Although I am not a New York Yankee fan, Aaron Judge, the Yankee outfielder, has thrilled me along with so many others in his quest to break the American League season home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. In an earlier blog, I pointed out in the current and recent baseball seasons that pitchers have been the dominant force. I argued that too many strike outs are not a good thing for baseball. The sound of a bat connecting with a ball hurled at an extraordinary speed is the source of much fan excitement.
The Major League batting average of players in 2022 was .243. I remember, not all that long ago, when a .250 batting average was considered at best mediocre. Yet many hitters hit below .250 this past season. This makes Judge’s feat that much more special. During the month of September, Judge’s performance at the plate was almost superhuman. His batting average was an astounding .417 as he hit 10 home runs in 25 games. Almost every time I would be watching a Yankee game that month, Judge connected. Judge rarely missed any pitch delivered to the middle of the plate. It was quite a sight to see.
In October, Judge’s performance at the plate cooled off. Perhaps it was the pressure of doing what no player has done since baseball banned steroid use and started checking players randomly for drug use. Nevertheless, the fans came out in droves watching in anticipation every time Judge was at bat. Isn’t this what athletic events are about: Seeing the greatest of the great perform. And, finally, on the 161st game of the season, with his first at bat against the Texas Rangers, Judge hit home run number 62.
What makes Judge such a great hitter? I remember from his early days, when he first started playing with the Yankees, he often would swing at bad pitches. Watching him play now, I have observed that he is much more patient before he commits to swinging the bat. Rather than allowing the pitcher to seduce him into swinging at bad pitches, he forces the pitcher to throw good pitches. If he doesn’t see a good pitch, he will let the count run up pressuring the pitcher to throw him a very hittable pitch or give up and walk him for fear that Judge will nail him for a home run. This plate discipline is the hallmark of a great hitter. Ted Williams, who played with the Boston Red Sox, rarely swung at a bad pitch. When a batter doesn’t strike out a lot, he is much more likely to get on base. This was the reason that Williams’ lifetime batting average was .344, a mark almost unheard of in today’s baseball.
No matter who you root for, I believe a player like Aaron Judge is good for the game. Any player that can achieve his level of excellence in baseball, a sport dominated by strong pitching, is worth coming out to see as he adds to the fun and excitement so integral to sports.