NEW YORK – Aaron Judge was at his parents’ home in California, hours away from boarding a plane to Hawaii, when he picked up the phone and made the call. It was 3 in the morning and Hal Steinbrenner was on the other line.
It was Dec. 7, and Judge had just spent the day flying from his home in Tampa, Fla., to San Diego, Calif., where the winter meetings were taking place, to talk to a couple of other teams on a long-term potential. contracts Once he finished in San Diego, he flew to his hometown of Linden, California and arrived at his parents’ house around 2:30 in the morning. Thirty minutes later, Judge was on the phone with Steinbrenner, who was vacationing in Italy at the time.
Steinbrenner was the mastermind and sealer of the nine-year, $360 million deal that essentially ensured Judge would remain a Yankee for his entire baseball career. The first half of that midnight call was the remedy that got Judge streaked; it turned out that all Steinbrenner had to do was increase his offer from eight years to nine. That extra year prevented Judge from going any further with the San Francisco Giants; at least one other team offering a similarly huge contract for the 2022 AL MVP.
But it was the second half of that 3 a.m. call that left the judge speechless. Once the hitter’s contract finish line was crossed, Steinbrenner finally asked Judge what he had been thinking for a while: “How would you like to be the next captain of the Yankees?”
“I was speechless,” Judge said at the podium in the Yankees’ press conference room Wednesday morning. “I don’t think I said anything for—it felt like five minutes, but it was probably just a couple of seconds. I was really surprised because it’s an incredible honor.”
After hanging up the phone with Steinbrenner, Judge shared the news with his wife, Samantha, and despite the late hour, went into his parents’ bedroom to wake them up. “I think there’s something you’re going to want to hear,” Judge told them. The Judge family celebrated just an hour before Judge and Samantha headed to the airport to catch a 7 a.m. flight to Hawaii to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. That first day, “they sat on the beach and did nothing,” Judge said.
“We kind of relaxed and enjoyed ourselves because it was a whirlwind of a year,” Judge said. “Everything moves quickly and then you have the free agency process on top of that. It was good to get away a little bit knowing we got the deal done. Now we have the year off and get back to work. “
When Judge returned to New York, the passing of the torch awaited him. Early Wednesday morning, when he walked into the owner’s suite at Yankee Stadium to officially sign his nine-year contract, Judge was surprised to see the Yankees’ newest captain in the room. Judge had no idea Derek Jeter would make the special trip to the Bronx from his Florida home, expenses paid for by Steinbrenner, to be part of the captaincy announcement. Former Yankees captain Willie Randolph was also in attendance at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
Judge was named the 16th captain in Yankees franchise history, joining a distinguished list that includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Randolph and Jeter.
“This is an incredible honor that I do not take lightly,” Judge said of being named captain. “I’m going to continue to try to be the same leader that I’ve been for the last six years. He’s going to continue to lead by example. I know there’s going to be a couple more responsibilities that come with that. But I’m here to embrace every obstacle and continue to lead this team and drive this city to not one, but multiple championships down the road.”
Throughout Wednesday’s news conference, it was easy to see the resemblance between Jeter, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame shortstop, and Judge, the organization’s brilliant and talented record-hitter. Both Jeter and Judge are superstars. Both Jeter and Judge are leaders. Both Jeter and Judge place winning above everything else. Both Jeter and Judge are the face of the Yankees franchise. And as of Wednesday, both Jeter and Judge know what it feels like to be named captain.
But the distinctions between Jeter and Judge were also palpable. There was Jeter, sitting a seat away from the judge on the dais, looking older, fun, relaxed, he’d done it. Eight years after Jeter retired from his professional playing career, Judge was named his successor in the captaincy. As Judge sat in the stands listening intently as Yankees manager Aaron Boone showered the slugger with praise for his leadership, there was a wiser Jeter sitting next to him, a former captain who knows a thing or two about what it takes to run a team, to run a city.
“I don’t really see it as a new role,” Jeter said of a captain’s responsibilities. “I’m just going by my own experience. When the boss [former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner] he called me and said, “Don’t change anything.” It’s not like you just flip a switch and you have to be someone else because you’ve been given that title. would assume [Judge] he has behaved like a captain up to this point, that’s why they named him captain.”
Jeter has maintained that anyone wondering if Judge is ready to be captain should ask his teammates. And Judge’s teammates have been publicly calling him their captain since the end of the slugger’s historic 2022 season, when he broke the AL single-season record with 62 home runs. As for whether Jeter thinks Judge is ready to be captain? “Everything about him screams leader,” Jeter said.
“Coming through the Yankees organization, that’s all I’ve known,” Judge said. “My blood, my sweat and my tears have gone into one thing, which is to play for this team and play for this city and these fans. Knowing that I can continue to do this and do it in a city, words really don’t they can. describe it. It’s such an amazing feeling. It’s family.”
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Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a reporter for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @Deesha Thosar.
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