By Jason Keidel
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After observing the cultural parade float that Aaron Judge has become, adored by men, women, and children like few we’ve ever seen, even in New York City, I’ve decided that the Yankees’ rookie sensation should retire.
Absurd? Indeed. Obscene? Sure. But consider what life is like right now for Judge, an enchanted moment of his career when stardom is pristine, when the whole world marvels at once, sans a single bad word about the kid. And that it will never get better.
Judge has reached an orbit that’s even too high for most celebrities. Even folks who don’t care for baseball — and really don’t care for the Yankees — are punching their remotes to see his next space-age homer. He’s entered a realm of crossover appeal that’s so rare that some of sport’s most transcendent names are being whispered with Judge. Like Tiger Woods. Like Michael Jordan. None other than our beloved A-Rod recently compared Judge athletically to LeBron James. It’s a silly comparison in terms of performance. But in terms of glittering name recognition, it’s not far off.
Judge will hit more homers — many more, in fact — and get better in the batter’s box. Heck, he may even win a Triple Crown, or two. And surely he will make a lot more money than his current salary of $544,000. By the time he reaches free agency in 2023, he will be making that per week.
But life won’t be any more exciting or wondrous. Not only is he a divine talent, but at age 25 he’s got the universal sense that we all had at that age, that this is just the beginning, that there are no such thing as bad days, that life is a gold-plated path to infinite wealth and wisdom. And as anyone with a television can see, he’s got a disarming innocence that only exists when you first knock on fame’s door.
But before you pound your laptop or smartphone and tweet endless insults this way, I admit it’s bizarre to suggest Judge should leave the sport that’s about to make him rich and famous beyond the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent. Yet I say with equal fervor that he will never enjoy life more than he has in this summer of love.
It won’t take that long for Judge’s star to crash, dim, or burn when it passes into our atmosphere. In six or eight months, pitchers will surely find holes in his swing, and surely the media will find flaws in his character. What if he drops his first fly ball with a man on third? Or he strikes out with the bases loaded in the ALCS? Or if God forbid, he flips his first bird at TMZ or gets into his first barroom spat?
We can look back on these days, when the world saw him as simply as a young man having fun, breaking ground, and breaking records. When the day comes, and it will, when he first refuses to answer a question, or speak to the media, or flings his helmet and charges the mound, dumps that poor girl who never saw it coming, or is forced to explain those unflattering pictures of him in some form of disrobe.
Whatever that dynamic is that we’ve distilled to the term “hating” will soon surface and attack or devour the young, wildly gifted outfielder. We want our heroes happy, up to a point. Then we break them down. Then we cheer them during the comeback. If we can find issues with Tim Tebow, we’ll find some dirt on Aaron Judge.
Not too long ago, Matt Harvey wore the crown. Even had his own handle, the “Dark Knight of Gotham.” Now, Harvey is some broken shell of his former eminence and dominance. The very supermodels he so proudly wore on his arm to Knicks games are now discarding him with frigid indifference. He’s not cool anymore. And cool is everything.
For now, Aaron Judge is scalding on the diamond and culturally cool, an impossible hybrid felt by very few. The media, masses, and physicists all attend his plate appearances with acute focus, taking tape measures, radar guns, and surreal projections with us. This homer traveled 500 feet. That homer flew out 50 feet above ground. Another homer dented a steel gate. His last bomb bounced off the moon.
It’s that kind of hope and hyperbole that Judge brings to the batter’s box every night, the kind of stuff we saw (or at least read about) with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle — a palpable sense of wonder, romance, and the unknown. Roy Hobbs has nothing on this kid.
For right now, Aaron Judge is perfect. But eventually he won’t be. And we’ll be there to pounce when it happens.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel