has enjoyed an incredible season while he was in pursuit of the all-time record for home runs. Regardless of what happens once the Yankees open the ALCS against either the Guardians or Rays, Judge will forever have his name etched in the record books for passing Roger Maris. No batter in the American League has collected more homers than Judge.
This stage was so large, so bright, it would make sense if we offer praise to Judge for getting his name in the history books. The regular season was a defining time for him as he found his swing this season and elevated his offensive production to the highest of highs. The story torpedoed everything else this season, as it shines a light on a pivotal moment in baseball history. You might have thought you’d seen it all before. But no, you’ve never seen it like this. It’s almost impossible to find a 30-year-old major leaguer who possess the rare combination of elite speed and power. And Yankees fans particularly have become enamored with the intangibles he brings to the club which are immeasurable. His tools. His team-first mentality. His attitude.
He improved mentally and physically at a rapid pace. Most of all, he maintained his health and sustained an on-the-field level of success in the form of trying to be more productive at the plate. Baseballs have flown off his barrel and arched over the wall. It was such a magical season, that he’s now undisputedly the authentic home run king, with No. 62. The long ball is one of the attractions of Judge, an element that should convince the Yankees perhaps to rethink their interest in signing him to a massive deal that would keep him in New York after this season and beyond.
In 20 years, Yankees fans will remember Judge smashing his 62nd home run of the year to eclipse Maris’ long-standing American League record. This was one heck of a pursuit. This is right up there with Barry Bonds. That he’s mentioned in the same breath as Bonds, the most prolific slugger all time, is certain to spark arguments about whether Judge is the actual, single-season home run champion.
While surely the all-time mark of 73 home runs belong to Bonds in his 2001 campaign, Judge’s chase was the greatest single-season performance by any hitter in the history of baseball. And if there was any doubt about historic greatness, it was removed as the baseball cognoscenti believe a guy who wears pinstripes rightfully passed baseball’s purity test. The dirty steroid scandal tarnished Bonds’ legacy and reputation. Which is to say — my words — that Bonds is a certified fraud. It’s mind-boggling, however, to think that Bonds is crowned the home run king when we’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled and deceived by a man who led us to believe he was the cleanest and most recognized player we had come to know.
For all the attention rightfully given to Angels’ two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who was better this year than last, Judge reminded everybody the AL MVP is his to lose. For him, he seemingly scripted his own storybook as he chased home runs, with his genuine love and undeniable passion for the game. This is a slugger who is going to define a generation.
In a year defined by monumental achievements, he put up phenomenal numbers and maintained a squeaky-clean image in the process. Amid a collection of snapshots that chronicle some of the most breathtaking moments in recent memory, Judge indeed delivered one of best seasons in MLB history. This year has been nothing short of magic all season long. It was beautiful, it was sensational, and everything in between.