The New York Yankees' recent stretch has not offered much room for excitement, but this is what Aaron Judge signed up for, isn't it? If the lost Bombers have any chance of competing down the stretch, it will be because Judge aced his first test as Captain, providing a jolt to a sputtering team.
He's done it before, after all. It's how he got the gig in the first place.
While 2022 was a vastly different season for the Yanks, there were undoubtedly periods in which Judge carried the lineup en route to his 62 total home runs.
Even after sustaining a toe injury earlier this year that kept him out for more than a month, he still leads the club in terms of home runs, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Yankees captain Aaron Judge must repeat 2022 for New York to have chance
If the captain is able to carry the team’s offense despite pain, he could enter new territory in terms of his Pinstripe legacy. In fact, his rapid return to the field has already been telling.
As reported by multiple sources and affirmed by Judge himself, he re-entered the fray with an understanding that he’d be playing through some level of pain. Of course, he did not want to further aggravate the injury, but wanted to ensure it would at least be “stable.”
"“My biggest concern was that I didn’t want to come back and make it worse, and then this is something that leads into next year and the following year. We’re at a point where, talking with a couple of doctors, the ligament is stable. The last couple of MRIs didn’t really show much healing, but this one did. We’re in a really good spot right now.”"- Aaron Judge
Such a statement is reminiscent of former Yankees captain, Derek Jeter, who played through numerous bumps and bruises throughout his storied tenure in the Bronx.
Most notably the five-time World Series champion competed with a bone bruise that ultimately led to him fracturing his ankle in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers.
Prior to his season-ending injury in October, Jeter enjoyed a regular season in which he had the most hits in baseball. However, the presence of the bruise must have made the daily grind harder than it already was for the 38-year old shortstop.
Similarly, former Yankees’ captain Don Mattingly played through much of his career with a bad back. Donnie Baseball's ailment was not just the result of wear and tear. A degenerative disc in his lower back that dated back to his high-school days kept the slugger from having a clean bill of health, and was a consistent source of discomfort.
Judge’s willingness to play through irritation is impressive, and demonstrates that he does not take his responsibilities as the captain lightly. Like Jeter and Mattingly once did, he’s showing a rare brand of leadership that will be invaluable for years to come. As other parts of the franchise could face changes, Judge could remain an unwavering constant.
Further, the California native has still been able to play sound baseball as he attempts to find his groove. At the time of this article, Judge has hit .265 and recorded three home runs over his last 15 games. It's clear that if the Yankees have any designs on making the Postseason, they'll need Judge to be superb.
He has not yet reached the MVP-caliber level of play that he is capable of (and that masked 2022's offensive deficiencies) since returning, but his already competitive results, and willingness to play through pain, warrant a serious tip of the cap.
Now, the only question that remains is, "How much more of this is fair to someone who's already given so much?"