New York Yankees fans, perhaps more than any other professional baseball team’s fans, cherish their homegrown talent. This is, of course, particularly ironic, given that the number one criticism most other fans hurl at the Yankees is that they “buy” their championships, but that’s neither here nor there. The simple fact of the matter is we love to see an organizational guy climb the ranks and become a superstar. If nothing else, it makes for a great narrative.
I was born in 1992. By the time I was old enough to really form lasting memories, the Core Four (Five! Bernie Williams forever!) were already well on their way to becoming one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports history. They had won their first World Series title together (and the first for the organization in nearly 20 years) when I was just four years old. Their next championship, however, is the first World Series that I have distinct memories of. I remember watching each game with my family. I remember Scott Brosius winning World Series MVP. I remember Rivera throwing his arms up towards the sky after clinching the sweep.
More than all of that, though, I remember Derek Jeter. We all have fond memories of the Core Four, and rightfully so because they were all excellent players, but for fans of my generation, nobody comes even remotely close to touching Derek Jeter’s legacy. Whether others were better than him or not simply doesn’t matter. For people like me who were fortunate enough to grow up watching him play, he’ll forever be a true fan favorite.
Jeter hung up his cleats at the end of the 2014 season. In the few years after, it was a struggle to find someone to replace him in the minds of fans like me. Don’t get me wrong, CC Sabathia is one of my all-time favorite pitchers and I absolutely loved watching Masahiro Tanaka do his thing, but they just weren’t the Captain. It should also be noted that, although I loved Alex Rodriguez, the scandals that plagued his career really threw a wrench in him becoming a true fan favorite.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere*, a gigantic 25-year-old linebacker of an outfielder took the sports world by storm in 2017.
*Not actually. He was well-known to Yankees fans. But I don’t think anyone expected him to become the player we all know and love.
We all know how incredible Aaron Judge’s rookie campaign was, so I’m not going to waste time here rehashing just how great it was. What I will say though is that, for the first time in a long time, it really felt like the organization had churned out a truly homegrown superstar.
Author’s Note: I do need to pause here and acknowledge that Judge came up right around the same time as fellow Baby Bombers Gary Sánchez, Gleyber Torres, and Luis Severino, all of whom also had remarkable starts to their career. The reason they're not being talked about here is that Sánchez flamed out, Torres came over in a trade with Chicago so can’t be deemed homegrown, and Severino got injured. Okay, back to the story.
We know how Judge’s career has gone since then. He’s had a few unfortunate injuries, but when he’s been on the field, he has done nothing but rake. Since 2017, he ranks first in all of Major League Baseball in home runs hit (181), third in wRC+ (158), and fourth in fWAR (28.9). In terms of FanGraphs’ Offensive Runs Above Average since 2017, the only player ahead of him is Mike Trout. That is how incredible he has been.
Now, to get to the reason that I’m writing this article. Aaron Judge has had a ridiculous 2022 campaign. He’s slashed .304/.379/.658 with 27 home runs, a .429 wOBA, 188 wRC+, and 4.0 fWAR in just 68* games. He is, by far, the leading candidate for AL MVP, and he’s been the best player, by a wide margin, on the best team in the league, by a wide margin. He has been every bit the superstar he made himself out to be in his rookie season.
*All stats as of start of play Friday evening.
Prior to this season, I didn’t particularly care about the whole homegrown phenomenon thing. In fact, you’ve probably seen me say as much multiple times in the comments on this very site. Despite growing up right in the midst of the heyday of one of the greatest dynasties to ever grace the field of professional sports, the only thing I really care about is winning. Whether or not that winning was buoyed by homegrown talent or free agents did not matter to me one bit, so long as the team won.
I don't think I’m quite ready to renounce that viewpoint yet, but Aaron Judge’s 2022 campaign has made me realize there is more to homegrown talent leading success than I had initially thought. Watching a guy go from a late-first-rounder to a maybe-he’ll-be-okay prospect to a bonafide superstar has been simply remarkable, and to see him lead this team to the best record in the majors as the unofficial captain has been even sweeter. He’s been so good that he’s made me wonder if there is something to this whole homegrown thing, after all.
This next line might be sacrilegious and a few of you are probably going to rake me over the coals for it, but here it goes: for me, Aaron Judge is in the same company as Derek Jeter. I know, I know, he doesn’t have the postseason success or the World Series rings behind his name like Jeter does, but he is, unquestionably, one of the very best players on this planet and one of the primary reasons that I watch this team almost every night. Just as I couldn’t envision Derek Jeter playing anywhere but New York, the same is true of Aaron Judge. He is a Yankee through and through, and he deserves to be a Yankee for life. In my mind, he’s the first Yankee since Derek Jeter retired that I cannot envision wearing a different a jersey.
This is my very long, roundabout way of saying: “PAY THIS MAN!”