TAMPA — Turns out Aaron Judge can be one heck of a closer, too.
For about 18 minutes Tuesday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees slugger, addressing the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal for the first time, spoke eloquently, passionately, honestly. He shared his personal anguish as well as concern for his industry. He criticized heavily without hitting below the belt.
And is that a wrap? Have all of the impacted high-profile people checked in now? Major League Baseball sure should hope so. Judge, whom the currently beleaguered commissioner Rob Manfred once hailed as “the kind of player that can become the face of the game,” struck the perfect balance of indignation and the understanding of the imperative to go forward. Maybe, just maybe, the game can use Judge’s address to pivot away — very slowly, no doubt — from the belly of this beast.
“It’s tough to say when everyone’s going to move on from this,” said Judge, who by the way is battling right shoulder soreness. “But I think … everyone talking about it and getting it off their chests is probably the biggest thing. Guys talking about it, getting it off, getting their frustration out of the way, is a start. And all you can do is just go from there, I guess.”
Boy, Judge’s chest must have been carrying more weight than an 18-wheeler. Speaking with an even tone and at a moderate volume, he addressed at length the pain he felt as this past baseball winter unfolded, first with The Athletic’s November story on the Astros’ scheme and then when Manfred released his report in January. How Hot Stove updates on TV took a backseat to sign-stealing updates, and what prompted him to delete his November 2017 Instagram post congratulating Jose Altuve for his American League Most Valuable Player award.
“Just sick to my stomach” is how Judge described his initial reaction to Mike Fiers’ on-the-record allegations, which sparked him to scrub his social media: “[T]o find out that it wasn’t earned, they cheated — that didn’t sit well with me, and I just didn’t feel like the post that I did really meant the same anymore.”
He expressed his disappointment over the lack of penalties for Astros players and, when asked whether Houston should lose its ’17 title, Judge described that championship as “not earned.” Most impressively, arguably, he offered his take on why so many players, including himself, remain so profoundly angry.
“If I have a bad game and I mess up, I’m gonna stand in front of the mic and say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I messed up, I did this and that, and it’s on me,’ ” Judge said. “And not to really hear that from some of the players, I think, bothered the baseball community, bothered a lot of guys. … [To] really not seem like it’s any remorse, I guess, is what a lot of people were upset about.”
We’ve seen a slower-than-Jamie-Moyer trail of VIP opponents sitting in front of microphones offering their takes on this. First came the executives, then the managers, then the pitchers and catchers, then the other position players. Judge took this long because the Yankees opened camp a day later than some other clubs and because the team’s complex here is structured so that infielders and outfielders work out on the minor league side, largely out of sight, until the full squad convenes.
To be clear, this saga stands as far from over. Players Association executive director Tony Clark still has to speak, and as soon as next week we’ll see the fruits of Manfred’s investigation into the 2018 Red Sox. Yet with a full schedule of games set for Saturday, could Judge have wrapped up this chapter of sheer rage with dignity and sincerity?
“Yeah, I could sit up here and lie to you and say forget about it and move on, but it’s always going to be in the back of your head a little bit,” Judge said. “… But at some point, we’re going to move on, we’re going to move forward and continue to grow this game. That’s what I care about, is growing this game.”
Judge did his small part on Tuesday. Can others follow his lead?