NEW YORK — Aaron Judge stood for photo after photo as if at a wedding. And in a way it was: He had gotten hitched to the New York Yankees for the rest of his baseball life.
Judge posed with his wife, parents, Yankees management, agents and even Derek Jeter and Willie Randolph, and discussed his nine-year, $360 million contract and owner Hal Steinbrenner’s decision to appoint him the team’s 16th captain – the first since Jeter retired.
“It’s family. The fans are family,” Judge said, thinking about joining Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Jeter and Mariano Rivera as Yankees lifers. “Just getting this chance to build this relationship with everybody, that’s what I’m all about.”
Judge was at his parents’ home in California when the deal fell into place early Dec. 7. With San Francisco and San Diego also pursuing Judge, Steinbrenner interrupted a vacation, pulling over on a highway between Milan and the French border to speak with Judge at about 3 a.m. PST.
“He shot me a message earlier about, `What’s the holdup? What’s it going to take to get this to the finish line?’ So we hopped on a quick call,” Judge said.
Steinbrenner increased New York’s offer from an eight-year deal to a nine-year agreement.
Just before Opening Day, Judge had turned down the Yankees’ offer of $213.5 million over seven years through 2029. Steinbrenner called Judge on Oct. 24 – the day after Houston eliminated the Yankees – to jumpstart talks, and invited the outfielder to his home in Tampa, Florida.
“One of the conversations we had two weeks ago, I actually said to him, `As far as I’m concerned, you are not a free agent, you are a Yankee, and we need to do everything we can to ensure that remains the same,”‘ Steinbrenner said.
Judge had not been aware of rumors that he was headed to the Giants: “I was actually on a plane, so I really kind of missed all the stuff going on about where I would go.”
Judge, the reigning American League MVP after setting an AL record with 62 homers. gets $40 million annually, a full no-trade provision and a hotel suite on road trips.
“I get a chance to continue something the Yankees are so big on, which is legacy,” Judge said. “I get a chance to continue my legacy here in pinstripes, the best city in the world, the best baseball city, in front of the best fans.”
The Yankees also finalized their deal with left-handed pitcher and two-time All-Star Carlos Rodon. Rodon, 30, had 31 starts with San Francisco last season, going 14-8 with a complete game and a 2.88 ERA.
New York had six previous captains in the Steinbrenner family era: Thurman Munson (1976-79), Graig Nettles (1982-84), Willie Randolph (1986-88), Ron Guidry (1986-89), Don Mattingly (1991-95) and Jeter (2003-14).
“Not only great baseball players, but great ambassadors of the game and great ambassadors of the New York Yankees,” Judge said of the former captains. “How they pride themselves on the field, day in and day out, how they take pride in what they do off the field and represent this organization and represent these pinstripes. This is an incredible honor I don’t take lightly.”
Judge sat on a dais at Yankee Stadium between his wife, Samantha, and Steinbrenner. Flanking them were Jeter; Judge’s agent, Page Odle; Yankees president Randy Levine; general manager Brian Cashman; manager Aaron Boone and chief operating officer Lonn Trost.
Judge homered in his first big league at-bat for the Yankees in 2016, and the 6-foot-7 outfielder has become a larger-than-life figure in the Bronx. He was voted AL Rookie of the Year in 2017 and helped New York reach the playoffs in each of the last six seasons.
A four-time All-Star, he hit .311 this year and tied for the major league lead with 131 RBIs.
“Yankee fans are big on history and tradition,” Jeter said. “It’s not a title that’s thrown around too lightly.”
He was made captain in June 2003 by owner George Steinbrenner. Hal Steinbrenner took over from his father as the Yankees’ controlling owner in November 2008.
Earlier Yankees captains included Clark Griffith (1903-05), Kid Elberfeld (1906-08), Willie Keeler (1909), Hal Chase (1910-11), Frank Chance (1913 to midseason), Rollie Zelder (1913 midseason until end), Roger Peckinpaugh (1914-21), Babe Ruth (1922) and Gehrig (1935-39).
Judge smiled when asked whether he seriously considered leaving New York.
“I got a chance to sit down with my wife and talk about a couple of things,” he said. “We both kind of came to the decision that was in our heart, which was we belong in New York, we belong in the city. And there’s a lot of unfinished business here in New York. And I’m looking forward to finishing that business. and try to leave a legacy here for the next group of guys coming behind me.”