Joe Torre is in the Hall of Fame because of his playoff success as the manager of the New York Yankees. If there's anyone who knows what it takes to succeed on the biggest stage in the Bronx, it's the man who owns four Yankees championship rings.
When Torre has watched Aaron Judge this season, he has seen that special quality that champions possess. The way Judge goes about his business gives Torre an inkling the rookie might have the ability to carry his regular-season success into the postseason.
“You watch him run around the bases when he hits a home run, there is no fanfare,” Torre said. “He is all business. He is a nice kid. He is in front and center. He has struck out a couple of hundred times or close to it, whatever the hell it is, and he never makes excuses.”
Current Yankees manager Joe Girardi first connected Judge’s attitude to Derek Jeter's. Girardi also said this young group -- led by Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and the rest -- could have more talent than Jeter and what would become the Core Four.
“I can see that,” Torre said.
What Torre thinks allowed Jeter to perform so well when it mattered most was his ability to keep his mindset the same in October as it was in April. Judge might not have Jeter’s résumé, but he has his mindset. His attitude is unflappable -- partly due to what was on his television when he was a kid in California.
“Growing up, I liked watching the Yankees on TV,” said the 25-year-old Judge, who was 4 when Torre and Jeter won their first ring in 1996. “They were so dominant. They knew they were going to beat the team by a lot of runs. They went out and took care of business and did. That’s your job. It wasn’t a surprise for them to be in the playoffs. ‘We are supposed to be here. That’s where we live.’ It was just fun to watch.”
Overall, the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge is hitting .277 with a league-leading 45 homers -- making him only the seventh Yankee in history to hit that many round-trippers in one season (the others: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez). But Judge has not been great in clutch situations. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he has hit just .219 in 62 at-bats this season. His OPS in those situations is a very respectable, but not MVP-caliber, .878.
In late and close situations, Judge has been worse. In those at-bats, defined by Baseball-Reference.com as a plate appearance in the seventh inning or later with your team tied, ahead by one or with a tying run in the on-deck circle, he has hit just .215 with a .760 OPS in 100 plate appearances.
Those stats may not predict the future. October legends are built on just a few swings, so a couple of well-timed long balls could push the Yankees forward and move the Judge-Jeter comparisons even closer.
“It is still the same game,” Judge said. “You take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one pitch at a time, like our team has done all year. We are successful when we take it one pitch at a time and we are 100 percent locked in on this pitch on defense and then on offense. If we do that and keep having championship at-bats, good things will happen.”
Judge has already been the center of the baseball world. During the All-Star Weekend, he was anointed as the next face of baseball as he won the Home Run Derby. Torre saw how Judge handled the moment. Judge did not try to do too much, which can take a player out of his game.
“He stayed within himself,” Torre said.
Judge didn’t try to pull everything to hit some mammoth home runs, Torre noticed. He went the other way at times, and the results came. It showed a maturity for the moment that could translate to the postseason.
The biggest game Judge said he has ever played was his debut in 2016. He homered in his first at-bat, but he didn’t hide the fact that he had a lot going on in his head. He doesn’t try to play it too cool.
“I had every emotion in the book going into that game,” Judge said. “I can't really pick one emotion, nerves, excited. It was a combination of everything.”
The postseason will likely bring out all those feelings. Judge has the mindset to corral them. The results? Well, that's what he'll be graded on.