Pride, Power, Pinstripes. Tradition—the foundational pillar of Yankee baseball—is both its allure and its stigma. At its best, it’s a nod to a history of winning that only the Yankees can boast. At its worst, it’s a bleaching of personality that produces an oeuvre of PR-able sound bytes with a clean shave and a fresh haircut. The 2017 “fun Yankees” lived in the area between, but some casualties were unavoidable.
Aaron Judge is by any standard the most marketable player in the game. It’s a role that he has taken from Bryce Harper, but the two couldn’t be less alike by public persona. Harper is brash and entertaining. He has crazy hair, emojis on his equipment, and he lives off of bat flips. He’s a young guy who acts like a young guy. Judge, by contrast, trots out 495-foot home runs with his head down, gives thoughtful, albeit boring answers to the media, and tries his best to exist as a member of a team, rather than a star player.
What gives Judge an edge has almost nothing to do with his personality. The humble, good guy, “Jeterian” approach wins him universal praise, but it’s not what gives him the highest jersey sales in the MLB. What sets Judge apart are his rare physical gifts, his name, and his location. How does another player compete with a 6’7” rookie trotting out a 495-foot home run and giving a familiar smirk to his loyal magistrates in the Yankee Stadium Judge’s Chambers? It’s a role he was born to play and with it comes a spotlight no other player could incur with nothing but “it’s all about the team” quotes.
It has become an almost cat-and-mouse like game with Judge and the media. They try their hardest to force him into talking about himself and he does his best contortionist act to make his individual success about the team. He even has a tell. When asked a question about himself, he’ll give a two-second pause, offer a pensive stare, make a phonetic “tsk” sound, and then produce a measured response. It’s endearing, but frustrating.
Judge’s media prowess makes it almost impossible to glean any subsurface understanding of his personality. That’s what makes this week’s R2C2 Podcast with special guest Aaron Judge so inviting. The Players’ Tribune show hosted by CC Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco has become fairly adept (undoubtedly, a byproduct of Sabathia’s laid back interview style) at peeling back players’ press-wary, artificial layer and giving a look into who they are as people. As expected, this episode wasn’t a juicy tell-all of Judge’s life, but it did provide some anecdotal insight. Given how much we know about the man, this was a breath of fresh air.
The interview gave us classic Judge-isms but also some new, unguarded angles. It’s a fun listen—if for no other reason—to hear a more natural Judge in his back-and-forth with Sabathia and their combined clowning on Ruocco’s sometimes bizarre questioning. Because these little nuggets of inconsequential information are so hard to come by, let’s (over)analyze the three best things we learned about the big man.
He eats almost exclusively at Ocean Prime in Times Square.
This was by far the most entertaining part of the podcast. Sabathia asked Judge about his favorite place to eat on the road and while he tried to make the claim that it’s hard to answer because he has so many good options at home in New York City, CC quickly called him out for eating dinner every night at Ocean Prime. Ocean Prime is essentially a high-end chain restaurant.
Judge is 25 years old, living in a major city for the first time, and he has a demanding schedule; his dependence on a tried and true favorite near his apartment makes sense. That being said, the most puzzling part came when he revealed why he liked it so much. A quick glance at the menu shows Dutch Harbor king crab legs, ahi tuna, and even a bone-in filet. Judge goes for the butter cake. Look, if I was a giant with professional athlete money, I’d probably finish off every meal with a rich cake swimming in fresh berries, vanilla ice cream, and raspberry sauce, too, but I didn’t expect this. I didn’t see the first interesting tidbit I learn about Judge’s life to be the words: “butter cake.”
He loves Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones.
Who doesn’t? It’s nice to know that we’ll all have things to discuss with Judge if we run into him on the street, rather than just yelling “ALL RISE” in his face. Some things to note: he seems to have a crush on Daisy Ridley, his favorite Harry Potter movie is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and his favorite Game of Thrones character is Jon Snow. I half-expected him to say the Mountain, for obvious reasons.
He is weirded out by weird questions.
This isn’t a fun fact, more so an observation of his responses to Ruocco’s oddities. We only know Judge as the guy who praises everyone. He never has a bad thing to say. However, when Ruocco starts talking about his laryngeal masseuse, his affinity for the relaxing voices of Les Brown and Drake, and asking Judge about whether or not he wears sweaters out to dinner, the clowning by him and Sabathia is something we’ve never really seen. It’s the fun side of Judge. It’s the real Judge.
This podcast notches the first time we’ve actually heard from Judge. It felt like we were hearing his thoughts during that two-second pause before a measured response in a press conference. It makes you yearn for more personality, while appreciating the one you get. 2017 represented a turning of the tide that signals a new, youthful look at Yankee baseball. While that may not affect his outward persona and he’ll continue to offer cookie-cutter responses to press, it’s nice to get a glimpse into the personality Judge is in the clubhouse, even if it’s one that’s hidden from us. Judge doesn’t need to be the class clown to win over the league. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.