Here's what Rich Aurilia thinks about Judge calling him his idol

'I usually was third or fourth in line with who kids watched'

September 22nd, 2022
Art by Tom Forget

Aaron Judge was born in the Bay Area, specifically in the tiny town of Linden, Calif. He went to Linden High School and, later, Fresno State.

So, being a baseball player and fan, he, of course, grew up rooting for his hometown San Francisco Giants. Teams that had perennial All-Stars like Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent on their rosters.

Back in 2017, though, the AL MVP frontrunner was asked who he liked most on those teams. Instead of naming Bonds or Kent as his favorite hitter to emulate, or even first baseman J.T. Snow -- who played his position at the time -- Judge gave a somewhat surprising answer to

"Actually, the shortstop Rich Aurilia."

Aurilia had a long, very good MLB career -- with one exceptional season in 2001. He led the league that year with 206 hits and hit 37 homers with a .324/.369/.572 slash line. Still, many were surprised that the hulking, 6-foot-7 Judge looked up to a 6-foot, 170-pound shortstop, when Bonds and Kent were combining for nearly 100 homers every year.

But what about Aurilia? What does he think about it?

"Honestly, with some of the teams I was on [with former MVPs Bonds and Kent], I usually was third or fourth in line with who kids watched," Aurilia said in a recent phone call, laughing.

The current NBC Sports Bay Area analyst and part-owner of a Sonoma winery with Dave Roberts said he first heard that Judge looked up to him a couple years ago. He thought it was pretty cool that an up-and-coming star had called him their childhood hero. Judge went as far as to wear Aurilia's No. 35 as a kid -- that's partly, as Aurilia learned, because Judge's dad also wore the number. And the young Judge even mimicked the former Giant's crouched stance.

"I was the tallest kid and I was crouched down like Aurilia. It was funny," he has said.

With the historic season Judge is having in 2022, Aurilia is even more proud that he was the Yankee outfielder's idol. Where does he think the slugger can end up home run-wise? (Note: we had our conversation after Judge hit his 57th homer on Sept. 13).

"Considering that they still have a race going on, I guess, in the American League East," Aurilia said. "He's probably gonna play a lot and, at the worst, he'll tie [Maris]. And for him, being a big strong guy, playing at Yankee Stadium is a huge benefit. He can just hit it out to all fields there and not even hit it well."

Will getting to 60 or 62 home runs get him the AL MVP?

"Listen, I totally admire what Shohei Ohtani does," Aurilia told me. "He's one of those groundbreaking athletes in the sport, but, if you look at the whole picture of work and the teams that they're on, and if I had a vote, [Judge] would be at the top of my list."

Aurilia has some experience garnering votes for the MVP: In that '01 season, he finished 12th in the vote -- putting up a 6.7 WAR (good for ninth in the National League). As a sign that times have changed, only five total players in the entire sport have put up a WAR higher than that so far this season; Judge, Ohtani, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Sandy Alcantara. 

Barry Bonds, who Aurilia played side-by-side with during that season (and many others), hit his record-breaking, mind-boggling 73 homers that year. He finished with a ridiculous 11.9 WAR. Are there any similarities he sees between the two players?

"I'll say this: What I like about [Judge], for a big man -- he's huge -- he has a pretty simple, short compact swing," Aurilia said. "As far as comparisons, I don't think you can really compare. I'm not saying he's not a great player, I just think the scenarios are totally different. Bonds set in motion a lot stuff in this game that now we're seeing change. The shifts all started with Bonds, now that's going to be out of the game next year. Bonds is the only guy, at least in my lifetime that I can remember, that people just didn't pitch to on a 100 percent consistent basis."

Most pitchers these days, with such high velocities on fastballs and breaking stuff, probably feel like they can get Judge out. Bonds was just on another level in the early-2000s.

"You're comparing a guy who, regardless of any type of suspicion, was one of the top five players of all time," Aurilia said. "And you have a guy who's having one of the best seasons of all time looking to become that player. You can't compare, I don't think it's fair to compare. But it sure is fun to watch."