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Aaron Judge reaches on a single in Spring Training (John Brophy/Pinstriped Prospects)


“62: Aaron Judge, The New York Yankees and the Pursuit of Greatness”, reminiscing about a historic year that was Aaron Judge and the 2022 Yankees

MLB.com beat reporter Bryan Hoch takes you where few people have the opportunity to go: inside the clubhouse, the manager’s office and in the heads that operate and are baseball’s more storied franchise, the New York Yankees. In this 200+ page title that meticulously describes the season where Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge became the American League home run season champion, Hoch goes through the 2022 season day by day, even pitch by pitch.

Aaron Judge during batting practice in Spring Training (John Brophy/Pinstriped Prospects)

I was fortunate to work alongside Bryan Hoch this past Spring, as well as one game in May while the Yankees visited their division rivals in St. Petersburg, Florida, covering the Yankees and the handful of prospects that made Spring Training camp.

We had different responsibilities for our respective organizations, but we both thought during Spring Training, “Can it be done again?”, especially as Judge walked into GMS Field on report day. Watching the now Captain take batting practice at George M. Steinbrenner Field in the cool months (for Florida) of February and March, you would think so.

“But we’ve never read much about Major Leaguers, short of a rehab assignment on this website” you may think to yourself. Sure, that’s true, but remember that the Captain is a homegrown kid, something we love to talk about here.

Aaron Judge was drafted from Fresno State, 32nd overall in 2013, as was noted in the first chapter of this book. I first saw “BAJ” as he was called by his Fresno State coach (I didn’t realize what it stood for until I read that first chapter, particularly page 22) in 2014 when he was promoted from the Yankees’ then Single-A affiliate, Charleston, to then High-A Tampa.

I remember sitting in the 200-level seats at GMS Field with my dad one summer afternoon in 2014 thinking about how he towered over his batterymates in the large outfield. A line drive was hit to him, and he dove for it, something prospects at this level rarely do.

Judge laid there for a moment, but he made the out. As you’d expect from Judge, that was the most important part. Hoch notes repeatedly in “62” how selfless Judge is, and that was apparent even when he was in the lowest levels of the Yankees farm system.

Aaron Judge. Lakeland Flying Tigers v. Tampa Yankees. Aug. 14, 2014. (Photo by Tom Hagerty.)

At the time that Judge was in Tampa, the buzz within those that followed the system, and in some respects, those that didn’t, was that catcher Gary Sanchez would steal the spotlight of the top prospects. Indeed, at the time, Sanchez was the #1 Yankees prospect with Judge all the way at #9.

Prospects like Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy topped the prospect list ahead of Judge, but Judge was given a grade of above-average overall (50) with plus power (60) in 2014, with the prediction of “a higher-average hitter with 20 or so homers per season or more of a masher who delivers 20-plus long balls” given in 2016 ahead of his Major League debut.

Lamentably, the book didn’t cover much of Judge’s journey through the minor leagues, but that’s also not the focus of the book either. It’s not a true biography in the sense. Instead, you’re taken on a (mostly) day-by-day account behind-the-scenes of the 2022 season.

The minor leagues were a small portion of the first chapter, but as any follower of the minor leagues knows, it’s a huge chapter for any prospective baseball player. “62” also discussed a few former Yankees prospects such as Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Michael King, among others.

Ali Castillo, left, congratulates Aaron Judge after a homer when both played for the Trenton Thunder in 2015 (Robert M. Pimpsner).

The bulk of the book takes you day-by-day during his journey to 62 home runs in 2023 but takes some occasional flashbacks to the sixties when Roger Maris was plunked in the middle of his own home run race. I particularly liked the flashback to 1961 that started on page 161 that talked about the interaction the media had had with Maris, at a time where reporters would hover around batters in the cage prior to a game.

Aaron Judge signs for fans before a game (John Brophy/Pinstriped Prospects)

I also enjoyed the conversation that Hoch had with Bobby Richardson, a homegrown Yankee that signed in 1953, made his way through the minors and got the call to join the team in 1957. Richardson noted on page 115, “He (Judge) was gracious. He was the one that came out and talked to the Old-Timers. There are so many that just stay in the dugout. He came out on the field during our practices and dealt with everybody. He’s so friendly. Knowing him, he’ll be a great steward and honor the Lord in every way.”

If you’ve interacted, or even just watched from afar, you’d know how gracious Judge is with others, especially the fans.

A “Nasty Nestor” glove rests on the grass of an outfield (John Brophy/Pinstriped Prospects)

As noted previously, a handful of prospects were briefly mentioned, and Nestor Cortes is the one that sticks out to me in the book. Hoch mentions how Cortes was drafted in 2013, as the Yankees’ 36th round selection in the 2013 MLB Draft, the same one where Judge was selected in the first round.

In the chapter “Hollywood Swinging”, Hoch references how Yankees manager Aaron Boone told Cortes, “Well, you’ve got to let all of Hialeah know. They’ve got to go to L.A. The legend of Nestor Cortes moves on to Hollywood.”

Many involved with the farm system in any fashion know how difficult it’s been in the past to get through the Minors financially, and a reference is made how Miami, FL-area scout Carlos Martí wanted Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees vice president of domestic amateur scouting, to sign Cortes but wouldn’t bet his job on it.

Lefty Nestor Cortes with the Pulaski Yankees (Photo by Allen Greene)

As stated in the book, “Standing a stocky five foot ten as he reported to rookie ball, Cortes did not light up the radar gun, spending three seasons at the lowest levels of the minors, while scraping the low 90s with his fastball. Cortes watched teammates with more talent become disillusioned and hang up their spikes. He would make someone tear the uniform off him, even if it meant struggling financially and eating Little Caesars pizza three times a week.”

In the penultimate chapter, New York or Nowhere, was one of the more memorable things of the 2022 postseason: when Judge, Cortes and Michael King, a Yankees pitcher who was nearly truly homegrown (he started his Yankees career in 2018 with the then High-A Tampa Tarpons after a trade from Miami) famously attended a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.

Hoch noted in this chapter how my local MLB team, the Tampa Bay Rays, offered Judge a contract but he didn’t find playing on artificial turf appealing so he turned them down. Then came the infamous tweet by Jon Heyman: “Arson Judge appears headed to the Giants.” The chaos that ensued is something best left to the book.

Jon Heyman’s “Arson Judge” tweet

Overall, this was an incredible book to read as I was able to live vicariously through the eyes and ears of a Yankees beat reporter but also through the various memories from former Yankees, alive or dead, of what happened 62 years ago, in addition to what happened nearly a year ago.

“62: Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees, and the Pursuit of Greatness” is available July 11th at your local booksellers as well as digitally via e-book and audiobook.

Written By

Originally a native of Southern Connecticut, John has lived in the Tampa area since 2010 and has been a Tarpons fan since 2012. John is excited to bring you along as the Baby Bombers work their way up to The Bronx.

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