2022 is truly the year of Aaron Judge.
He’s on the verge of breaking arguably the most heralded record in franchise history. He’s putting together one of the most impressive offensive seasons of all-time. He’s fighting his way to a Triple Crown. He’s set himself up for a potential MVP win.
And here I am, wanting to talk a bit about the way he handles the media.*
*Author’s note: In fairness to me, I have a superbly written, if not dangerously melodramatic, article waiting in the wings for the day he breaks the record. For now, we’ll have to settle for... this.
We all know that playing in New York is a unique beast for any player. Both the media and the fans are tough on their guys — I mean, even Jacob DeGrom isn’t safe from the wrath of radio show callers!
While I think the “New York Effect” — that is, the chorus of chants from fans after a player fails to live up to expectations with the Yankees (or Mets) that basically explains away all of their failures on the pressure to perform in New York — can sometimes be a bit overstated, I do think there is something to be said about a player who’s capable of navigating the jagged media landscape so well.
Enter Aaron Judge.
I don’t know if I was just oblivious to this before, but this man has perfected the (sometimes) lost art of media communications this year. I don’t know whether this comes naturally to Judge or if he’s been media trained to the nines — I have some serious doubts about the Yankees media strategy... — but his personal comms strategy has been nearly perfect this year.
Let’s discuss some examples.
After a contentious offseason, Judge has put on an absolute masterclass in how to handle the media. Here’s a clip of Judge answering questions about his contract situation on Opening Day:
Aaron Judge on not reaching a contract extension today with the Yankees:— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) April 8, 2022
"You're disappointed, but like I said it's just an honor to be discussing those kind of talks" pic.twitter.com/FcAP7coHuW
It should be noted that this press conference took place after Brian Cashman’s, in which he tried to pin the stalled negotiations on Judge’s camp.
In the above clip, you can almost see him going through a mental checklist of things to say — rehash the question as a statement, give the reporter a quote that they can use in their article, add in some fan-friendly language, and call it a day. This was a high-wire balancing act in giving the media what they need to write their story and understanding the type of comments the fanbase would want to hear while not showing your hand, and he pulls it off perfectly. This is about as high-pressure of a media situation as Judge has found himself in during his time with the Yankees, and he handled it like an absolute pro.
Then there’s the stuff that’s clearly directed to the fans. Take this, for instance, in a media scrum after clinching a postseason berth:
"You can ask anybody in this room. The job's not finished. We have the ultimate goal of going out there and winning our division"— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) September 23, 2022
- Aaron Judge on the Yankees clinching a postseason berth tonight pic.twitter.com/uyIDBVFSot
This exact platitude-filled script is the go-to playbook for a lot of players across sports in general, but, no matter how many times we hear him say basically this exact thing after each game, he has an uncanny ability to make it sound genuine. (More on this in a bit.)
And, finally, compare this to what he had to say after hitting his 61st home run:
Aaron Judge on hitting his 61st home run:— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) September 29, 2022
"It's an incredible honor" pic.twitter.com/LNlaDSzzkf
To my eye (ears?), this is Judge at his absolute best. Not only does he offer the reporter a quick side of the human element to the story, which is always a juicy angle for any writer, but he also quickly pivots to stroke the ego of the organization and, in turns, the fans.
These might be subtle things to notice — after all, I’m inclined to pay a bit more attention to this stuff than the average fan who likely has much less free time on their hands than I do — but a good PR strategy is a necessity in New York.
I mean, just compare Judge’s interview clips that I’ve embedded above to this from Gerrit Cole, whose PR strategy doesn't appear to be quite as strong:
here's gerrit cole's response when asked point blank if he has ever used spider tack, one of the sticky substances baseball is looking to crack down on pic.twitter.com/rKFOksIDoW— Matthew Roberson (@mroberson22) June 8, 2021
Now, it would not be fair to Cole to present these clips as an apples-to-apples scenario. First, this was likely the most high-pressure media situation Cole will ever find himself in, and those are never easy for anyone to navigate. Second, given the tense atmosphere surrounding the sticky stuff ban, there likely would have been blowback from everyone no matter what he said. And, finally, it’s incredibly important to remember that some people just are not good in situations like this. Whether it’s being in front of the camera or being an introvert, these situations are rarely, if ever, comfortable.
Rather than focus on Judge vs. Cole, though — that’s not going to be productive at all — pay attention to the media training playbook that Judge employs and contrast it with Gerrit Cole’s playbook. Judge has clearly been trained to get in, give a quote or two that the reporter can use, and get out. He typically sticks to the same script and hits the same points over and over again, regardless of the topic. Unfortunately for Cole, his training, if he received any from the organization, appears to have failed him. The stammering might be a result of being uncomfortable in front of the camera — this is a constant in a lot of Cole’s interviews, to no fault of his own — but he falls into the trap of getting into a cyclical answer that he has a hard time climbing out of. This interview was torpedoed within the first 10 seconds, and it just got worse from there.
As I mentioned earlier, this type of playbook is something that all players across the league try to employ, to varying degrees of success. Where Judge’s approach to the media differs from others, however, is that he has an uncanny ability to come across as entirely genuine. Without knowing a single thing about Judge outside of his immense talents on the baseball field, it’s truly remarkable that he can say such cliché things and still make it seem like he’s speaking from the heart.
It’s no surprise that the media landscape in New York is next to impossible to successfully navigate, but Judge, in addition to perfecting his game on the field, seems to have perfected his media game as well. That's a priceless skill to have in New York.