Age is just a number, but perhaps, when it comes to the Yankees, it’s a sign of things ahead. Today is Aaron Judge’s last day as a 27-year-old. So while advance birthday wishes are in order, now is also a good time to look back at the year that was, and what it might mean moving forward.
Judge’s last 365 days have been tumultuous. While healthy, he was still the team’s best hitter. Unfortunately, he battled injuries, both publicly acknowledged and privately endured, that took a toll on his production.
In 102 regular season games, the first 20 of which admittedly came when he was only 26, Judge produced 27 home runs and slashed .272/.381/.540. A solid effort, to be sure, but fans didn’t see the true height of Judge’s powers they were treated to in 2017.
But there’s good news: Judge is not alone in having an off year as a 27-year-old. Let’s take a look at the age-27 seasons of some great Yankees outfielders to see what kind of company he is keeping.
Babe Ruth (1922) — 110 G, 35 HR, .315 BA, .434 OBP, .672 SLG
We’ll start with the greatest. Like Judge, Ruth’s age-27 season was shortened, though not by injury. He began the year serving a suspension for violating a rule that disallowed World Series participants from barnstorming in the offseason.
The punishment diminished his counting stats, but his slash line suffered, too. He still put up awesome numbers, of course, but well below his Ruthian career averages of .342/.474/.690.
There was little reason to worry. The next season, Ruth returned to form and bagged the MVP award. And he continued to maul opposing pitching through his age-39 season, his last in pinstripes.
Joe DiMaggio (1942) — 154 G, 21 HR, .305 BA, .376 OBP, .498 SLG
DiMaggio’s 1942 campaign is another instance of a legend posting a productive season that seems flimsy only when compared to his previous body of work. DiMaggio was coming off three seasons in which he won a pair of MVPs and batting titles, and made history with his 56-game hitting streak.
After a run like that, it’s tough to fault DiMaggio for taking a step back. Unfortunately, he’d have to wait to move forward. At age-28, he left baseball to serve in World War II. Upon returning, he managed to earn another AL MVP in 1947.
Mickey Mantle (1959) — 144 G, 31 HR, .285 BA, .390 OBP, .514 SLG
Mantle’s age-27 season was a frustrating one for both him and the Yankees. As his numbers dipped from his apex 1956 and 1957 seasons, so too did the team’s fortunes, as the Bombers fell to third in the standings that year.
But it was an impressive performance by the standards of mere mortals, and Mantle still had some bright spots remaining in the future of his career, namely the 1961 and 1962 campaigns, during which he earned two World Series victories and an AL MVP. He also made a valiant run at Ruth’s single-season home run mark, along with…
Roger Maris (1962) — 157 G, 33 HR, .256 BA, .356 OBP, .485 SLG
Maris could be forgiven if he needed a breather after winning consecutive AL MVPs and then conquering Ruth’s record at age-26. But at 27, he went right back to work, earning his fourth straight (and final) All-Star Game selection.
But his subsequent four years with the Yankees never reached the heady excellence of his prime. He suffered a hand injury in 1963 that limited him to just 90 games, and two seasons later, injuries robbed him of all but 46 games.
Eventually Maris bounced back to win another World Series, but only after he had moved on from the Yankees, instead taking home the title with the 1967 St. Louis Cardinals.
Bernie Williams (1996) — 143 G, 29 HR, .305 BA, .391 OBP, .535 SLG
Williams is the most recent entry on the list, and the one whose performance at age-27 was truest to his peak form. His slash line that season is a tick above his career averages, and he was a key cog in the Yankees’ magical World Series run that October, earning ALCS MVP honors.
The mellow center fielder was just getting started. In his next five seasons, he claimed five All-Star nods, four Gold Gloves, a batting title, and three more World Series rings. Starting at age -8, Williams had a stretch any Yankee could be proud of.
So what’s the upshot? Obviously the achievements of Yankees past don’t say anything rock-solid about Judge’s current trajectory. But they do provide a heartening reminder that the futures of Judge’s career and this current Yankee team are unwritten.
While Yankees fans have endured some frustrations over these last couple seasons, we could also be looking at years of great baseball to come. So here’s to a happy birthday weekend to Aaron Judge, and to looking back at age-27 as just the start of something big.