In this entirely made up scenario, Aaron Judge is feeling good. It’s the spring of 2023, and he’s having a good game in the midst of a good season to follow up his record-setting 2022. Who’s to say where exactly his mind was when he stepped to bat for the second time in the second game of an eight-game road trip for the New York Yankees? Not us, but in any case, it seemed to be in the same place that had allowed him to hit a league-high 111 home runs since the start of 2021.
It was a normal trip to the plate, until it wasn’t. Deep into the count, the slugger’s concentration was broken by the sharp sound of the catcher’s voice — and the umpire calling time. He steps out of the batter’s box and turns. “What?”
“He can’t do that!” The catcher repeats.
“Do what?” Judge looks at the umpire, who looked at the catcher.
“That fan. Over there, about five, six rows up.” He gestures to the seating area down the first base line behind the visitors’ dugout. “You made eye contact. I saw it. Second time this at-bat. I saw it. Cut it out!”
The umpire looks at Judge, shrugging his shoulders. “Can you not do that?”
“What do you mean can I not do that? What are you talking about?
“That fan up there,” the catcher goes on. “You see they’ve got a red hat on? I saw them, they were 4wearing a black hat before, just now! And you made eye contact! I don’t know what’s going on, but you gotta take it easy.”
Judge stares, bewildered. The umpire barks orders. “Alright, back in the box. No more funny business, okay?”
“Come on, man. What are we doing?” Adds the catcher as he replaces his mask.
Nonplussed, Judge steps back into the box. His eyes remain planted on the pitcher. This way, when the pitcher delivers a third consecutive slider in more or less the same spot, he, having averaged one home run per 13 plate appearances since 2021, has little difficulty recognizing it as such and blasting it to outer space.
As he rounds second base to a chorus of boos, he becomes aware that awaiting him at the conclusion of his trot is the home manager who, along with the pitcher and catcher, barks loudly and unintelligibly to the umpire just in front of home plate.
“I told you no more funny business,” the home plate umpire says tiredly, as Judge touches home plate and turns to face the jurors.
“What was that about?” asks the opposing pitcher contentiously. “You heard it, blue, tell him you heard it!”
“Heard what? What the hell are you talking about?” Judge asks, becoming exasperated.
“How’s Wally doing, Aaron?” The manager replies with almost a sneer. “You checked in with Wally lately?”
He goes from frustrated to flat-out confused. “Wally? Who’s Wally? What the hell are you talking about?” He repeats.
“What, you don’t know Wally?” Responds the catcher. “As in, ‘hit a homer for Wally, Aaron? That doesn’t ring a bell? Because it seems like your friend over in Section 136 knows exactly who you are. We heard it twice, Aaron!”
“What? Of course she knows who I am! What is wrong with you? I don’t know who that is!”
The catcher chimes back in. “‘Hit a homer for Wally,’ what is that, some sort of sign? Did Wally hack our PitchCom? Is that what’s going on?”
“Nobody hacked your PitchCom, dipshit,” a voice chirps from the Yankees on-deck circle.
“There’s only one thing to do about this.” The umpire sighs. “Get back to the dugout, and talk to me next time you’re up.” He signals to the batboy to return to his office, leaving the crowd murmuring impatiently as they attempt to comprehend the pettiness overtaking the field of play. When the batboy finally hands something to the umpire, play resumes.
Imagine this: Two innings later, Judge doesn’t even make it more than a step off of the on-deck circle before being accosted by the home plate umpire, with the catcher trailing menacingly about 15 feet behind him. “Walk with me,” says the umpire. “Here, take these.” He hands the MVP a plastic-wrapped pair of the cushiest earplugs he had ever seen, as well as a large, fuzzy blackout mask. They walk into the tunnel, arm over arm.
“Look, we just want to make sure there’s no big hoo-hah from the league or anybody giving anybody trouble about this, you know what I mean? We just want to make sure everyone’s comfortable here.” The umpire drawls on as they move through the clubhouse and into the bowels of the stadium.
“We just need you to stand out here for a few minutes and put these on while the pitcher and catcher get their signs figured approach. Their whole approach, you know? Just give them a little bit of space so we can be sure we’re all square here. They’re nice and comfortable, here, try them on!”
The umpire pats Judge on the shoulder as he pushes open a large metal door at the end of the hallway. The pair squints at the sunlight as they step just through. The sellout crowd is a murmur: They’re just outside the stadium, near the third parking lot. The umpire motions to his eyes and ears.
“Just, uh get going with those and hang out for a sec! I’ll come get you when they’re ready.”
He steps back inside and quickly pulls the door shut. And the home team’s signs and signals were delivered safely and covertly ever thereafter.