As I am a true Baltimore Orioles fan, it hasn’t been the most pleasant time watching New York Yankees star Aaron Judge play this year, especially against my O’s.
Judge nailed seven home runs with nearly 20 hits against Baltimore this season, so you can understand just how frustrating it is to see him play from an Orioles’ fan perspective.
But as an African-American man, I have to admit I’m rooting for this kid every time he takes the batting plate. And his emergence as a young superstar in the sport has me pondering if maybe it’s time a lot more of us Black folk start taking our talents to Major League Baseball.
There hasn’t been a bigger star in baseball this year than Judge, who broke Mark McGwire’s 30-year record for home runs hit by a rookie in a single season with 52 (McGwire had recorded 49 homers back in 1987). Judge also broke Babe Ruth’s single season record (32) of home runs hit in Yankees Stadium with 33.
That’s two huge records, held by two of the biggest legends in baseball history, destroyed within one season by a Black man. A Black man that — outside of hardcore baseball aficionados — no one even knew existed just a year ago.
But that’s what makes Judge so special to me. That’s what makes me believe there could be so many more “Aaron Judges” playing pro baseball right now, completely flooding the Major Leagues with Black talent.
Unlike other young superstars in the big leagues, such as Washington Nationals’ 24-year-old MVP Bryce Harper or Chicago Cubs’ MVP Kris Bryant, 25, Judge, wasn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 overall draft pick who saw immediate success. The 25-year-old slugger was taken at the end of the first round in the 2013 draft and honed his skills over four years in the Minor Leagues before earning a starting spot on the Yankees’ Major League roster. This past season was considered Judge’s rookie year as a starter, not as a pro player.
That makes me think if Judge can take a few years to mold himself from a no-name prospect to an All-Star player, so many more Black players with his athletic ability could be doing the same.
Judge is a huge human being. At 6-foot-7-inches tall, 282-pounds heavy, he’s obviously larger than the average pro baseball player. But those same measurements are very typical of Black athletes we see dominating the NFL and NBA. If Judge lost 20 pounds, he would be the average size of a small/power forward in the NBA or a tight end in the NFL. If he gained 10-15 pounds, he could play defensive end or even offensive tackle.
Judge actually played football and basketball in high school and was a star at both. He even received scholarship offers to play tight end for several major football programs, including Notre Dame and Stanford. But he wanted to play pro baseball, and I don’t blame him.
Outside of the obvious financial advantages of pro baseball, Judge wouldn’t have had four years to polish his craft in the minor league had he chose to pursue a career in football or basketball. There is no minor league system in the NFL and the shelf life for players is extremely short; you either make a 53-man roster or you’re home watching from the couch with the fans. The NBA has a growth/development league but it doesn’t come close to mirroring the farming system of pro baseball. Most basketball players who miss the cut on making an NBA team end up playing ball overseas and out of sight.
And then there’s still the clear financial advantages of choosing to play pro baseball over basketball or football. Unlike in the NFL, the contracts are guaranteed in MLB. If you sign a $70 million deal, you’re getting paid $70 million. You don’t have to worry about any of that “only 25 of the 70 is guaranteed” crap the NFL pulls on its players. And there’s no salary cap in baseball, allowing superstar players to demand deals worth several hundreds of millions.
Even minor league prospects get paid better in baseball. Judge signed a deal worth nearly $2 million in 2013 to go play Class A level in the minors. After the season he just had in the majors, he’ll break the bank on his next deal.
What more motivation do you need? It’s time to get this real “chicken,” fellas. It’s right there waiting for us on the baseball diamond.