The Runner Sports

Why The MLB Needs Aaron Judge To Continue Rookie Success

The MLB has a problem on its hand right now. Out of the four major American sports, it currently ranks as the third most popular. Falling behind the NFL and NBA, MLB has struggled in the twenty-first century since the Mitchell Report uncovered the truth about steroids in baseball. In recent years, problems about pace of play and lack of national appeal seem to be the only times that the major television networks pay attention to the sport. On shows such as ESPN’s First Take, baseball seems to be a taboo topic while shorter debate shows (such as Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption) normally dedicate a single three-minute segment to the entire sport. While the MLB has seen growing gate receipts every season since 2009, the sport struggles to connect past its local markets. This is where Aaron Judge can be helpful.

Profits in the MLB continue to rise despite the gloom that national coverage tells you. However, most of the MLB’s success comes from the local markets. The problem is the lack of interest from a national audience. Look at the World Series for a prime example of this. Without last year’s World Series, the World Series has not averaged 20 million viewers per game since 2004. In comparison, the NBA Finals have averaged 20 million viewers each of the past three seasons. Popularity in the NBA is increasing while the MLB needed a literal once in a lifetime event to draw 20 million viewers. What is the problem? Lack of stars.

Lack of a Face

Both the MLB and NHL have a similar problem. Compared to the NFL and NBA, they have no national icons in their sports. While the NFL and NBA have the names like Tom Brady, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Aaron Rodgers, the MLB has nothing to match that at the moment. The best player in the MLB is Mike Trout. If he was playing in the 1990s, his face would be slapped all across the country. However, he is forgotten about by non-MLB fans. The perfect five-tool player has no national brand on the level of the other greatest sports stars.

Bryce Harper is closer to holding the face of the MLB despite not having as much success as Trout. While Trout is the better player, Harper is on a yearly contending team and demonstrates flashes of a popular personality. Even then, Harper does not even sniff the same national status as the NBA’s tenth biggest star. While Trout and Harper can (and should) be national stars, the emergence of Aaron Judge in the Bronx brings the best chance at creating a star since Derek Jeter.

Aaron Judge’s Dominance of the Home Run Derby

On Monday, Aaron Judge dominated the MLB Home Run Derby. With declining interest in glorified batting practice, the MLB has attempted to spice up the Home Run Derby. Last season, slugger Giancarlo Stanton put on a display of power in San Diego. Smacking 61 home runs, interest seemed to return with a new tournament, time-limited format. Replacing the ten out format, the four-minute time limit brought some freshness to the derby. This season, all MLB eyes were going to be locked on Miami when Aaron Judge announced his intention to compete in the Home Run Derby.

Oh boy, did Judge not disappoint. After Justin Bour of the Miami Marlins hit 22 home runs to open the head-to-head battle between him and Judge, there was slight fear that Judge would not make it out of the first round. Then he calmly hit 23 home runs (should have been 24 but he hit the roof) to advance. Judge proceeded to hit 23 more home runs to capture the crown. He hit 11 home runs in the final round with two minutes left.

Dominance Led to Ratings

To say that Aaron Judge deserves all the credit for the rating spike would be unfair to the other competitors. Every round match-up saw competitiveness between the two hitters. Other than the Judge/Bellinger and final rounds, every round needed the second slugger going to extra time to surpass the first. This competitive derby saw the highest Home Run Derby TV rating (5.5) since 2009. It brought in the second most viewers since 1999 (8.689 million), only trailing 2008 when Josh Hamilton put on a show at the old Yankee Stadium.

Despite the competition being good, Judge’s dominance was something to behold. The Yankees’ outfielder was hitting home runs all over the ballpark. Sometimes, Judge would miss the barrel and still hit the ball almost 440 feet. Most derby competitors only pull balls out with the occasional ball to center. Meanwhile, Aaron Judge’s spray chart went from pole to pole. A player with that kind of power to all fields can be attractive to a national market.

Chicks Dig the Long Ball

Home runs have always been a selling point for the MLB. Why were the late 90s/early 2000s so successful? Historic home run seasons. Now clouded in the Steroid Era, the days of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds chasing the single season home run record brought in numbers. This is part of the reason why strikeouts are so acceptable now. Part of it is analytics (which I have strong opinions toward), but another part is the fact that more home runs means more highlights. More highlights means more time on SportsCenter. While managers of teams are not actively thinking about this while coaching their players, the business men of baseball have to be loving this.

Aaron Judge could be a home run king if his career pans out correctly. While there might be better skilled players than Judge, who is getting the mainstream attention more than him? Goliath home runs on a weekly basis help put him in the limelight. His power will be the main factor of on-field greatness that will make him the face of the league.

The New York Market

Perhaps the biggest thing against Mike Trout being a national face of sports is the fact he plays in the lesser of the Los Angeles teams. The Los Angeles Angels are not a main market team, despite being billed from LA. Ship Trout over to the Dodgers, then he would easily be the face of the MLB. However, that is not the case. Meanwhile, Judge is in the ideal place to become a superstar. Despite the hatred the Yankees receive, they are a team that fans pay attention to when they are good. In baseball, it is the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers are the teams who can transcend the game on a massive level.

If Judge was playing for a small market (such as the Marlins), his impact this season would not be felt as much. Being a Yankee has helped his national appeal. For proof, look at the Home Run Derby. Last year, Stanton hit 14 more home runs than Judge did this year. However, this season’s derby had an 83% increase in viewership. Stanton is know for his power, but his small market status did not draw as much as this year. Part of this year’s selling point was the potential matchup between Stanton and Judge. However, TV viewers stuck around even after Stanton was eliminated.

The Derek Jeter Comparison

For some non-MLB fans, Derek Jeter is still the face most attached to the game of baseball. Jeter retired back in 2014, yet he still has an aura of importance around the game. His current bid for the Miami Marlins is one of the most intriguing off-field MLB stories. Sometimes, Jeter clouds over the Yankee organization itself during the team’s latest run of mediocrity. With Aaron Judge leading the new movement, he is the face of the Yankees at the moment.

His current status as one of the most popular figures of the game as a New York Yankee creates a link to Derek Jeter. Judge even looks like a much larger version of the former captain. Can he be the next Jeter though? It heavily depends on the Yankees’ team success. Even with the New York market and his clutch aura, Jeter depended on the success of the late 90s Yankees team. If the Yankees did not win multiple World Series championships, then he would not have been a national sports icon. Judge will need that same success. He will also have to have clutch moments, such as Jeter’s 2000 World Series performance and the famous flip against Oakland. If Judge hits a towering go ahead or walk-off home run in the playoffs, that will help him solidify himself as the face of the game.

Can Aaron Judge be the Face of the MLB?

According to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, he is a player “who can become the face of the game.” The commissioner is correct; Aaron Judge can become the next face of the MLB. Obviously, this is under the assumption that Judge can keep up his current production. Even if it is not as elite as this first half, Judge can be the most recognizable face of the MLB with good numbers. What separates him from other power hitters such as Stanton is the other tangibles. Judge is not only a powerhouse, he is an all-around player. He currently ranks in the top three of each of the Triple Crown categories (.329 BA, 30 home runs, 66 RBIs). He is on his way to being the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year.

Plus, Judge has great defensive skills as well as speed. For a man who weighs 282 pounds, Judge has wheels. Meanwhile, his defense ranks him as one of the best in the AL. He leads the AL in outfield double plays and fourth in Total Zone Runs (for right fielders). Also, he has the best right field fielding percentage.

Does this make him a better player than Mike Trout? Absolutely not. If Mike Trout stayed healthy this season, he would probably be the front-runner for the MVP. However, being the face of the MLB does not mean that player is the best player. Derek Jeter was never the best shortstop in the game, not to mention overall player. He never won an AL MVP. But, the right combination of market, postseason success, and personality made him the face. Judge has the right market and personality (it appears), but his personal and team success will be the determining factor.

Judge’s Success Will Lead to More Viewers

If Aaron Judge is able to piece together a great career in New York, then this will help the MLB on a national level. There is a sense of wonder to Judge. A man who stands 6’7″ and weighs 282 playing baseball is something the game has never seen before. There have been other tall (Randy Johnson) and big (Frank Thomas) players in the game, but not quite the same combination as this. His size is an immediate draw. But the ability to hit for average while being that big is where the real intrigue lies. One can believe that an NFL tight end sized man can hit 500 foot home runs. However, it is almost unbelievable to see him be among the league leaders in batting average.

People will watch games, highlights, and other media appearances that Judge is featured in. His Tonight Show appearance from a month ago sits at 878,000 views on YouTube. As a comparison, three Derek Jeter videos from a month ago have a combined 764,000 views. In terms of athletes appearing on the Tonight Show, Judge has been one of the most successful (according to YouTube views) in recent times. That is more eyes looking at a MLB player. It creates intrigue for the player, which could lead to people watching more MLB if only to watch Judge play.

Important Factor to This…

What may be the most important factor to as to why Aaron Judge will be great as MLB’s face is the fact that he chose baseball. A three-sport star in high school, Judge’s size and athletic ability could have saw him be successful in either baseball, basketball, or football. In high school, he had offers to play tight end for Norte Dame, Stanford, and UCLA. Rather than go play football at prominent universities, Judge chose to play at Fresno State for baseball. Playing football at Norte Dame is a dream for countless football players across the country. Instead, Judge decided to play baseball for a mid-major conference school.

If Judge becomes a prominent player in the sports world, a footnote about his career could be that he chose baseball over football and basketball. A man who is an inch taller and weighs almost 20 pounds more than Rob Gronkowski chose to play a “dying” sport over the national powerhouse known as football. While nothing is certain, it is not hard to imagine Judge being able to have success in the NFL. Rather than pursuing that option, Judge played the sport that he loved. That is something that the MLB could run with.

Griffin Fuller
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Griffin Fuller

Former Division 1 pitcher at Stetson University with an immense passion for the game of baseball. Grew up playing baseball from the age of 3. Student of the game of baseball in every aspect.Located out of Debary, Florida.
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Griffin Fuller
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