Aaron Judge now is Dwight Gooden then. It is that kind of moment in New York sports. His home runs now are what Gooden’s strikeouts were like in 1985, when Gooden finished 24-4 and we had the K Corner up there and out there at old Shea instead of the Judge’s Chambers at the new Stadium. The difference is that we used to have to wait five days for Gooden, at 20, to get another start and try to strike out the world, and remind you of a young and righthanded Koufax. Judge? Sometimes it seems as if he hits another one out, and occasionally tries to hit one to the moon, every single day.
There have been other moments for young New York stars between the young Gooden and Judge, you know there have been. We had one with Matt Harvey, when he was the Dark Knight of Gotham and gave Mets fans somebody to watch again, before just about everything under the sun began to go wrong for him, as fast as his fastball used to be. It will be four years ago next month that Harvey started an All-Star Game at Citi Field. It already seems like four lifetimes ago.
We had Linsanity the year before at Madison Square Garden, a moment that not only didn’t last for Jeremy Lin, but didn’t even last into the next Knicks season. So of course there are no guarantees with Aaron Judge, the kind of great big action hero that the late Chuck Daly used to talk about when he was describing not just the talent of Shaquille O’Neal, but the appeal of O’Neal. Judge could go into a bad slump, or baseball could find a hole in that great big swing of his. Or he could get hurt.
For now, though, the player in baseball that everybody is talking about and everybody wants to watch is a home run kid for the New York Yankees, the kind of home run kid that Mickey Mantle once was. Shane Spencer once had a home run September when he was 26, when he showed up to join what might have been the greatest Yankees team of them all to hit 10 September home runs, three of them grand slams.
It is different with Judge. We are moving up fast on half-a-season of this with him, a half-season when he has been the most exciting and most valuable player in baseball, even in this time when the game seems to have as much young talent as it has ever had. Bryce Harper hasn’t gone anywhere. He showed up in the city this week to hit home runs, on what people continue to assume will be his own spot in Aaron Judge’s outfield at Yankee Stadium. Mike Trout, who has been hurt lately, continues to perform like one of the best all-around players in all of baseball history. Truly, Trout’s skill set and his numbers are most comparable to Mantle’s at this same point in Mantle’s career.
But Judge is a Yankee at Yankee Stadium as the Yankees are making the kind of noise in baseball they haven’t made in a long time. The real noise starts with the crack of his bat.
Everybody knows what Gary Sanchez did at the end of last season, and what he was starting to do this season before he got hurt the other night on the West Coast. If you combine his numbers for 2016 and a 2017 season shortened for him because of an April biceps injury, Sanchez has hit 31 home runs in 91 games, and has hit 11 in 38 games this season. It’s hardly unreasonable to think that if he’d played a full season so far, his home run total wouldn’t be all that far away from Judge’s.
Still: Judge has become the rock star, with 23 home runs that included a 3-run shot in Oakland on Friday night, through 63 games. He came out of Friday night with a 1.160 OPS and a .713 slugging percentage and a batting average of .339. These were the kinds of numbers Barry Bonds used to have across the board, in those first brilliant seasons in San Francisco especially, before he bulked and BALCO-ed up.
In a baseball world in which we obsess more and more about things like exit velocity, Judge has made this kind of grand entrance across nearly the first three months of this baseball season. And he has made us all remember what it was like the year when Gooden was 24-4; when every start of his became an event, even at Shea; when you were afraid to miss a start because that might be the night when he was going to be the first Met to pitch a no-hitter or strike out 20 guys.
Judge has been that kind of moment, one you want to last the way it didn’t really last for Gooden, for all the well-documented reasons, because of drugs and injuries. A year and a half after that ’85 season, he began the ’87 season not at Shea Stadium in Queens but a rehab facility in Manhattan known as Smithers. Doc’s career wasn’t over. He would eventually pitch his no-hitter for the Yankees. But things were never as good for him as they were in 1985, when he was 20, and he made the whole baseball world watch him.
Now we get a quiet and respectful slugger whom Joe Girardi compares to a defensive end. We get the Judge’s Chambers and the reaction shot from his teammates in the dugout the day Judge nearly hit a baseball 500 feet at Yankee Stadium. We get this home run spring from the kid. We get this moment. One we can only hope is built to last now that all this time after we had a doctor in the house in baseball New York, we’ve got a Judge. Capital J.
Owners lacking guts on Kap, Jerry West back in L.A. and Durant effect. . .
What would Da Judge have to do to surprise you at this point?
Yeah, it’s just one of those crazy coincidences you get in life sometimes that Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job in the National Football League.
You have to believe that there are a whole lot of owners and general managers in the league afflicted with the same stomach problem that seems to be running through Republicans in Congress these days:
Coming into this baseball weekend, last year’s World Series – Cubbies and the Fighting Franconas – were a combined two games over .500.
The Red Sox look like they miss Papi a whole lot less when Mookie Betts starts hitting the ball over the wall.
After all this time, you know that Terry Collins isn’t going down without a fight.
We’d had a relatively triangle-free period in New York sports until we were told that the Oregon kid, Dylan Ennis, had spent 45 minutes of a Knicks workout working on, well, you know.
After that, they had Ennis take a tutorial on disco music.
And 8-track cassettes.
If you’ve ever played golf, you know just how tough old Ernie Els is coming back the way he has from having the yips.
When you really think about it, it’s amazing that there aren’t more leg injuries for CC Sabathia.
Jerry West going to the Clips makes you remember a line from Bill Russell about Russell’s old friend Joe Morgan, Hall of Fame second baseman.
“Isn’t it funny,” Russell once said, “how good teams seem to follow Joe around?”
Speaking of William Felton Russell, the greatest winner we’ve ever had in team sports in this country:
He was 10-0 in Game 7s in his professional career.
The tennis version of that is Rafael Nadal now being 10-0 in French Open finals.
Speaking of the French – Now that Jelena Ostapenko has won the women’s title, does that mean she’s officially passed Porzingis as top Latvian?
Not gonna lie:
After this week, I am missing Infrastructure Week already.
You can apparently now put a former Speaker of the House like Newt Gingrich on full scholarship by offering his wife an ambassadorship to the Vatican.
That’s how cheap Gingrich comes.
It’s a good thing the line “I don’t recall” wasn’t part of a drinking game when Jeff Sessions was testifying the other day.
Best line from Jordan Spieth, at least so far, at the US Open:
“Really, Jordan? You hit a foul ball on the widest fairway on the course?”
At the Masters, Dustin Johnson said he fell down some stairs.
At the Open, just the leaderboard.
I believe the last time the Knicks had the 8th pick in the draft, the seventh pick was this kid from Davidson named Curry.
In a season when there really has been so much good news with the Yankees, there just continues to be more bad news for Greg Bird.
Are you starting to get the idea that when waiters at restaurants ask Jimmy Dolan what he wants for an entrée, he just reflexively says, “Ask Phil”?
After all this time, it’s great that Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange are back doing golf together on Fox now.
Kevin Durant isn’t Michael.
He just played like Michael in the NBA Finals.
Which means that the Warriors, the year after they won 73 regular season games and made it to Game 7 against the Cavs, basically added Michael to the band.
I would never have said this a year ago, but am thinking it now:
Not sure that LeBron has made his last stop in professional basketball.
Man, how great would it be, now that Roger Federer has won one major this year and Nadal has won another, if they found their way to one more Wimbledon final?
Happy Fathers Day, Pop.
You continue to lead as good and happy and honorable a life as anybody I’ve ever known.
I know I can’t actually prove my theory that God likes you best.
But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.