Nearly everyone agreed, at the end of September, that Yankees superstar Aaron Judge was having the only possible type of season that could edge out Angels two-way God Shohei Ohtani for the MVP Award. After all, Ohtani had improved upon his MVP numbers from 2021 on the mound, and held steady at the plate. Despite his Angels’ win-loss record, he would have beaten anyone other than Judge, who earned heavy favorite status by passing the hallowed 60-homer mark in one of the most dominant offensive campaigns in the game’s history.
But then came the end of Judge’s season, in which he got on base at a .500 clip, but went powerless in pursuit of history, going seven games without a homer before tying Roger Maris with a laser shot in Toronto, then going empty several more times before finally hitting 62 in the season’s second-to-last game.
The past few weeks of Judge’s campaign have been marked by widespread annoyance rather than reverence. College football fans are angry he forced them into a split-screen. Orioles, Blue Jays and Red Sox fans have turned malicious, bristling at accusations of pitching around Judge while reveling a little extra in his recent failures. The baseball world, at large, has grown weary of attempted redefinitions of the home run record and Roger Maris Jr. press conferences.
All this to say, has the last chapter of Judge’s season turned off any voters who were already begging for an excuse to vote for Ohtani over a Yankees great? Has Kyle Schwarber closing the home run gap slightly (he’s got 46 now) dimmed Judge’s star? Does this season look as inarguably great now as it did with two weeks remaining and the sky as the limit?
Yes. It does. But, in 2017, voters couldn’t wait to cast their ballots for Jose Altuve. In 2022, voters couldn’t wait to make the argument for Ohtani. Now, Judge has given them an opening, as America grows ever more tired of No. 99’s narrative.
Is Yankees’ Aaron Judge losing MVP to Shohei Ohtani?
Nothing tangible has changed these past two weeks. The WAR gap is the same as it ever was (10.5 for Judge to 9.3 for Ohtani on BRef). Ohtani’s OPS+ is 147; Judge’s is a spectacular 212. Ohtani had a momentous near-miss himself, falling a few outs short of a no-hitter; at least Judge eventually passed Maris, sharing the AL home run record for nearly a week in a moment of Yankees synchronicity.
But it can’t be denied that the overall tone has shifted in the Judge chase. Those looking only for homers don’t care about more walks. Those who support other AL East teams have gone from marveling at history to laughing at history’s pace. Those who began in Judge’s corner have now meandered elsewhere, to primetime college football and the Jalen Hurts MVP race.
In recent weeks, unable to deny that Ohtani remains the greatest player on earth, Judge acolytes have turned instead to The Narrative, arguing that the Yankees slugger’s season is simply too historic to deny, and that Ohtani should try again next year when there probably won’t be someone chasing 60. The resulting gap after 60 was achieved, though, has created an air of boredom — and yes, even malice — around Judge’s pursuit.
It’s fair to wonder if some of the sportswriters who were waffling anyway will now be swayed by the chance to cast a protest vote against the man with the “seventh-most homers in history” who’s poisoned the discourse, through no fault of his own, with claims of the “real home run record.”