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Yankees Magazine: Sultans of Swing

As teammates, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton know they're part of a legendary Yankees lineage
Yankees Magazine

Throughout baseball history, nothing has captured fans' imagination more than majestic home runs. The sight of a baseball coming off a bat and traveling hundreds of feet until it lands in the seats, or sometimes leaves the stadium altogether, can be both magnificent and energizing. It also can serve as the quickest way to score runs and win games.

In Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and then Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris a few decades later, the Yankees have had the two most storied home run-hitting tandems the game has ever seen. Ruth's popularity, which came about largely because of his unprecedented ability to hit the ball out of the park, is still unmatched today, nearly 70 years after his death. Gehrig, who led the American League in home runs three times and finished second to Ruth in four other seasons, has a legacy that will also live on forever.

Throughout baseball history, nothing has captured fans' imagination more than majestic home runs. The sight of a baseball coming off a bat and traveling hundreds of feet until it lands in the seats, or sometimes leaves the stadium altogether, can be both magnificent and energizing. It also can serve as the quickest way to score runs and win games.

In Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and then Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris a few decades later, the Yankees have had the two most storied home run-hitting tandems the game has ever seen. Ruth's popularity, which came about largely because of his unprecedented ability to hit the ball out of the park, is still unmatched today, nearly 70 years after his death. Gehrig, who led the American League in home runs three times and finished second to Ruth in four other seasons, has a legacy that will also live on forever.

When Mantle hung up his spikes for good, he did so with 536 home runs to his name. And, of course, the combined performance of the M&M Boys in 1961 -- when Maris hit 61 longballs, breaking Ruth's single-season record of 60, and Mantle smashed 54 -- made that season as magical as any in team history.

Fast forward to a more recent time. Rookie Aaron Judge came into Spring Training last year with hopes of making the big club. He earned his spot and then went on to hit an American League-leading 52 home runs. In a season in which he batted .284 and drove in 114 runs while also leading the league in walks and runs, Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in MVP voting. The 6-foot-7 Judge also outslugged all of his competitors in an unforgettable Home Run Derby triumph in Miami.

While the 25-year-old Judge was on his way to obliterating the Yankees' rookie home run record -- previously set by Joe DiMaggio, who hit 29 home runs in 1936 -- Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was demolishing pitches in the National League at an even more furious rate. By season's end, Stanton had smashed 59 home runs, leading all Major Leaguers. The 28-year-old outfielder, who batted .281 and drove in 132 runs, was named the NL MVP.

In the wake of the Yankees' spirited postseason run of 2017, the thought of two game-changers like Judge and Stanton batting in the same lineup was something that fans could only dream of -- or reminisce about if they had been around to watch Ruth and Gehrig or Mantle and Maris. But on Dec. 11, the 58th anniversary of the deal that brought Maris to the Bronx, the Yankees came out of nowhere to acquire Stanton.

Only time will tell how impactful the Judge-Stanton combination will be and if it will bring back memories of some of the greatest Yankees eras of the past. But regardless of how many home runs each of these All-Stars hits in pinstripes, all eyes will be on the two sluggers whenever they step up to the plate.

At the start of Spring Training, Stanton and Judge sat down for their first interview together with Yankees Magazine editor- in-chief Alfred Santasiere III at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.

Yankees Magazine: I'll start with you, Giancarlo. When you found out that you'd be batting in the same lineup as Aaron, what were you most excited about?

Giancarlo Stanton: I'm excited about having someone in the lineup who opposing pitchers approach the same way they approach me. It's one thing to watch film of Aaron's at-bats to find out how pitchers try to get him out, but to be able to now watch those at-bats in person every day will be really helpful. It's going to help both of us a lot.

What about you, Aaron? What excites you most about teaming up with Giancarlo?

Aaron Judge: I was excited that we just acquired an MVP. That's not something that happens very often. The presence that he will bring to an already-strong lineup is incredible. All I can think about is a championship in the next few years. We're both young, and we have a young team around us. To add a player like Giancarlo is something that happens once in a lifetime. We have a once-in-a-generation thing going on here, and I'm thrilled to be part of it.

What was it like to spend some time together last July during the Home Run Derby?

AJ: We were only around each other for a short period of time. I got a chance to say hello to Giancarlo before our press conference, and it was nice to let him know that I had been following him. It was fun being out there, competing and putting on a show for the fans.

GS: It was cool to finally meet Aaron. We never stopped talking about each other from the beginning of last year -- and we probably won't until our careers are over -- so I was glad that I could put a personality with the person that I was always asked to talk about. It was nice to find out what he was like, and it's been fun to watch this young cat grow the way he has.

What has impressed you about each other in your first days as teammates?

GS: For a guy who burst onto the scene as quickly as Aaron did and who is as popular as Aaron is, I was impressed with how humble he is. There are a lot of guys who come into the league and have success in their first few years, and they don't stay humble. Their success actually becomes somewhat of a negative thing. It changes them. Aaron certainly has a presence on this team, but he carries himself in a positive way.

AJ: Everything I've heard about Giancarlo was spot-on. The first thing I noticed was how hard he works. He came here to work, and that's the most important thing. That was one of the first things we spoke about - working as hard as we can to bring a championship to this organization. He wants to win; that's why he's with this great organization. Over the first couple of days, I noticed how much time he has spent in the weight room and in the batting cages getting his work done. He's in there doing the same things he did to get to this point in his career. It's pretty obvious that he wants to be as good as he possibly can be.

There have been great home run- hitting tandems in Yankees history, namely Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. What does it mean to have the opportunity to carve your own names in Yankees history?

GS: Well, if you go off of our statistics from last season, you get a sense of what each of us can do. When you put us together, hopefully that makes us even better. But I don't want our performance to be based on how many home runs we each hit. We can be productive without hitting home runs. Hitting baseballs over the wall is the icing on the cake, but we can help lift this team in many other ways. We're not going to worry about who has the most home runs. Our focus and our goals are about much more than that. Helping this team win a championship will ultimately give us a place in Yankees history.

AJ: Like Giancarlo said, we are more than home run hitters. One thing I always noticed about Giancarlo is that he does a lot more than hit for power, regardless of how many home runs he hits. He uses the whole field. He hits the ball into the gaps. He hits line drives. He gets base hits. He runs the bases well, and he can steal some bases. In the field, he's an excellent player, who can man more than one outfield position. Together, he and I are going to bring more than just home runs to this team. We both feel that we are complete baseball players, not just at the plate, but also in the field.

You have something else in common in that you both were talented football players. How close did each of you come to playing football at the collegiate level?

GS: I never played one sport year-round when I was growing up. I always played three or four sports each year, and I only concentrated on football during that season. Baseball was my first choice, so when I graduated from high school, I decided to try to play baseball for three years and see where it would take me. I knew that if it didn't work out, I would still be young enough to play football.

AJ: I talked to a few schools about playing football, but I had already pretty much made my mind up. I fell in love with baseball at a young age, and I knew that that's what I wanted to do. I had a lot of fun playing football and basketball, but deep down, the chess match or cat-and-mouse game between the pitcher and batter in baseball really drew me in. It's a thinking man's game, and for me, nothing can compare to that.

Aaron, what advice have you given Giancarlo about playing in New York City?

AJ: Well, he's been around for a long time, but New York is a different animal. The biggest thing for him is just to learn what it's like to play there. It's important to learn about the city and to figure out a routine that works for him and that he's comfortable with. I can tell him what I did, but the most important thing is for him to experience it for himself and to figure out what works and what doesn't. I just told him that if he has any questions, I will try to answer them. You can tell that he's excited for the opportunity.

GS: Aaron has also told me that I'm going to love it in New York City, and I believe him. I've had good conversations with some other teammates who wanted me to understand that there will be highs and lows in New York that will be magnified. It's a setting change, but the advice that I've gotten from everyone is to not try to do too much. I've been successful in between the lines for long enough that my teammates know that I can play. There will be a little bit of an adjustment, but I'm confident that I can handle that.

How would you each describe the experience of achieving so much last season?

GS: It was the first time that I was fully healthy and that I could be out on the field for the entire season. Even if you miss a few weeks, it's hard to break out. You instead are constantly trying to just get back to the point you were at before you got hurt. That wasn't the case for me last season; I was able to get into a groove and maintain it without getting hurt. It was great to play baseball for an entire season without thinking about anything but competing.

AJ: When I think about 2017, I feel like it was just another year. It was a whirlwind, but I wouldn't have wanted it to play out any other way. I'm glad I was in New York. There's nowhere else I would rather play, and there's no other group of teammates that I would rather be around. We really had a good time together. Being around veteran leaders such as CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner really helped me. It was my first full season in the Big Leagues, and that was exciting. This is all I ever wanted to do, so I feel great about having established myself as a r, but I know that there is a lot of work ahead.

There's only one 2017 National League MVP and one 2017 American League Rookie of the Year. What does it mean to have won those respective awards?

AJ: For me, I look at it as a team award. I would never have been in a position to put up the numbers I did if I didn't have teammates on base, and if I didn't have my teammates always pushing me. I was put in a good position.

GS: It's truly amazing. When I was with the Marlins, I was always impressed when Andre Dawson or Barry Bonds would sign baseballs and inscribe "MVP" on them. Knowing that I can do that now is cool. The way that those guys would talk to me about how they thought I could achieve some of the things that they did really meant a lot. Being in the same company as a fellow league MVP is something that I will cherish forever. The thought of it really brings me back to being a kid, when I dreamed about things like that.

What does each of you think about what the other one accomplished last season?

GS: With the way pitchers in this league adjust to hitters, Aaron was very advanced mentally for a rookie. A lot of players have enough talent to hit 50 home runs, but it's much more difficult to stay mentally strong for an entire season and to continually make the adjustments you need to make. His talent speaks for itself, but his intelligence and willpower are what stood out to me.

AJ: He was impressive. Not too many people can do what Giancarlo did. Not only did he put up a good average and hit a lot of home runs, but he also knocked in runs, scored runs and played great defense. He put together the complete season.

Neither of you has reached the World Series yet. How much does the recent past intensify your desire to win a championship?

GS: I really want to know what it feels like to play in October. But I think every player on this team is just as hungry as I am. These guys got a taste of the postseason last year. They were in the driver's seat to get to the World Series, and it didn't happen for them. I've never even had that kind of opportunity, but it's something that I want to experience.

AJ: I'm done thinking about last season. Our goal this year is to win a championship. For us, it's just about preparing the right way and getting better each day. If we do that, we will look up in October and be right where we want to be.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton