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Mark Teixeira’s criticism of Aaron Judge is wrong

Aaron Judge brilliantly trolled the Red Sox. Criticizing his actions misses the point.

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

General Manfred,

I bring word from our retreat from Boston. Despite Lieutenant Colonel Griffey’s brave recruitment efforts, I’m afraid that not everyone is willing to “let the kids play.” The Great Generational Baseball War rages on.

After a Game Two victory in Boston, there appeared to be a swing in momentum. With the series tied and two home games in the ever-intimidating October Bronx looming, Aaron Judge decided to have a little fun with Boston. As he passed the Red Sox’ clubhouse at Fenway Park, he played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” on a speaker to send a message.

This was an amazing, albeit uncharacteristic, bit of trolling from the de facto Yankee captain. Judge has been praised in his young career for being respectful and humble. It’s made him a player who is universally liked by his peers and a great ambassador for the game. It’s also come at the cost of hiding a vibrant personality.

It’s easy to see that Judge is a fun clubhouse guy. He suppresses some of his swagger and cockiness in the name of sportsmanship and “the Yankee way.” When he finally decided to let his guard down and talk some trash, the angry-old-man takes were inevitable. Unfortunately, leading the angry-old-man charge was former Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira.

On ESPN’s Get Up!, Teixeira took issue with Judge’s actions.

“You woke a sleeping giant. Aaron Judge has no rings. And I have a ton of respect for Aaron Judge, I think he will have rings. But when you boast—when you wake a sleeping giant in Boston—on your way out back to Yankee Stadium and then get your butts kicked two games in a row, I just think that you might want to let your bat do the talking. Because Aaron Judge’s bat will talk.”

When pushed on whether or not he thought Judge’s trolling actually impacted the games, Teixeira said no. But, he added:

“You have players that have their play do the talking and then you have players that talk. Aaron Judge has done every single thing right his entire career. This—in the middle of a playoff series—why now? Why is now the time for you to do something like this?”

To be clear, the player who is not letting his bat do the talking hit .421/.500/1.447 with three home runs over five playoff games in 2018.

The issue with Teixeira’s argument is two-fold. First, let’s assume that he is blaming Judge for the loss because, well, he did. Beyond the fact that this argument relies on the idea that the 108-win Red Sox didn’t feel urgency to win a playoff series against their rival, it shifts a series of team-wide failings onto that team’s best player.

New York was outplayed and out-managed by Boston. The Yankees were outscored 31-14 in this series. They batted 4-26 (.154) with runners in scoring position. Aaron Boone mismanaged his pitching staff, failing several times to relieve struggling starting pitchers with fresh bullpen arms. That struggling starting pitching went a little something like this:

Game 1: J.A. Happ 2.0 IP, 5 ER, 22.50 ERA
Game 2: Masahiro Tanaka 5.0 IP, 1 ER, 1.80 ERA
Game 3: Luis Severino 3.0 IP, 6 ER, 18.00 ERA
Game 4: CC Sabathia 3.0 IP, 3 ER, 9.00 ERA

The Yankees were outplayed by a better team. None of this blame should fall on Judge’s shoulders. That brings us to our second issue. Let’s choose to believe Teixeira’s latter comment that he doesn’t think Judge’s trolling impacted the series, but it was simply bad timing for the first “wrong thing” he’s done in his career.

There was nothing wrong with what Judge did. He ignited a fan base, pumped up his teammates, and got the baseball world talking and laughing in the process. There’s something so poetic about a pull-your-pants-up-young-man criticism in response to a 26-year-old playing a 38-year-old recording of Frank Sinatra. He used a pillar of Yankees history and culture to taunt a rival. He told Boston to bring it, and they did.

The Red Sox trolled back, using the same Sinatra song to celebrate their ALDS win in the visitor clubhouse of Yankee Stadium.

It’s an infuriating video, but that’s the point. It’s another piece of folklore in the rivalry—a video to repeatedly hate-watch until April. That’s baseball. It’s time to shake the belief that ballplayers need to be professional. It’s not a two-day sales seminar at the Jacksonville Airport Marriott; it’s supposed to fun.

While Teixeira’s comments may seem trivial, the implications of criticisms like these in the ongoing baseball culture war can have lasting effects. Shaming Judge’s postgame antics as “wrong” and “unprofessional” not only misses the point, it undermines an entire youth movement in the game. Trying to box in one of MLB’s biggest stars by holding him to a standard set by a predecessor is everything that’s wrong with the sport.

Aaron Judge is not Derek Jeter. He doesn’t need to be. Jeter created his own path toward success as a player, leader, and role model. Judge can share some of those same traits without having to mirror them. Yet, there’s such a desire to replace Jeter with “the next Jeter” that fans want to have Judge’s script already written.

The rivalry between New York and Boston has never been boring. It would be a shame to see the folklore bleached and the biggest players silenced in the name of doing things “the right way.” Hopefully, Judge ignores this criticism and continues to be a foot soldier in the Great Generational Baseball War.