Before he started mashing taters at a record pace this season, young slugger Aaron Judge came to the Yankees in 2016 with traits that already were iconic. In addition to his pedigree as a prospect, Judge’s 6-foot-7, 282-pound frame makes him the largest player, by mass, in Major League Baseball history. He also wears uniform no. 99, in part because finding a number that the Yankees haven’t retired, are about to retire, or already weren’t using is tough. That means nixing no. 44 (Reggie Jackson), no. 7 (Mickey Mantle), or even no. 35 (Michael Pineda).
Pausing from game prep recently, Judge took a few moments with David Brown to talk about the numbers game, what it’s like living in Times Square, and being big in the Big Apple.
Baseball Prospectus: You wear the highest uniform number in baseball history, 99: Would you go higher if MLB allowed triple digits, and what would you pick?
Aaron Judge: I’d still probably go with whatever number they gave me. Just like I did when the Yankees gave me 99 and I stuck with it. Nah, I’d stay right where I am. I liked 44, it was one of my favorite numbers, 35 is too, and 7. I liked 35 because my dad wore it when he played basketball. That’s what I wore when I played travel ball as a kid. Obviously I can’t have any of those. But they gave me 99 and who is going to turn down a uniform from the Yankees, you know?
BP: What kind of judge would you be if you had a TV show where you were a judge? Are you a hanging judge?
AJ: I’d be fair, I’d be lenient. I hope I’d be a good judge. I’m big on second chances. I like that.
BP: Can you really bench press 400 pounds like you implied on TV?
AJ: I think so. The most I’ve gotten up to is 367, but if you give me some time, I could do it. I think I could get there. A couple of more workouts, give me a year to prepare and it’ll be true.
BP: How about 500 pounds?
AJ: Haha, yeah. Definitely need a little more time.
BP: Do you frequently go unrecognized by people on the streets of New York?
AJ: Some people recognize me but New York is busy, they got places to go. So it’s usually just like, “Hey, how you doing?” Or, “Hey, what’s going on?” And everybody just keeps on going.
BP: I used to have freckles on my face like I still do on my arms. Do you like your freckles? Do they hold special powers?
AJ: Of course! It’s how I am, part of how I was born. But do they hold special powers? Maybe, but mine can’t disappear.
BP: What’s Brett Gardner like as a roommate and landlord?
AJ: Haha, “A roommate and a landlord,” that’s great. The times I’ve stayed with him, he’s been great. We’d hang out, he beats my butt at ping pong. He’s a great man.
BP: Did you have any chores, as a boarder?
AJ: Nah, I was only there for a few days, like two nights, so he didn’t have me do anything like that. It was just something where we had a homestand and his family left for the last two days. So he was like, come hang out for a couple of days and see what life outside of the city is like.
BP: Sports Illustrated reported that you lived in a hotel in Times Square carrying everything with you in “two suitcases”? How is that possible with what must be such big clothes?
AJ: And big shoes (size 17). It’s tough, but I tried to pack as light as I could, coming from Tampa. I figured, if you’re missing anything, you could always go back and get it when we played Tampa. Basically one suitcase is kind of shoes, and the other is tightly folded shirts and pants. I don’t shop a lot for clothes; I usually knock most of that out in the offseason and pick my favorites for the year.
BP: Being big and tall, which is harder for you when it comes to buying clothes?
AJ: Tall. Even some of the 3X shirts I get, they’re a little more wide for me than I need.
BP: Does CC Sabathia (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) give you any good tips on how to handle yourself as a big-and-tall MLB ballplayer?
AJ: I haven’t had a talk with him about that sort of thing, but if I need any he’d be a go-to guy, him and Dellin Betances (6-foot-8, 255 pounds) for sure.
BP: They say you are so into your life and craft as a major leaguer that you don’t know what day of the week it is. So, what day of the week is it?
AJ: (Tries to cheat by looking at lineup screen, but it’s of no help). Dang it! This is a thing I struggle with. I got no clue.
BP: It’s Wednesday.
AJ: I was gonna say Tuesday for some reason.
BP: Well, it’s the second game of the series, so. … I've read the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium says “All rise” when you come to bat, and people wear robes and wigs. Do you think fans should stand and remove their caps when you come to bat?
AJ: Do they? I’m just so focused on what I’ve got to do at the plate. That's funny, though. People have got to let me know though if it happens again.
BP: Could you have played pro football? Would you be a wide receiver or pass-rushing defensive end in football?
AJ: Professional football. Ah, you know what? I don’t know. It’s a tough sport, a very demanding sport. Like baseball is, in a different way. If I had put some work into it out of high school, maybe I would have went to college and played football. But I kind of think I’m made for baseball.
BP: Is your older brother, John, also your size?
AJ: No, he’s something like 5-foot-9, or maybe 5-10. I got him by a lot.
BP: So were you guys from the same birth parents?
AJ: No, we weren't. My mom and dad adopted us from different parents.
BP: You have any interest in meeting your biological parents?
AJ: Mmm, no. Because they’re not really my parents, know what I’m saying? So, I don’t.
BP: Have you visited the Negro Leagues Museum while here in Kansas City?
AJ: No, I haven’t gotten a chance. But I do have some family and friends here and we were talking about going there tomorrow, maybe checking it out. Just learning the history would be interesting. It’s something, I think, that every baseball player should do. To see what it was like for those players.
BP: As a mixed-race person, does visiting the museum mean something particularly personal?
AJ: It does. My ethnicity, it’s just who I am. I’m black, I’m white. Even this shirt I wear everyday, Jackie Robinson. I know I wouldn’t be here playing this sport if it wasn’t for him and the sacrifices he made, and all of the stuff he went through. I’m sure you’ve seen a slice of that in the “42” movie. That doesn’t even come close to what he and others went through. It’s important to me; my heritage, my background, everything.