The New York Yankees didn’t pay the man, so instead Aaron Judge has made opposing pitchers pay all season.
Judge has played with a chip on his shoulder all season, and so far, the results have been staggering. As of Monday morning, Judge was hitting .294 with an MLB-best 37 home runs. He also leads the American League in both runs scored (80) and runs batted in (81) and ranks second in slugging (.650) and OPS (1.026).
ESPN projections have Judge on pace for arguably the greatest offensive season in Yankees history, with his current 60-homer pace hovering around the historic mark Roger Maris set in 1961.
With Judge on the verge of history, let’s take a look at five of the greatest individual seasons by Black Yankees players. Despite individual success on a major scale, none of these seasons ended with a championship parade down Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes. Only time will tell if Judge can break that trend.
Elston Howard – 1963 – .287/.342/.528, 28 HR, 85 RBI, 75 R
One of only two Black catchers, and the only Black Yankee to win the MVP, Elston Howard had his best season at the age of 34 as the driving force behind a New York lineup that won the AL pennant with 104 wins.
Howard set career highs in home runs and runs scored and won the Gold Glove behind the plate. The powerful Pinstripes met their match in the World Series as they were swept by Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Reggie Jackson – 1980 – .300/.398/.597, 41 HR, 111 RBI, 94 R, 154 H
An All-Star all five years he spent in the Bronx, Mr. October put on a show in 1980. The two-time MVP set a career high in home runs for the Yankees en route to his first Silver Slugger Award. Jackson was unstoppable all season, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to bring a World Series to the Yanks, who were eventually swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
Dave Winfield – 1982 – .283/.345/.513, 32 HR, 116 RBI, 99 R, 169 H
Jeter’s documentary “The Captain” touched on the contentious relationship between “The Boss” George Steinbrenner and Winfield, but there wasn’t a soul who could discredit his contributions during the regular season, especially in 1982.
Winfield would finish top seven in MVP voting while collecting Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards that season. But like everyone else on the list, this great individual season didn’t result in a championship. The Yankees were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
Rickey Henderson – 1985 – .314/.419/.516, 24 HR, 28 2B, 72 RBI, 80 SB, 146 R
Rickey Henderson spent just under four seasons with the Yankees, but they were incredible seasons. Part of a lineup that featured Winfield and Don Mattingly, Henderson’s 1985 season, his first in pinstripes, may have been his best.
Rickey finished third in the MVP balloting to his teammate Mattingly, and won the Silver Slugger Award after leading the American League with a career-high 146 runs and finishing tops in stolen bases for the sixth consecutive season. His 282 total bases were the second-most of his career. New York won 97 regular season games, but failed to win their division and missed the postseason,
Derek Jeter – 2006 – .343/.417/.483, 14 HR, 97 RBI, 118 R, 214 H
Derek Jeter, aka “The Captain”, could have made this list several times over, but 2006 was a special year. Jeter posted the second-highest batting average of his career while setting a career high in RBI during the phase of his career where most players begin to decline.
Jeter’s season was remarkable and earned him his highest finish in the MVP voting as he finished second to Justin Morneau. He also won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger as New York won an AL-best 97 games, but the Yankees went on to lose 3-1 in the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers.