Home run records aren’t political by nature. It’s nurture. Counting to 73 isn’t that hard, but some people refuse to do it. The problem is not how wrong they are but what they forget, and that’s that dingers are great and not in any way worth disparaging.
Aaron Judge, with a 62 home run season, is now the all-time American League home run leader, albeit with one fewer dong than Sammy Sosa had in the National League. . . with his third most prodigious output. This makes for great tweets, but the fact is that Sosa and Judge both rule because they hit stupid numbers of dingers. A home run record is a home run record and I don’t much care if it’s the record or not because, again, dingers.
But that’s not the point of this column. The point of this column is that in 2022, Aaron Judge laid down the most damning critique of the Mookie Betts trade humanly possible in every way, shape or form. I have spent two and a half years trying to do it and he just. . . yeeted it out. (62 times.)
Let’s back up to the offseason. Judge and the Yankees bandied about numbers on a new contract and didn’t come to an agreement. It is not hard to imagine that the Yankees neither had nor have any intention of paying Judge market rate for his services. This left them with two options: Trade him, and reap some sort of long-term benefit, or let him play out his contract and see what happens.
Except it’s really just one option. There was no thought of trading Judge, because the Yankees knew better than to trade their franchise player. It was a win-win situation: Either Judge was subpar this year, driving down his price, or he was good, and the Yankees had a very good baseball player this year.
Of course, he was better than good, putting up a fully earned historic season that almost certainly priced him out of the Bronx next year. As someone who lives in the New York area, I’ve had many discussions with Yankees fans about how they feel about all this. Specifically, I’ve asked them, are they sad Judge is likely San Francisco-bound?
To a person, they are emphatic. No! They got to watch him hit 62 home runs. They got to watch him for years. He earned the chance to leave and, when he had to prove his worth, he did. The fans get it, and they get it because it’s not complicated! It’s not some Byzantine excuse about contracts in 2030 and the value of Connor Wong going forward. Both sides made choices and both sides were happy to live with the results.
It’s hard to know how much the Betts trade specifically informed New York’s thinking on this, because the situations aren’t identical. Judge is several years older than Betts was at the time of the trade, which complicates things both ways. On the one hand, he had more time with the team to accrue goodwill. On the other, his age makes him a less attractive long-term contract candidate than Mookie, by definition.
The key note about both of sides of this is they make the Red Sox look stupid. Mookie was, and is, in his prime, and the salary he’s been due from Los Angeles since the deal is one he’s already outperformed and, as inflation increases further and he ages gracefully, will continue to do so. On the other hand, he was still quite young and a better candidate than Judge, but not only that: he was a better candidate to have a great 2020 season than Judge was to hit 62 homers this year.
I would say that it’s hard to say if the Yankees would have acted differently if they hadn’t seen the continuing visceral reaction to the Mookie deal, but it’s really not. We were the idiots, and we opened up a portal of stupidity through which several teams happily jumped. The Yankees took the chalky approach and were merely rewarded with the defining performance of their last 20 years.
The upshot of all this, of course, is that they’ll lose Judge, but they were probably going to anyway, and they know it. The relevant part to us is that no one around here seems to care. No one talked to them like they were stupid and, voila, most of them were smart about it. The organization didn’t treat them like morons.
We must be the other guys.