Yankees name Judge 16th captain: 'An incredible honor'

December 21st, 2022

NEW YORK -- It was about thirty minutes before Aaron Judge was to be introduced as the 16th captain in Yankees history, and the slugger was ushered to an office on Yankee Stadium’s suite level for the formal signing of his nine-year, $360 million contract, finding a chair at the desk once used by principal owner George M. Steinbrenner.

Judge fidgeted with the pen in his right hand as he scanned the legalese, and the room fell into an awkward hush. Judge noticed, remarking, “Wow, it’s really quiet.” Seated to Judge’s right, general manager Brian Cashman replied, “Yeah, it’s like one of your at-bats,” referring to Judge’s chase to break Roger Maris’ single-season American League home run record.

That broke the ice, and in the time it took for one of Judge’s 62 blasts to leave the ballpark this past season, the paperwork was complete. Now Judge will turn his attention to the challenges and demands of the new contract, including his duties as the club’s leader, one tasked with delivering the 28th World Series championship in franchise history.

“It means a lot to me, because coming up through the Yankees organization, this is all I’ve known,” Judge said. “My blood, sweat and tears have gone into one thing, which is to play for this team and play for this city and these fans. Knowing that I get to continue to do that and do it in one city, words can’t really describe it. It’s such an incredible feeling.”

99 days before the Yankees are set to open the regular season, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner announced that Judge will serve as the club’s captain, a role that had remained vacant since Derek Jeter’s 2014 retirement. Jeter was on hand for Wednesday’s press conference at Yankee Stadium, as was Willie Randolph, who served as a Bombers co-captain from 1986-88.

“I looked back at the list -- Thurman Munson, Lou Gehrig, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly,” Judge said. “That’s a pretty good list right there, not only great baseball players, but great ambassadors of the game and of the New York Yankees. This is an incredible honor that I don’t take lightly.”

Jeter, who first met Judge in 2015 at the club’s appropriately named "Captain’s Camp" in Tampa, Fla., said that he expects Judge to continue acting in the same fashion that warranted the captainship.

“I don’t really look at it as a new role,” Jeter said. “Going off my own experience, when The Boss called me, he said, ‘Don’t change anything.’ It’s not like you flip a switch and have to be someone else because you’ve been given this title. I would assume he’s handled himself as a captain up until this point.”

Judge said that Steinbrenner first mentioned the possibility of transferring the captainship during an international phone call between the two, during which Steinbrenner offered a ninth year to push negotiations across the finish line. It was the early morning in California as Judge listened, Steinbrenner’s words bouncing through space from a highway rest area somewhere in Italy.

“The last month, it was difficult to imagine the New York Yankees without Aaron,” Steinbrenner said. “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. As far as I’m concerned, you are a Yankee, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that remains the same.’”

Judge was flattered, saying he was “kind of lost for words,” adding, “I don’t think I said anything; it felt like five minutes, but it was probably only a couple of seconds. I was just pretty taken aback because that’s such an incredible honor.”

A product of Linden, Calif., Judge received significant interest from the Giants, and the Padres also jumped in late in the negotiations. Judge visited both San Francisco and San Diego, coming away impressed with the operations of both franchises.

Ultimately, like on the hooded sweatshirt he wore late in his chase to eclipse Maris, Judge and his wife, Samantha, had decided it should be “New York or nowhere.”

“Going through it helped me come to a better answer and a clearer answer,” Judge said. “Ultimately, it gave me a clear answer that I belong here in pinstripes.”

Now Judge will focus on bringing the Yankees their first championship since 2009 and cementing his legacy as one of the franchise’s all-time greats -- one likely destined to land in Monument Park, and perhaps Cooperstown as well.

Judge has enjoyed considerable regular-season success during his time with the club, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2017 and the AL MVP Award this year after setting an AL record with 62 homers. But he has yet to appear in a World Series, and for Judge, there was no better place to experience that than the Bronx.

“There’s a lot of unfinished business here in New York,” Judge said. “I’m looking forward to finishing that business and trying to leave a legacy here for the next group of guys coming behind me.”