The Blue Jays Are Curious About Aaron Judge’s Eyes
3:07 PM EDT on May 16, 2023
Aaron Judge socked a towering home run Monday night, in the eighth inning of the Yankees' 7–4 victory over the Blue Jays. It was his second dinger of the game and 10th of the season, and it went a long, long way, leaping off Judge's bat at 115 mph and landing 462 feet from home plate, a disgraced and ruined baseball.
In the moments leading up to this dinger, the Toronto broadcast picked up on something odd. At the start of the at-bat, Judge appeared to sneak a discreet peek at his own dugout. The timing on this glance was odd; he was already established in the batter's box, just seconds from facing a live pitch. The pitch was a slider, low in the zone, which Judge coolly took for a strike. He watched five straight pitches, all sliders, in the at-bat, including a 1-1 pitch that appeared to miss the bottom of the zone but was called strike two. Sportsnet announcers Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez were still discussing Judge's funny little pre-pitch side-eye as Jay Jackson's 2–2 slider very narrowly missed the zone to bring the count full. Immediately before Jackson threw his 3–2 pitch—also a slider—Judge took another peek at the Yankees dugout, then took his first swing of the at-bat, and destroyed the ball.
The Blue Jays were made aware of Judge's glances, and their manager found the whole thing a little bit suspect. "It's kind of odd that a hitter would be looking in that direction," said John Schneider, who suspected a possible pitch- or location-tipping scenario. "I think [we’ll] dive into it a little bit more tonight and tomorrow and just make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to not make ourselves susceptible to tendencies or location or pitches or anything like that. But it was, yeah, kind of odd to see him looking over there right before a pitch came." If you'd like this delivered in a more confusing way, Buster Olney has you covered:
Loath though I am to participate in the defense of a member of the Yankees, there is unfortunately a little more context to consider. By the time of Judge's fateful at-bat, several people in the Yankees dugout were angry with home plate umpire Clint Vondrak, over what they considered to be an inconsistent strike zone. Manager Aaron Boone was steadily losing his cool in the top of the eighth inning, and soon after the third pitch of Judge's at-bat, he finally crossed some line with Vondrak, who tossed Boone from the game. He stormed out onto the field and told Vondrak he'd "been horseshit," and a couple minutes passed before Judge's at-bat resumed. Even after Boone's ejection, the road team's dugout continued to gripe at the umpire. Here's the sequence, lightly edited for length:
To hear Judge tell it, the thing that drew his attention was his cantankerous manager and teammates. "There was kind of a lot of chirping from our dugout, which I really didn't like in the situation, where it's a 6–0 game," Judge explained afterward in the locker room. "I'm kind of looking [after Boone's ejection], like, who's still talking here?"
I did not initially find it believable that Judge was peeking into his own dugout while standing in the batter's box due to his high levels of respect for the game of baseball. Having watched the video a few times, I am now less convinced of Judge's guilt. So far this season Jay Jackson throws his slider more than 56 percent of the time, per Statcast. Against righties, he throws it about 62 percent of the time. In his inning pitched on Monday, Jackson faced three lefties and one righty. Against the lefties he mixed in the fastball; against the most powerful and prolific dinger-socking right-handed batter of this generation, he did not.
It strikes me as unlikely that Judge would've needed signals from the dugout to tell him that Jackson would not throw the heater. I also doubt that Judge needed advanced information that Jackson would hang a slider in the middle of the plate, since that is not where it was supposed to go. Catcher Alejandro Kirk set up outside, but Jackson's slider missed the spot and landed exactly where you do not want a slider to land against a guy who hit 62 home runs last season.
Maybe Judge still had some help, although the written rules have nothing to say about a team figuring out the opposing team's signs with only their eyes. We'll gain a better idea soon enough, because surely every broadcast for the next couple of weeks will dedicate a camera to tracking Judge's eye movements during his plate appearances, until he is finally captured and banned from baseball for life.