As posted today at the Patch New York City and Boston pages, I explain why this Red Sox fan is cheering on Yankee slugger Aaron Judge in his bid to win the Triple Crown. The short version: as noted in my sub-headline, If the classy, humble slugger accomplishes the rare feat, it would give us all something to cheer about—not just now, but for all-time
The full version follows:
A native of the Boston area, I am a Red Sox fan through and through, from the baseball cap that almost daily finds its way atop my cranium to the monitoring of their activity via my MLB app.
A little history: on that cruel autumn ’78 day of Boston sports infamy, I was one devastated 10-year-old after light-hitting Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent took a pitch from Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez over the Green Monster to propel the hated Bronx Bombers into the American League Championship Series.
In 2003, as a new father, I was unable to watch Game 7 of the Red Sox vs. Yankees ALCS on television. So, silently tracking the game, pitch-by-excruciating-pitch on my computer screen, I cradle-shuffled my two-month-old daughter throughout the living room like a nervous manager pacing the dugout.
When the Yanks finally and inevitably snatched the World Series berth, it was all I could do not to drop Maggie Rose to the floor.
Putting My Red Sox Nation Card in Peril
This is all preface to a confession that I realize could prompt the revocation of my Red Sox Nation Card: I want Aaron Judge to win the Triple Crown. For those unfamiliar with this Holy Grail of Hitting, the Triple Crown is the term for leading your league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average.
If Judge finishes with the top batting average in the AL—he’s a shoo-in for home runs and ribbies, and his .314 batting average is neck-and-neck with Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts—then he would be only the second player to capture the Triple Crown since 1967. That’s the year my childhood hero, Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski, accomplished it. Since then, only the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera (2012) has achieved the Triple Crown, and if Judge can pull it off, he would join Mickey Mantle (1956) and Lou Gehrig (1934) as the only Yankees to do it.
Certainly, my magnanimous feeling is enabled by the Red Sox’s sub-.500 flop of a 2022 campaign. But even setting that personal stake aside, cheering on Judge should represent a simple choice for any fan of our national pastime.
Judge: Humble Class & Humongous Power
For starters, Judge blends humble class with humongous power. And the 6-foot-7, 282-pounder has somehow become sympathetic in the half-decade since his breakout Most Valuable Player season of 2017. He struggled through an assortment of injuries that caused him to miss plenty of games. When he was in action, he missed plenty of pitches that he now deposits into the bleachers with regularity.
Last week, when Judge’s home run tally stood at 59, one shy of Babe Ruth’s high, I watched as he worked the count to 3-and-1 against Pirates pitcher Wil Crowe. “If this guy throws the ball anywhere near the plate,” I thought, “Judge is going to crush it.” Of course, in yet another exhibition of Judge’s utterly predictable dominance, that’s precisely what unfolded.
Though he has gone homerless over his last five games, Judge has 10 more contests to tie, then break Yankee outfielder Roger Maris’s AL record for home runs. However, compared with the sports world’s longball preoccupation of 1998, the national reaction to Judge’s season has struck me as ho-hum. It’s a shame that our misplaced turn-of-millennium adulation of the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa has dulled our collective appreciation of this remarkable moment.
My own fan’s journey is a microcosm of this shift. In 1998, caught up in the buzz around McGwire and Sosa’s assault on the single-season home run record (61) that Maris had established in 1961, I created a home run inflation index called the Home Run Power Ratio (HRPR).
The simple formula’s purpose was to provide context for the longball exploits of the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. When boiling down a player’s home run rate, versus the rest of the league’s rate, how does it stack up against other sluggers across Major League annals whose totals are likewise held up against their own contemporaries?
Turns out, against that inflation-adjusting backdrop, what McGwire and Sosa were doing wasn’t so impressive— a finding that Sports Illustrated highlighted in coverage the magazine devoted to the HRPR in October 1999. For one thing, as we came to know with much clarity in the ensuing years, those two weren’t the only ones partaking in performance-enhancing drugs.
McGwire and Sosa homered at a pace three to four times more frequently than their peers, roughly the same proportion as home run champions from any other season going back to the late 1940s. And even Bonds, whose 73 homers in 2001 came every 6.5 at bats—both all-time single-season records to this day—wasn’t so special (not even in the Top 50) when you zoom out and view the broader MLB historical landscape.
A Closer Look at Judge’s Home Run Prowess
The point of my statistical digression: what sparks my support for Judge’s Triple Crown pursuit isn’t that he’s transcending history in some way. After all, his HRPR for 2022 is roughly 3.5: On any given trip to the plate he is three-and-a-half times more apt to hit a home run than the average MLB player. That’s midway between the figures that McGwire and Sosa put up in their storied—um, steroid—season of 1998, and is pretty typical for a home run champ.
No, what makes Judge’s achievement stand out this year is something so elementally simple and sadly elusive when it comes to our recent baseball heroes: he comes across as someone worthy of the accolades.
In this era of disgust and distraction, where extraordinary performance isn’t to be readily trusted, for Judge to secure the Triple Crown would give us all something to cheer about. Not just now, but for all-time.
Just don’t count on this Red Sox fan hopping aboard any Yankee playoff bandwagon.
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