Jeter believes Aaron Judge has the right mindset to become a great captain
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The Yankees finally have their 16th captain in power hitter, home-run record holder, and 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge. When the Yankees made Judge captain at the end of December, after the slugger signed a nine-year, $360 million contract to stay in the Bronx, Derek Jeter and Willie Randolph, two former captains, went to the press conference to help pass the baton.
Derek Jeter admires Aaron Judge and believes that he is poised to be a great leader. Captain Clutch hasn’t spent enough time with the Yankees to make more comparisons. But the Hall of Fame shortstop feels Aaron Judge can do the job by pointing to the current Yankees clubhouse.
According to Jeter, “In terms of mindset and what’s most important in terms of winning, he has that same mindset. Talk to his teammates, talk to his coaches. talk to his manager. I mean, [manager Aaron Boone] spoke for what? Thirty-five minutes at the press conference? You listen to everyone speak about him and that tells you all you need to know.”
Aaron Judge is often compared to Derek Jeter because of how he talks to the media. He rarely says anything that could upset someone or cause controversy. Beyond that, Jeter thinks he and his replacement have a lot in common. Jeter made sure to tell Judge that the title isn’t just a way to boost his ego. It’s an obligation.
Jeter said, “Yankee fans care a lot about history and tradition. It’s not a title that gets given out too often. Just because you have this title doesn’t mean you have to change who you are. I would guess that he has been acting like a captain up to this point, which is why they gave him the title of captain.”
After the Yankees coronated Aaron Judge as captain, he has become the face of one of the best sports teams in North America and a celebrity in one of the world’s biggest cities. He joins a list of people who are considered icons.
Aaron Judge should learn from Guidry
But becoming the Yankees captain brings in a lot of responsibilities for Aaron Judge. He will be its voice, its chief architect of actions, and also the leader of the Yankees community. Ask Ron Guidry, who was captain of the Yankees from 1986 to 1989, how a captain has to look after his team. The former Cy Young Award winner once had to walk in full uniform into the office of the famously unpredictable and menacing George Steinbrenner to talk, not about pennant races or pitching, but about how bad the team’s in-flight meals were.
Guidry said, “We had player meetings because the food on the planes wasn’t good. Who are you going to tell? The players don’t want to make the manager or the owners angry. They come to you, and as the captain, you make a note of it and go talk to someone. You’re a spokesperson.”
After manager Billy Martin failed to address his concern, Guidry called the Yankees’ office and asked the person at the switchboard if Steinbrenner was there. Then, Guidry ran upstairs while still wearing his pinstripes.
“What’s wrong with you now?” Steinbrenner asked. Guidry said, “I don’t have anything against you. So does your team.”
Steinbrenner listened to Guidry, who told him that the food on the team’s flights wasn’t very good. Before the Yankees went on the road again, they had the caterer changed.
Guidry is a fan of Thurman Munson, the Yankees’ legendary captain who died in a plane crash and wants Aaron Judge to follow his example. Guidry found out what it means to be captain by watching Munson, who was the first player to take over for Gehrig. Munson was the Yankees’ captain from 1976 to 1979 and Guidry started his career with the Yankees in 1975. He said about Munson:
“He didn’t have to tell you how to be a leader. If you’re on a team with a captain, all you have to do is watch how he does his job. When he talks, what he says when he chooses to talk, does he leave you alone or pull you off to the side? Does he call a meeting of the team or just leave them alone?”
Guidry remembers that when the Yankees were on a winning streak, some of the players got excited. But Munson quickly put out the fire by telling the group not to get too “slap happy.”
“What are you going to say if you lose five games in a row?” Munson said this in the clubhouse. According to Guidry, “It would bring us right back to where we were before. It only took 15 seconds, but those 15 seconds were very important.”
Guidry says that Munson’s biggest impact happened in 1978 when the Yankees were 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the race for first place at the All-Star break. Early in the season, New York was having trouble with injuries and didn’t have many of its best players on the field. According to Guidry:
“He held us all together. We knew we were good, but what was going on wasn’t working for us. Everything seemed to be going against us. But all of a sudden, you keep playing and working hard, and then you win five, six, or seven games in a row. He told us to be patient with everything, and what he said came true. He always brought it up at the right time. He made you feel like you were going to win. So, when Willie and I were made captains, I knew what I had to do.”
Guidry and his co-captain from 1986 to 1988 Randolph said that the captain must listen to teammates who vent about their frustrations on the field and sometimes act as a go-between for players and management.
Captain Aaron Judge faces enhanced fan scrutiny
Jeter and Randolph know that being a Yankees player means getting more attention from fans. But being a leader also means taking care of things behind the scenes and Aaron Judge will not be immune from increased fan scrutiny.
“There’s a certain pride and strut when you know that, ‘Hey, I’m the captain of the New York Yankees,’” Randolph said. “You feel responsibility in your preparation in spring training, in the offseason, to not just think about yourself, your teammates, how you can motivate them to be champions. It’s a 24/7 mentality that you need to carry, even when the season is over.”
Aaron Judge has grown into this role over the years, especially during his historic 2022 season. In 2017, when he was a rookie, he set a record by hitting 52 home runs, and his older teammates gave him the keys to the clubhouse Spotify account. This was the first step in his becoming a leader. Aaron Judge is still the Yankees’ unofficial DJ before and after games, even though he has been playing for seven years.
Last year, when Aaron Judge tried to beat Roger Maris‘ record for most home runs in a single season in the American League and finally did, his influence went beyond his playlist. His consistent preparation before games motivated his teammates. As the season went up and down, they looked to Aaron Judge for suggestions. Like him, they never got too high or too low. By the end of the season, Judge’s teammates were calling him the team captain, even though he hadn’t been given the job yet.
Guidry and Randolph were also picked as captains by the clubhouse before Hal’s father gave them the title. Both players had been with the team for almost a decade and were the ones who had been there the longest when they got the call.
Randolph said, “It’s a great honor to get it set in stone, but you grow into your role as a leader. You can’t put a stamp on how someone did something because everyone is different. You have to do it in a way that makes you feel good. You have to be you. When you’re not being real, people can tell.”
Is Aaron Judge prepared for the role?
Yankees fans look to the captain as a role model in the community, so the responsibilities go beyond the baseball field. Guidry said he was always careful about where he went because he didn’t want to get bad press for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He avoided downtown Manhattan so he wouldn’t be surrounded by fans, but when he did see them, he tried not to think bad things.
“Sometimes you have to bite your tongue because people are really disgruntled when the team isn’t doing well,” Guidry said. “They have something to say and what they’re saying is not something you want to hear. You can’t get into an argument with them because if somebody snaps a picture and it gets out, then what you’ve been preaching in the clubhouse, you’re a hypocrite doing the opposite.”
Randolph always thought about how he acted, from how he moved on the field and in the streets to what words he used.
Aaron Judge is aware that he has a lot to prove and he is serious about the new weight he has to carry.
“I look back at the list of Thurman Munson, Lou Gehrig, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly,” Aaron Judge said. “That’s a pretty good list right there. Not only great players but great ambassadors of the game and great ambassadors of the New York Yankees,” Judge said. “This is an incredible honor I don’t take lightly.”
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