It Should Be Illegal For Bad Teams To Walk Aaron Judge
12:28 PM EDT on September 15, 2022
The Boston Red Sox have spent a bunch of time this year playing like a pile of slop, and their last-place foolery continued into Wednesday night's game against the New York Yankees, where they lost 5-3. Most hysterically out of several errors and mental lapses made throughout the game, J.D. Martinez killed a potential rally by hitting into a double play where he failed to step on first base, and Gleyber Torres drove in three runs, including himself, when Boston attempted to defend a base hit by furiously smashing the panic button.
The Sox, at 69-74, sit 18 games out of the AL East lead and 10.5 games out of the wild card with 19 left to play. The meaningful part of their season is undoubtedly over. Their remaining schedule exists for three reasons only: 1) To provide entertainment to and take money from whoever still wants to go to a baseball game in Boston in September, 2) serving as a spoiler (or not) for teams fighting for playoff positioning, and 3) figuring out which of their young guys are worth a damn. It's that last point that'll be most important in a moment.
Aaron Judge, meanwhile, is the exact opposite of the Boston Red Sox. I would argue that no individual player in baseball—not even Albert Pujols—is taking more historically significant at-bats than the Yankees' star slugger is right now, because he's chasing down the best-known number in the game. Judge currently sits at 57 home runs on the year, or four shy of Roger Maris's iconic 61. That's technically only the American League record for dingers in a single season, with McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds all surpassing it between 1998 and 2001. But for many baseball fans, and particularly for Yankee fans, it's the mark that matters most, because it's attainable, steeped in the game's lore, and independent of the era when everyone hulked up.
Unlike the big boppers of the turn of the millennium, Judge stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries, having smashed a whole 20 more taters than the next-highest man on the 2022 leaderboard. He is without question the scariest man in the entire league for a pitcher to face down, and for that reason, in addition to his 57 home runs, Judge is also second in MLB with 89 walks. Which sucks! Particularly now, with time running out and anticipation running high for every appearance, seeing Judge rendered incapable of even trying to do the coolest thing he does is no fun.
That was the story of Judge's second plate appearance in Boston on Wednesday. Facing unsteady rookie starter Brayan Bello, who'd induced him to ground out with a full count in the first inning, Judge fouled off one enticing pitch and then watched patiently as the 23-year-old tossed him four straight balls to send him off to first.
Boo! That's not a home run! Nobody wants to see that! And therefore I have a proposal that I demand be looked at post-haste by Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. Between now and the end of the season, if the Yankees are facing a team whose playoff hopes have already died—which means the Pirates, Red Sox, Rangers, and likely the Orioles once they get to them—Aaron Judge cannot be walked. Well, he can be walked, but if a base on balls occurs, the Yankees get a ghost runner at first base, and Judge is allowed to hit again.
This feels like a no-brainer for Manfred, since he loves ghost runners. But it's a win-win for losing teams, too. Either they get to be a part of history and watch Aaron Judge do something cool, or their pitcher has an accomplishment to hang his hat on after a disappointing year. We saw a fantastic example of the latter in the sixth inning, when Judge came to the plate for the fourth time to stare down Zack Kelly. It was, in many ways, an obvious situation for an intentional walk. There was a man on second with two outs, and Kelly, a rookie who was appearing in just his seventh MLB game, had already surrendered a run in the inning. Those with fragile psyches would hand out the free pass and move on, but after one pitch well outside, Kelly challenged Judge with three in a row, and the monster in the box failed to properly connect with any of them. One was lined foul, one was whiffed at, and one was watched for strike three.
It truly would not have mattered one bit to the Red Sox's season if Judge had crushed that high fastball to make the game 6-1, but because Alex Cora did not call for the intentional walk, Zack Kelly now has a new coolest thing he's ever done in his young career. And again, with the struggling Ryan Brasier on the mound in the ninth, Judge got his pitches but went down swinging.
He's not so scary if you take the time to get to know him! Just throw him some strikes and see what happens.