Cortes: If Judge returns, 'he's our captain' in 2023

October 22nd, 2022

NEW YORK -- The Yankees have had 15 captains or co-captains in their storied history, but none since Derek Jeter’s final game in uniform, when the eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer tipped his cap to wave goodbye at the end of the 2014 season.

If Aaron Judge returns next season, Nestor Cortes said on Saturday, the slugging outfielder should join that succession of leaders.

“He's meant everything,” Cortes said. “I think I'm able to say that if he's back here next year, he's our captain; he's the next captain. We follow everything he does. He leads by example. He's not really a guy that comes out and screams at anybody. But if he has to, that's his job. I think he's earned that right to keep us in check.

“What allows him to be so great, I feel like, is he's a great baseball player, but he's a better human. He treats everybody the same. He follows up on everybody every day. That's what allows him to be who he is.”

Cortes said that he has not shared those thoughts on the captainship with manager Aaron Boone or general manager Brian Cashman, but the left-hander -- who is set to pitch Sunday’s Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros -- said that “most of the guys in there agree with me. He's the best to do it.”

Judge enjoyed a historic 2022 campaign that saw him set an American League single-season record by blasting 62 home runs, eclipsing Roger Maris’ 1961 total of 61.

The likely AL Most Valuable Player, Judge batted .311/.425/.686 in 157 games, leading the Majors in runs (133), homers (62), RBIs (131), slugging percentage, on-base percentage, OPS (1.111), OPS+ (211) and total bases (391).

“Just the way that we play around him and act around him, he's just the guy for [the captainship],” Cortes said. “I feel like we follow his steps every time. Like I've said before, he's the last one to leave from the clubhouse on the road, and we don't leave until he leaves. We just follow his act. We follow everything he does. I think he's a perfect example for the game of baseball, for the kids that are coming up and learning from the game.

“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘How does he have so much time to stop for interviews and signatures?’ But he finds a way. That's what makes him great.”

The 30-year-old Judge earned $19 million this season and is eligible for free agency this offseason. He turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer on Opening Day.

The Highlanders/Yankees have had 15 captains or co-captains, including Jeter, who served in the role from June 3, 2003, through the end of the ’14 season.

The others: Clark Griffith (1903-05), Norman “Kid” Elberfeld (1906-08), “Wee” Willie Keeler (‘09), Hal Chase (1910-11), Frank Chance (‘13), Rollie Zeider (‘13), Roger Peckinpaugh (1914-21), Babe Ruth (‘22), Lou Gehrig (1935-39), Thurman Munson (1976-79), Graig Nettles (1982-84), Willie Randolph (1986-88), Ron Guidry (1986-89) and Don Mattingly (1991-95).