Captain Aaron Judge: The All Rise of new Yankees leadership

Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium

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When it comes to hitting, Aaron Judge is a perfectionist. When it comes to leadership, he is a natural leader who wins over others with his gentleness and gets teammates to rally around him. On becoming the Yankees captain, fans expect him to start a new era.

After the Yankees named him their 16th captain at Yankee Stadium, Aaron Judge told:

“I’m going to continue to try to be the same leader that I’ve been in the past six years, continue to lead by example and I know there’s a couple more responsibilities with this, but I’m here to embrace every single obstacle and continue to lead this team and this city to not one, but multiple championships down the road. “There’s a lot of unfinished business here in New York. I’m looking forward to finishing that business.”

Fans get a glimpse of how his era of leadership is going to be just hours before Aaron Judge broke the AL record with his 62nd home run. It was in Texas, he noticed something was wrong. On that day, the Yankees played two games back-to-back. Before the first game, Judge felt strange during batting practice in the cage. Two weeks had passed since he hit his 60th home run, which made more people pay attention to his chase. Since then, he’d only hit one home run.

So, between games, Aaron Judge sent a text to Richard Schenck, his longtime hitting coach, to tell him that he didn’t feel like he was going in the right direction. Schenck told him that his shoulders should be facing the side of the bag where the second baseman stands. But Judge said he felt like he was hooking balls to left field with topspin. It was a sign that something was wrong and needed to be fixed.

Aaron Judge sent Schenck a video of how he hit in batting practice. Once the coach agreed with what Judge thought, he made the necessary change for Game 2. His historic home run was the first hit of the game.

“Over and over during those last two weeks,” Schenck told The Athletic recently, “he missed or fouled off pitches that in June he would have hit a mile.”

Before the season started, it was the first time in his career that he and Schenck planned to hit together privately. Sometimes, they had to work early in the morning before games or late at night after games. Even when it was clear that Aaron Judge was going to do something great, he asked for more instructions. Judge became the 16th captain in the history of the Yankees because he was willing to do that kind of work behind the scenes. It paid off, too.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Aaron Judge said Wednesday at the news conference where the captaincy honor and his nine-year, $360 million contract extension were officially announced. “I was shocked because it’s such a great honor.”

In past seasons, Schenck and Aaron Judge worked out together at a private hitting facility every two weeks. Most of the time, fights were what brought people together. Judge would get a full diagnosis if he thought he was going crazy. The meetings would happen whether the team was in New York or on the road. The whole thing would take about an hour.

Aaron Judge would watch videos of his shots off the tee. Schenck would then give him underhand flips when he was done with those swings. Judge’s swing path is the same as that of Barry Bonds, a Giants legend. Schenck used to do the same thing to get better at hitting fastpitch softball in the men’s league. The idea is that a batter will be able to see the ball more quickly if he can get his bat moving as soon as the pitcher throws the ball. It’s what “launch quickness” means, according to Schenck.

With this advantage, fastballs look slower, and a batter has more time to react to a pitch that isn’t moving as fast. It showed up when Aaron Judge was running for AL MVP. FanGraphs says that he was the best in the league at hitting fastballs this season, with a 43.0 run value. Yordan Alvarez was the next best, with a 29.4 run value. With a run value of 24.2, Aaron Judge was also the best in the league at hitting sliders. Nathaniel Lowe was the next best at 14.9.

“A Corvette and a Volkswagen are going to get to 100 miles per hour, but the Corvette is going to get there quicker,” Schenck told, “Aaron has learned to start earlier and slower to get his load done earlier so that when he decides to swing, the swing happens instantly. It doesn’t happen a tick after he decides to swing. He doesn’t have to raise his hands and then swing. He doesn’t have to put his foot down and then swings after he decides to swing. He’s in a position to where he can just swing. That quickness is what makes him dangerous. If he has launch quickness, it doesn’t matter what the pitcher is going to throw.”

Schenck didn’t know what to do when Aaron Judge was having one of the best offensive seasons of any player in modern baseball history. What should be his job as a coach? What else can you say about a player who is trying to beat a famous record that was set in 1961? But Judge, who was always trying to do things right, looked for more help. He had planned for it to happen.

Before this season, Schenck was pretty much on call. He only worked with Aaron Judge when the slugger called him. That’s what happened in 2017 when Judge felt like his swing was off after winning the Home Run Derby during his rookie season. Before he got back on track, he struck out a lot in July and August. But Schenck remembered that Judge never got scared, even though he was a new player. He was sure he would turn things around because of how hard he worked to do extra work. Their arrangement worked.

Aaron Judge had a year in which he walked more than any other player in baseball history. As the home runs kept coming, Schenck told Judge more than once that they didn’t need to keep meeting. The show was proof of that. But Judge wouldn’t change his mind. The meetings were a regular part of his schedule, and he didn’t want them to change.

It was another sign of Aaron Judge’s dedication to becoming great, which made it easy for the Yankees to make him the team’s first captain since Derek Jeter.

“It means a lot to me because coming up through the Yankees organization is all I’ve known,” Judge said. “All my blood, sweat, and tears have gone into one thing, which is to play for this team, play for this city and these fans. Words can’t describe it. It’s such an incredible feeling. It’s family. The fans are family. You guys (the media) are family. The chance to build this relationship with everybody is what I’m all about.”

Aaron Boone, the manager of the Yankees, said that the best thing about Aaron Judge’s season was how all of his teammates responded to his own success. It was what a captain would do. Anthony Rizzo said that Judge was the gold standard and the whole package, and he pushed for Judge to be the highest-paid player in the sport. Nestor Cortes said that if Aaron Judge re-signed in free agency, he should be made captain. Harrison Bader, who joined the team in the middle of the season, said that Judge was friendly to him even when Bader was in a boot because he had plantar fasciitis. After a few months, Bader made sure to show up in person at Judge’s news conference.

“When you see him go through a season he went through — a historically great season — pay attention to how everyone reacts to it,” Boone said. “Pay attention to how his teammates react to it. Every step of the way, all of them probably got more enjoyment out of it than Aaron did. That’s because of how he delivers every single day with who he is and the consistency of who he is. No matter who walks through our clubhouse, whether you’re a rookie getting called up for the first time, whether you’ve come over in a trade deadline deal, whether you’re a superstar, whether you’re on the staff or a clubhouse attendant.”

Hal Steinbrenner, the owner, said that he didn’t use the captain title as a negotiating tool. Instead, the Yankees didn’t officially offer Aaron Judge the title until after he agreed to stay with the team for another year.

At 3 a.m. Pacific Time on December 7, Steinbrenner called Aaron Judge from the side of a freeway in Italy, where he was vacationing during the Winter Meetings. Before Steinbrenner called, both the Giants and the Padres were willing to give Judge a contract for at least nine years. At eight, the Yankees were holding. Judge said he was ready to leave the Yankees if they didn’t offer him the ninth year. But once Judge told Steinbrenner that, he was given an extra year. When the deal was made verbally, Steinbrenner told Aaron Judge that former Yankees captains Thurman Munson and Willie Randolph were his two favorite players when he was a kid. At that point, Steinbrenner told Judge that he wanted him to be the next captain and follow in their footsteps.

Aaron Judge said that he didn’t speak for what seemed like five minutes because of how important what he had heard was.

On Wednesday, Aaron Judge signed his contract and got one last surprise in Steinbrenner’s suite at Yankee Stadium. Jeter was there to hand over the role of captain to Judge. The action was right. Aaron Judge said that he asked Jeter for advice a few times while he was deciding what to do with his free agency.

Jeter first met Judge at an event he put on for minor leaguers in 2013 called “Captain’s Camp.” With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Yankees had just picked Judge. Aaron Judge’s size and his ability to pay attention were the first things that stood out to Jeter. He wasn’t just going through the motions, and he was open to hearing what people had to say.

Jeter joked, “I now take full credit for all of his success.”

When the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu in 2019, the Yankees’ general manager, Brian Cashman, said that he reminded him of Don Mattingly because of the way he led by example. Cashman said in the clubhouse that LeMahieu had changed the team. Later, he would have an effect on Aaron Judge, who learned how to find his voice from him.

No one has ever said anything bad about how hard Aaron Judge works. As he got closer to his record-breaking home run, it happened again. Schenck said that his client didn’t get tired of trying to hit home runs until late September when he hit No. 60. But it wasn’t because he was trying to beat Roger Maris‘ record. Because he felt like his routine at the plate was starting to fall apart.

Aaron Judge got out of that rut by doing extra work, even if it meant hitting in the middle of the night. But Cashman said he could tell Judge was different, and it wasn’t just the way he worked. Cashman said that Judge has become less shy about telling his teammates, coaches, and people in the front office what he thinks about anything that has to do with the team. This will only get bigger.

Jeter said that being named captain of the Yankees is not the same as being the captain.

“I think it’s how you’re perceived by others,” Jeter said. “You have young players that are coming through the organization. I think they tend to look at you and see how you handle yourself. Free agents coming to New York. New York is not an easy place to play. I think those guys tend to look at you and see how you handle yourself. The fans are big on history and tradition. It’s not a title that’s thrown around lightly.”

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