Aaron Judge is having a pretty good year. You may have noticed.
He plays for the New York Yankees. They have a lot of history, and he has injected himself smack into the middle of it. Some members of the New York, New York media are suggesting it’s the greatest season of them all. Entering the weekend, Judge was leading the American League in home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS (of course), runs, total bases, and extra-base hits. Oh, and even batting average, which means he is bidding to win the You-Know-What. He plays the outfield, whether right or center, remarkably well for a 6-foot-7-inch man who weighs in at whatever-he-is pounds. Very impressive, indeed.
So where does it rank among great Yankee seasons, or great anybody seasons, for that matter?
The first thing that will come to the mind of any proud Yankees fan is Mickey Mantle in 1956. The Mick was 24 and healthy, something that would not always be the case the remainder of his career. He won the Triple Crown with .353/52/130 totals. He also led the league in total bases (376), walks (112), on-base percentage (.464), slugging (.705), and therefore, OPS (1.169). He did all this while playing a magnificent center field. He collaborated with Teresa Brewer for the song “I Love Mickey.” It was nice to be young and famous in New York City. He would have better seasons in homers (54 in 1961) and batting average (.365 in 1957), but the Triple Crown cachet in a pennant and World Series championship season will always resonate with Yankees enthusiasts.
But if you really want to talk about notable Yankee seasons, is it any surprise you must begin with The Bambino? And I’m not talking about Babe Ruth’s 60-homer season of 1927. No, perhaps the ultimate display of Ruthian might had taken place six years earlier.
The Babe had it all going in 1921. He hit .378 while leading the league with a record 59 homers (eclipsing his own record 54 from the year before), 168 RBIs, and still standing records of 177 runs and 457 total bases. He led the league with 145 walks. His on-base percentage was .512, his slugging percentage was .846, and that was not a record because he had slugged .847 the year previous. His OPS was 1.398.
Batting .378 with 59 homers and 168 RBIs sounds like the stuff of a Triple Crown. So, what happened? Harry Heilmann hit .394; that’s what.
One reason for the elevated total bases was because in addition to Ruth’s 59 homers and 44 doubles, he also had 16 triples. Entering the weekend, Judge had zero triples., which I find fascinating.
Joe DiMaggio was a pretty distinguished Yankee, too. He had several notable seasons early in his career, but the one I’m focusing on was 1937. The Yankee Clipper hit .346 with 46 homers and 167 RBIs. He scored 151 runs. His on-base percentage was .412 and his slugging percentage was .673, giving him an OPS of 1.085. But wait … he had 418 total bases. Why? He had 15 triples. One more thing: He whiffed 37 times. The Mick’s predecessor likewise played an exemplary center field.
DiMaggio was, and is, a part of pop culture. Among the songs referencing him was Les Brown and his Band of Renown’s 1941 ditty “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” (in which he chimes in), and don’t forget the immortality conferred on him by Paul Simon in “Mrs. Robinson.” Perhaps I’ve missed it, but has anyone sung about Judge during all this? Ernest Hemingway even got into the act.
Red Sox fans are probably saying, “Wait a minute. What about Ted?”
It’s hard to pick the best among Ted Williams’s great seasons, but how about 1949? Ted hit .343 with career highs in RBIs (159) and runs (150). He led the AL with 43 homers and 39 doubles. He walked 162 times with just 48 strikeouts. His on-base percentage was .490, his slugging percentage was .650, and his OPS was 1.141. He had 368 total bases. (Triples? Just three).
As long as we’re on the subject, his 1957 season sort of stands apart. At age 38, he hit .388 with an otherworldly on-base percentage of .526, a slugging percentage of .731, and an OPS of 1.257. In one September stretch he reached base 16 straight times. Sounds fictional, but it happened.
The topic gives me an excuse to rhapsodize about Stan Musial in 1948. You don’t hear as much about that as you should but, then again, you don’t hear as much about Musial as you should. But check this out: Musial hit .376 while leading the National League with 230 hits, 135 runs, 46 doubles, and 131 RBIs. He had an on-base percentage of .450, a slugging percentage of .702, and an OPS of 1.152. He had — are you ready? — 429 total bases. That total was abetted by — you know what’s coming — 18 three-baggers. Sorry, I love triples. He walked 79 times while striking out a mere 34.
I believe this is the year he acquired his nickname. He was coming up to bat while in the process of tearing apart the Dodgers in Ebbets Field, when a fan sighed, “Here comes that man again.” This was conveyed to a member of the Brooklyn press corps, and thus a nickname was acquired. Henceforth, he was Stan The Man.
Now I would be remiss were I not to acknowledge that Bonds guy. Barry Bonds, however he was mysteriously fueled in his dotage, was amazing.
You could start with his 73-homer year in 2001, but the one I love came three years later. I mean, who walks 232 times? The man was lucky to get one pitch to hit per at-bat, if that. He was walked intentionally a surreal 120 times. He was walked un-/semi-intentionally 112 times. He had 45 homers, 101 RBIs, and 303 total bases (three triples). His on-base percentage was an incomprehensible .609, which, when combined with a majestic .812 slugging percentage, gave him a stratospheric OPS of 1.422.
It’s a different world and a different game than the one played by Ruth, DiMaggio, Ted, The Mick, Stan The Man, and perhaps even Mr. Bonds. Judge entered the weekend with 161 whiffs to go with 97 walks. Neither DiMag nor Ted would leave the house had he fanned that many times. But Judge is doing a lot of damage and he deserves a spot in this conversation.
Bob Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.