Aaron Judge etched a permanent spot in the memories of baseball fans when he set the American League single-season home run record and chased a Triple Crown down the stretch for the New York Yankees. Now, he has a final accolade to top his historic 2022.
The slugger was crowned AL Most Valuable Player on Thursday night, beating out Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels and Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros. He is the first Yankees outfielder to win the award since Mickey Mantle in 1962.
Judge received 28 first-place votes and 410 points, besting Ohtani (280) by 130 points. Ohtani was the only other player to receive first-place votes, with two. Alvarez had 232 points to finish third.
"It's tough to put in words," Judge said on MLB Network. "It's an incredible moment. A lot of hard work to get to this."
Judge said he felt extremely nervous leading up to the announcement.
"You never want to assume anything," he said.
Judge led the AL in a host of offensive categories, including home runs (62), RBIs (131), slugging percentage (.686), on-base percentage (.425), OPS+ (211) and total bases (391). He previously finished as a runner-up for AL MVP in 2017, when he was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman released a statement after the announcement congratulating Judge.
"Aaron's success was especially meaningful for our organization as we've been able to watch him grow throughout his professional career into the player and leader he has become -- an offensive force in the batter's box, a run preventer wherever we've put him on the field and someone who sets the tone in the clubhouse with his relentless commitment to winning," Cashman said. "He has been our MVP for quite some time now."
Judge became just the fourth major leaguer to hit 62 homers in a single season, joining Barry Bonds (73 in 2001), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998, 65 in 1999) and Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 63 in 1999). His .311 average fell five points shy of Minnesota Twins infielder Luis Arraez for the batting title, which would have completed the Triple Crown.
"I'm grateful that I got to witness it first-hand and share in his magical year, especially given how much I respect I have for him as a player and as a person," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said in a statement. "I hope he can reflect on his extraordinary individual accomplishments and the impact he had on his teammates every single day and use them as fuel for continued excellence in the years to come."
The MVP honor caps a season that started with tumult around contract negotiations with the Yankees as he entered the final year of his deal. Judge set a self-imposed deadline of Opening Day to negotiate a potential extension, but the sides failed to come to an agreement. Cashman then took an unusual step in publicly revealing the terms of the contract the team offered Judge -- an eight-year, $230.5 million extension. Judge turned down the offer, expecting greater things if he hit the free agent market after this season.
Asked about free agency, Judge said his top priority is winning.
"For me, I want to win," Judge said. "I've come pretty close with the Yankees. ... My ultimate, most important thing is I want to be on a team with a winning culture and a commitment to winning. First and foremost, it's a winning culture and a winning future."
The season started relatively slowly for Judge, as he hit six homers in 75 at-bats in April. But once the calendar turned to May, Judge took off. The outfielder hit 12 homers that month, 11 in June, 13 in July, nine in August and 10 in September before hitting No. 62 on the final day of the regular season in October.
Judge's consistency from month to month served as the backbone for a New York offense that at points struggled to stay healthy and produce around him. By the end of the season, it ranked second behind the Los Angeles Dodgers with 807 runs.
As Judge approached Roger Maris' AL record of 61 homers, each of his at-bats became an event. At games both at Yankee Stadium and on the road, fans stood up every time he stepped into the batter's box and remained standing for every pitch. Members of the Yankees jostled for spots on the top step of the dugout to watch their teammate potentially make history.
Judge hit the record-tying 61st home run on Sept. 28, taking Toronto Blue Jays reliever Tim Mayza deep in the seventh inning in game No. 155 for the Yankees. The history-making homer ended a seven-game home run drought.
While Judge put together a regular season for the record book, he came up short during the postseason, hitting his worst stretch of the season as the Yankees played the Cleveland Guardians in the AL Division Series and the Astros in the AL Championship Series. In nine games, Judge hit .139/.184/.306 with two homers among five hits in nine games. The eventual World Series champion Astros ended the Yankees' season with a four-game sweep in the ALCS.
Judge now hits the free agent market prepared to get one of the biggest contracts of the offseason. Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has said publicly that he wants Judge to be in pinstripes for the rest of his career.