NEW YORK (AP)Aaron Judge stood for photo after photo as if at a wedding. And in a way it was: He had gotten hitched to the New York Yankees for the rest of his baseball life.
Judge posed with his wife, parents, Yankees management, agents and even Derek Jeter and Willie Randolph, and discussed his $360 million, nine-year contract and owner Hal Steinbrenner’s decision to appoint him the team’s 16th captain – the first since Jeter retired.
”It’s family. The fans are family,” Judge said, thinking about joining Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Jeter and Mariano Rivera as Yankees lifers. ”Just getting this chance to build this relationship with everybody, that’s what I’m all about.”
Judge was at his parents’ home in California when the deal fell into place early Dec. 7. With San Francisco and San Diego also pursuing Judge, Steinbrenner interrupted a vacation in Italy to text the slugger.
”I don’t know why. I just felt like something wasn’t going right,” Steinbrenner said.
About three hours later, Steinbrenner pulled over at a rest area on a highway between Milan and the French border to speak with Judge at about 3 a.m. PST.
”He shot me a message earlier about, `What’s the holdup? What’s it going to take to get this to the finish line?”’ Judge said.
During a 20-minute call, Steinbrenner increased New York’s offer to nine years.
”What’s important to your parents, to your wife and to you?” Steinbrenner recalled asking. ”It was apparent to me that the ninth year was very important to him, that he felt like he could be very productive for at least that.”
Steinbrenner increased New York’s offer from an eight-year deal to a nine-year agreement.
Just before opening day, Judge had turned down the Yankees’ offer of $213.5 million over seven years through 2029. Steinbrenner called Judge on Oct. 24 – the day after Houston eliminated the Yankees in the AL playoffs – to jumpstart talks, and invited the outfielder to his home in Tampa, Florida.
”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, you are a Yankee, and we need to do everything we can to ensure that remains the same,”’ Steinbrenner said.
Judge, the reigning American League MVP after setting an AL record with 62 homers, gets $40 million annually, a full no-trade provision and a hotel suite on road trips.
”I get a chance to continue something the Yankees are so big on, which is legacy,” he said. ”I get a chance to continue my legacy here in pinstripes, the best city in the world, the best baseball city, in front of the best fans.”
New York also finalized a $162 million, six-year deal with left-hander Carlos Rodon and an $11.5 million, two-year contract with right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle.
New York had six previous captains in the Steinbrenner family era: Thurman Munson (1976-79), Graig Nettles (1982-84), Randolph (1986-88), Ron Guidry (1986-89), Don Mattingly (1991-95) and Jeter (2003-14).
”Not only great baseball players, but great ambassadors of the game and great ambassadors of the New York Yankees,” Judge said. ”How they pride themselves on the field, day in and day out, how they take pride in what they do off the field and represent this organization and represent these pinstripes. This is an incredible honor I don’t take lightly.”
Judge sat on a dais at Yankee Stadium between his wife, Samantha, and Steinbrenner. Flanking them were Jeter; Judge’s agent, Page Odle; Yankees president Randy Levine; general manager Brian Cashman; manager Aaron Boone and chief operating officer Lonn Trost.
”He’s sort of been our captain and certainly developing into that over the last several seasons,” Boone said.
Judge homered in his first big league at-bat in 2016, and the 6-foot-7 outfielder has become a larger-than-life figure in the Bronx. He was voted AL Rookie of the Year in 2017 and helped New York reach the playoffs in each of the last six seasons. A four-time All-Star, Judge hit .311 this year and tied for the major league lead with 131 RBIs.
Steinbrenner held off discussing the captaincy until after a deal was in place, saying ”it’s too noble of a thing.”
Earlier Yankees captains included Clark Griffith (1903-05), Kid Elberfeld (1906-08), Willie Keeler (1909), Hal Chase (1910-11), Frank Chance (1913 to midseason), Rollie Zelder (1913 midseason until end), Roger Peckinpaugh (1914-21), Babe Ruth (1922) and Gehrig (1935-39).
”Yankee fans are big on history and tradition,” Jeter said. ”It’s not a title that’s thrown around too lightly.”
Judge smiled when asked whether he seriously considered leaving New York.
”I got a chance to sit down with my wife and talk about a couple of things,” he said. ”We both kind of came to the decision that was in our heart, which was we belong in New York, we belong in the city. And there’s a lot of unfinished business here in New York. And I’m looking forward to finishing that business, and try to leave a legacy here for the next group of guys coming behind me.”
Now Judge and Steinbrenner will turn their focus to overtaking the Astros.
”They’ve got a great team and clearly they’ve outplayed us postseason after postseason,” Steinbrenner said. ”That can change.”
NOTES: Rodon gets a $5 million signing bonus payable within 30 days of approval by MLB, a $22 million salary next year and $27 million in each remaining season. Kahnle, who pitched for the Yankees from 2017-20, gets $5.75 million annually.
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