BOSTON — When Aaron Judge was last a normal-sized human being, at about 9 or 10 years old, the player who made him run to his television was Barry Bonds. Judge grew up in Linden, California, about two hours from what was then Pac Bell Park.
“I was a Giants fan and that was the time he was putting up 70 homers a year,” said Judge, who’s now a 6-foot-7, 282-pound right fielder for the New York Yankees. “That was pretty impressive to watch as a kid.”
On Wednesday, Judge will celebrate his 24th birthday by playing his first game in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. He will step to the plate as a rookie sensation; his six homers are tied for the second most in the American League.
But it’s not just about how many balls he’s hit over the fence — it’s how far he’s hit them. Judge is challenging the current champ, Giancarlo Stanton, as the king of the XXXL home run.
Judge’s 460-foot homer on Saturday in Pittsburgh was the third longest for a Yankee since ESPN started tracking distances in 2009. Only Alex Rodriguez‘s 477-foot bomb in August 2015 and Juan Miranda‘s 469-foot shot in October 2009 traveled farther. In the past two seasons, Judge has three of the four longest Yankee homers. Only Chase Headley, with a 453-footer in July 2016, cracks the top four. Headley believes he got all of that one, but he said he and his teammates are eager to see what would happen if everything clicks in perfectly for Judge.
“We are all just waiting for that time where everything just syncs up and he gets every bit of it,” Headley said. “I want to see him do that. He is just a humongous human being that has out-of-this-world power. Five-hundred fifty feet is not out of the question. If there is nothing in the way, he is hitting it 550.”
Starlin Castro, who is usually in the same batting practice group as Judge, has never been big on watching teammates or opponents take BP. He remembers being around Stanton in the Arizona Fall League in 2009 and taking a few glances, but besides that, Castro said he’s never been much of a gawker — until now.
“He is the first guy,” Castro said. “I’m really happy we are in the same group. It is really motivating. It is really fun to watch. We feel like every swing he takes, something big is going to happen.”
Matt Holliday, on the other hand, has always studied standout teammates and opponents in BP as if there’d be an exam afterward. It’s not just tape-measure specialists, but contact guys, too. Holliday looks for any little ingredient he can add to his game, making the 37-year-old slugger as qualified as anyone to weigh in on Judge’s power.
“We are all just waiting for that time where everything just syncs up and he gets every bit of it … I want to see him do that. He is just a humongous human being that has out-of-this-world power. Five-hundred fifty feet is not out of the question. If there is nothing in the way, he is hitting it 550.”
Chase Headley, Yankees third baseman
“There aren’t many guys that can hit the ball as far as him in batting practice, if any,” Holliday said. “Obviously, Stanton is the easy one that comes to mind that I’ve played against. Barry Bonds, too.”
Holliday has seen Stanton do his damage only as an opponent, while he receives a daily dose of Judge. He said it might just be familiarity, but he would take Judge in a distance contest.
Mark Teixeira, who just completed a 14-year career in which he swatted 409 homers, said he used to watch Nelson Cruz launch some balls in the Arlington heat when they were teammates in Texas. In 2013, Teixeira played with Stanton in the World Baseball Classic.
“Judge’s power is right there with those two guys,” said Teixeira, now an ESPN analyst.
In 2016, Judge struck out in 42 of his 84 at-bats, a performance so bad it made the Yankees hesitant to hand him the right-field job in spring training, even with a full winter endorsement from team owner Hal Steinbrenner. In the final days, the Yankees finally gave Judge the nod over Aaron Hicks. Judge has struck out 17 times in 61 at-bats thus far.
“I knew it was going to take some time for him to get used to minor league pitching and big league pitching and really grow into his swing, because he is a big guy and he has to grow into his strike zone,” Teixeira said. “The smarter he has gotten about swinging at certain pitches and the more ready he is at the plate, he looks like he is so dangerous right now. He is exactly where you would hope he would be when I saw him a few years ago.”
It’s early, but Judge has joined Stanton as a player you can’t miss. His power, like Bonds in his prime, makes it nearly impossible to look away. He’s the type of player little kids will be running to their televisions to see.