Unanimous Rookie of the Year Award victory caps a freshman season beyond Aaron Judge's wildest dreams
Almost eight months ago, Aaron Judge reported to Yankees Spring Training, not knowing whether or not he would be the Yankees' starting right fielder - or even on the major-league roster at all.
On Monday, Judge became the 10th player to be named the unanimous winner of the American League's Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award, his perfect score of 150 points exactly double the total of runner-up Andrew Benintendi, who received 23 second-place votes and six third-place votes.
Judge was the only player listed on every ballot, and in winning the award, he became the ninth Yankee overall to earn the honor and the second behind Derek Jeter to do so unanimously.
"What an honor, especially after going into Spring Training fighting for a job," Judge said via conference call on Monday night. "I'm still sitting back trying to think about what happened this year, and it was quite a journey. From battling in Spring Training, to going out there and grinding it out with my teammates, and the run we had…when you dream about your first year in the Big Leagues, this was more than I could've ever dreamed about, and even with all the highs and lows, I wouldn't change a thing. It was an incredible year."
It wasn't one of his 2017 teammates, however, that Judge most credited with helping keep his mind right through his stellar rookie campaign; instead, it was the man he succeeded as the Yankees' right fielder, Carlos Beltran, who made news of his own earlier Monday when he announced his retirement from baseball.
"There was a moment a couple of Spring Trainings ago where we were out working on a back field, and I asked him how he got through the ups and downs of each year," Judge remembered. "He said, 'you know, you can be hot the first couple months or start off bad the first couple months, but either way, it's baseball, and it will just even out, so you have to just try to stay as even-keeled as possible and stay positive, and your results will be there at the end.' Hearing that from a veteran like Carlos, who never wanted to press in any situation, was pretty cool to hear."
And, he also had a lot of thanks to dole out to now ex-manager Joe Girardi.
"I had a great relationship with Joe; he was my first manager in the Majors, and he stuck with me through the good times and the bad," Judge said. "He always had my back and always stayed positive with me, and I thought we communicated well. I'm excited to see who we get (as the new manager), but I have a lot of respect for Joe and what he meant to me in my first year."
It was a historic freshman season for Judge, whose AL-leading 52 home runs also set a new MLB rookie record. Judge also placed atop the AL in runs and walks and finished second in RBI, and became the first rookie in MLB history to amass 45 or more homers, 100 or more RBI and 100 or more runs scored.
That's why he's also a finalist for the American League MVP Award, which will be announced Thursday, but one thing he is not is the only player unanimously named Rookie of the Year on Monday, as Dodgers first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger also got a perfect score on the National League side.
"What I see in Cody is a complete player; he's not just a great power hitter who can hit a lot of home runs, but he's also a complete hitter, and someone who can play high-caliber defense at first base but also roam anywhere in the outfield they need him," Judge said. "To have that kind of versatility, and still be able to produce at the level he did, that's something you don't find too often. The Dodgers have someone special in Cody, and he was fun to follow throughout the year."
Those now-Rookies of the Year are two of the many young faces of the game that are revitalizing baseball, and Judge is glad to be part of the league-wide youth movement of burgeoning stars.
"If you look around the league, there are a lot of great young faces that have impacted the game, and we have a special group right now in Major League Baseball," Judge said. "With how the playoffs went and all the excitement around the game right now, it's a special time to be playing Major League Baseball, and I'm glad to be mentioned with a lot of great guys as faces of MLB - but I'm going to continue to keep focusing on my game and what I can do out on the field."
Whether he's a face of the game or not, though, Judge is happy to be doing what he's doing alongside his fellow Baby Bombers, everyone from Gary Sanchez to Greg Bird to lefty Jordan Montgomery, who himself received one second- and one third-place vote to finish sixth in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
"Coming up through the minors with a lot of these guys and watching them develop, and now seeing what they're doing at the major-league level, it's really impressive," Judge said. "The chemistry we could see building in the minors, and that we built in Spring Training … there's just something different about this team and this culture here, and it's an exciting time to be wearing pinstripes right now."
And, as you might expect, he can't wait to get back on the field and get it going for 2018.
"We didn't accomplish our goal, which was to win the World Series, so I think I speak for all of us when I say we can't wait to get next year started," Judge said. "You're going to take your time off, get your rest and get your body ready to go, but we can't wait; everyone is already making adjustments, looking back at last year and seeing what they need to improve on. Me personally, I can't wait to get it going."