The international phone call that helped Yanks land Judge

December 8th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The private jet carrying Aaron Judge toward the West Coast was ripping through air space at approximately 500 mph on Tuesday afternoon, somewhere west of San Antonio, Texas. And the Yankees’ world had just been rocked by a Tweet.

Someone in the club’s suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt alerted general manager Brian Cashman, relaying what seemed to be breaking news: Judge appeared to be headed to the Giants. Cashman first asked if it was from a verified account. The reporter had misspelled Judge’s first name as “Arson,” possibly an autocorrection, but it otherwise appeared to be legitimate.

Cashman pondered calling managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, but he instead dialed Judge’s agent, Page Odle, who said no agreement had been reached. The mood in the war room dipped from code-red panic to general anxiety. The Yankees were still alive, but spirits were glum, and Cashman sensed that time was running short -- especially when word of San Francisco’s nine-year offer came in.

“He’s our franchise player, and we want to retain him,” Cashman said. “We were going to make every effort to do so. He’s not just an offensive force and one of the great hitters of this generation and maybe all time, but the defense is spectacular, too. He’s just a remarkably gifted player, and that’s why it’s going to take a remarkable contract to retain [him].”

New York’s offer to Judge stood at eight years when Judge’s jet touched down in San Diego around 4:15 p.m. PT. The American League Most Valuable Player hustled to a clandestine three-hour meeting at Petco Park with the Padres, who surprised Judge and Odle by discussing numbers that would best the offers on the table from the Yankees and Giants: a staggering 10 years and $400 million.

Now, Judge’s decision grew more difficult. The Linden, Calif., native had made no secret that he’d dreamed of playing for the Giants, counting infielder Rich Aurilia and outfielder Barry Bonds as the favorite players of his childhood. If he wanted to follow in their footsteps, this was the chance. The Padres had the most years and dollars on the table. There were surely worse fates than spending the next decade in picture-perfect Southern California.

It was time, Cashman thought, to bring in his closer. Steinbrenner was nine hours ahead in Italy, where his vacation was interrupted by an appraisal of the situation. The Yankees were in the dark about where the Giants’ offer stood, but they suspected San Francisco had gone to a ninth year. They were wholly unaware of the Padres’ sneak attack. Steinbrenner reached Judge directly with a point-blank question: “Do you want to be a Yankee?”

Judge affirmed that he did -- as he had maintained since Spring Training and the contract extension offer he had rejected -- but he wanted a ninth year. Steinbrenner -- who had told Judge in a face-to-face meeting that he and his family wanted Judge to play his entire career in pinstripes -- agreed. That was it: There would still need to be physicals taken and reams of paperwork sifted through, but Judge was staying with the Yankees.

Cashman stayed up through the night hammering out details, playing the role of air traffic controller between Steinbrenner and Odle, while Judge alerted a few teammates and prepared to board another plane bound for a Hawaiian vacation with his wife, Samantha. A news conference at Yankee Stadium will take place upon their return, where Judge could be named the club’s first captain since Derek Jeter.

“He’s one of the game’s great players,” manager Aaron Boone said. “[Tuesday] was a long, rough day in a lot of ways. [Retaining Judge] is an enormous boost, because it hopefully allows us to support around him, filling out our roster.”