In August of 2006, the late writer David Foster Wallace published a fairly-lauded essay in the New York Times titled, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” In this article, he talked about the spectator’s experience watching what he dubbed “Federer Moments,” or “times [...] when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re OK” that are part and parcel of watching a tennis match that features Federer.
For Wallace, these moments were so brilliant and graceful and otherworldly that they could be characterized as a quasi-religious experience to those who worship at the altar of the tennis court. We can easily look to the statistics and awards cabinets to tell us just how good Federer was in his prime (and still is, by and large), and we would be absolutely right to do so, but one just has to watch even an iota of his game to see just how special he is.
This is where I want to turn, if only briefly, to Aaron Judge, the most transcendent talent that this organization has seen since Alex Rodriguez left town. Standing six-foot-seven and weighing north of 280 pounds, it is hard to find the appropriate vocabulary to talk about Judge’s physical presence, at least in baseball terms, and for good reason. The man could quite easily be a power forward or a linebacker rather than a corner outfielder, and I do not know that we have ever seen someone of his size make the game look so easy on both sides of the ball.
Beyond Judge’s physically-imposing stature, though, he also combines a preternatural talent level and a dedication to precision that makes him such a unique player. In other words, a man as large as Judge should not be able to make the game look as smooth and as graceful as he does; yet that is exactly what he does on a nightly basis. For those of us who worship at the altar of baseball, watching Aaron Judge do his thing is akin to a religious experience, Catholic guilt for making that statement be damned.
Borrowing the phrasing left to us by Wallace in his article, anyone who has had the privilege of watching the New York Yankees since 2017 has experienced a “Judge Moment,” regardless of their affiliation with and feelings toward the team. A “Judge Moment” can be defined as a moment when, after seeing Judge do something you never thought a human being was capable of doing, you think to yourself (or scream aloud), “How the [expletive deleted] did he just do that?”
I will give you an example of what I am talking about. On July 21, 2017, the rookie Judge stepped up to the plate to face Seattle Mariners righty Andrew Moore with two on and one out in a one-run game. After working himself into a 2-1 count, the hunched-over Judge brought his leg up, rotated his hips, and exploded through the zone to ambush a hanging curveball. The ball came off the bat at 102.8 MPH with a 30 degree launch angle, and ended up travelling 440 feet.*
*Perhaps tragically, that 440 figure is only a ballpark estimate, as Statcast could not properly track Judge’s moonshot — much to fans’ chagrin.
The metrics do not tell the entire story. As the ball climbed into the early-evening sky and jaws hit the floor, the rookie watched the ball for a split second, put his head down, and dropped his bat as if it were just any old hit and not a ball that seemed like it was on a trajectory to leave then-Safeco Field. Ryan Ruocco summarized our collective thoughts best in his tremendous call: “Good God, where is that going to land?”
In reality, the ball landed a few seats shy of exiting the stadium, but in doing so, it created the type of highlight that will be played on loop for years to come. Five years later, this blast remains one of the most stunning feats that I have ever seen on a baseball field.
What separates Judge from other sluggers is the fact that his Herculean strength is not limited to the batter’s box. Last year, in the dog days of summer, with the team fighting for their playoff lives thanks to underperformance from the lineup, Cedric Mullins of the Baltimore Orioles laced a line drive to right field off of Clay Holmes. Judge casually glided over to his left to cut the ball off and positioned himself perfectly to receive the ball off the wall. With one smooth movement, Judge turned, angled his body to second, set himself, and, with little more than the flick of a wrist, delivered a strike to Gleyber Torres that beat Mullins to second.
Last year, Cedric Mullins’ joined the 30/30 Club, and his sprint speed was in the 86th percentile across the entire league. So it is not an exaggeration to say that he possesses elite speed. Judge made such a strong throw that the All-Star did not stand a chance as he rounded first base.
Beyond just the strength of Judge’s arm, though, we also have to talk about its accuracy. This throw was so on the mark that Torres barely even had to move his glove. The howitzer brought Gleyber’s glove right into the path of Mullins’ body and, with just a simple swipe, the tag was applied and Mullins was out by a mile. It was a prime example of Judge’s textbook play (positioning, fielding, and accuracy) combined with his natural strength (minimal movement and velocity).
Whether he is at the dish or in the field, everything is just so seamless with Aaron Judge. Given his stature, it would be quite easy for him to rely on his otherworldly strength and ignore the rest of his game, but it is abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that he is a student of the game and possesses a talent level that transcends the competition he faces on the field. More than anyone else that has worn the pinstripes in recent years, Judge makes me, an average-sized, unathletic 29-year-old writer with minimal baseball talent, question what I thought was possible on the baseball field.
I could go on and on, providing examples of his transcendent talent from every single season he has played at the big league level, but I have a word count that I have to adhere to, which I’m dangerously close to encroaching upon, so I should probably cut myself off here before I get too carried away. Instead, I will end with this: Aaron Judge makes baseball better, he makes Yankees baseball better, and it is going to be a long time before we see someone like him again.