Almost every Monday, you’ll find me (Morgan) a mile from my home, scooping mashed potatoes and baked chicken into Styrofoam bowls and serving them to guests at the Franciscan House homeless shelter. And truth be told, in between greeting the guests and catching up with fellow volunteers, I’m trying to keep track of The Bachelorette playing on the flat screen television in the back of the mess hall. As a reluctant fan viewer, I’ve observed a bizarre interpersonal transformation: someone finding someone else desirable increases their desirability to me. What does this revelation about shallow “reality” TV have to do with this newsletter?
Those who follow Bradford on social media are aware of his extreme feelings for Yankees-power-slugging-rookie-cyborg-Home-Run-Derby-champ-the-namesake-of-his-next-child Aaron Judge. In all honesty, just a couple weeks back or so, my feelings weren’t catching.
But nevertheless, Bradford persisted.
He opined about Judge’s accomplishments over Gchat on a weekly basis and made brash declarations, insisting that Judge would win both the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP. Too bad, he didn’t add Home Run Derby Champion. (Psyche!) Slowly but surely, watching Bradford love this guy from afar has awoken some apparent tiny reservoir of affection for the Yankees I was apparently hiding even from myself.
So yeah, it’s cool. And Bradford’s essay will dive into all the ways that Aaron Judge almost didn’t blow up 2017 baseball. And my next Foul and Fair take will interrogate The Bachelorette from a critical race lens. No it won’t.
Leadoff Hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch
Aaron Judge has 30 home runs, but he should have 30 tackles instead. He should be applying his canny knack for pitch recognition and making in-game adjustments to decipher the opposing offense’s play before the snap. Or, he should be using his seven-foot wingspan to close out on an opposing wing on the perimeter, disrupting from the point of attack. It’s ridiculous that this 6’7”, 282 lb behemoth on stilts is allowed to hit baseballs for the New York Yankees.
See this? This is a hate crime against the Orioles.
This violated all my sincerely held religious beliefs.
The ball hit during the Home Run Derby only fell because it flew too close to the sun. Aaron Judge is divine justice on all his foes.
He’s too damn good and too demigod to play the same sport as this guy.
Aaron Judge weighs more than LeBron James, which means he would beat him in a dunk contest. Those are the rules.
Major League Baseball wanted an icon that transcended the sport. They wanted a player with name and face recognition beyond the FanGraphs and Baseball Reference obsessives that admire his prodigious exit velocities and wins above replacement. And if the mere existence of a write-up on the rookie’s emerging stardom in the pages of The Atlantic is any indication, baseball may have struck gold. Even still, that such an athletic, talented and all around fun individual is not just exceptional, but a true exception to his sport, speaks as much to his innate ability as it does to baseball’s general health, its ability to convince athletes in Judge’s orbit that baseball is for them.
When Judge was a Fresno teen, years before he became the world’s beloved Large Adult Son (with whom we are well pleased), he was Wayne and Patty Judge’s son growing up in rural Linden, California, excelling in basketball and football. He was heavily recruited out of high school by top tier Division I programs by elite offensive football talent: UCLA, Stanford, and Notre Dame. But Judge chose Fresno State to play baseball, even though they only offered a partial scholarship.
Why pay for college for a less certain future? Consider this anecdote from Stephanie Apstein’s Sports Illustrated cover story:
He began to imagine a future in which he made the majors, but the picture was just an outline. He starred in three sports as a teenager, setting the Linden High record for touchdowns as a wide receiver and scoring 18.2 points per game as a basketball center, but he always loved baseball most. Back then he didn’t quite understand why. Today the reason is clear to him: because it’s hard.
Consider the implication here: Aaron Judge prefers baseball not in spite of the sport being harder for him, but because of it:
“You can’t just enjoy the positives,” he says. “You gotta enjoy the negatives. I don’t like going 0 for 7. I don’t like striking out—no one does—but you can’t have the good without the bad. The most important thing is when you have those bads, make sure you learn from them.
Judge goes on to laud the slowness and grind of baseball. You know, all the stuff MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to get rid of. Baseball didn’t choose Aaron Judge. Aaron Judge chose baseball.
Judge’s athletic rarity evidences baseball’s struggles to build a healthy talent pipeline, argues Mike Axisa, a CBS Sports baseball writer and blogger for the popular Yankees blog, River Ave Blues:
He is exactly the kind of player and athlete baseball has been losing to other sports over the years. Judge had Division I football scholarship offers coming out of high school, but baseball was his true love, so he stuck with it. Too many other kids in similar situations — big, physical athletes who are good at multiple sports in high school — wind up playing football (or basketball) because there are more scholarships available…
...MLB should look at Judge and realize this is the kind of talent they’re losing to other sports.
Though Axisa goes on to acknowledge that MLB can’t force the NCAA to offer more scholarships, he stops short at reaching at the conclusion right in front of him: Manfred and co. miss out on small ball power forwards -- the ones that aren’t enthralled by boredom and failure -- because they don’t offer them a valuable enough proposition. MLB needs to pay up.
No, not the Kershaws and Pujolses and Canos and Prices, each with guaranteed contracts in the hundreds of millions. Not even the Ronald Torreyi with yearly salaries at or near the league minimum of $535,000 a year. Those guys are good. It’s the wages earned before players get the call up to the big leagues. Wages as low as $11,000 a year. Wages low enough to make a free ride to college playing football a far better deal.
A consortium of billionaires paying the vast majority of their professional athletes well below the federal minimum wage is lame for all the predictable moral reasons that I won’t bore you with an elaborate comparison to feudalism. It’s really not just that it’s selfish, it’s the worst kind of selfish, because it’s also stupid. It’s a direct assault against your talent pipeline.
Aaron Judge has received somewhat of a coronation as The Face of Baseball, from Manfred on down:
If you have eyes that see, a heart that pumps warm blood, and a purified soul, I don’t blame you for laying your New Era fitted crowns at his feet, too. #crownsoff. But, in light of the conversations had in league offices about making baseball more marketable and innately enjoyable for kids, his anointing reeks of desperation. It’s not terribly unsurprising to latch on the kid with the megawatt smile for the most recognizable sports brand in the world. It’s strange to be so unwilling to invest in more of them. As I wrote in my previous column,* if a standout two-sport athlete has the choice between a college education and likely poverty -- the league already made their choice.
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