BRONX — As the entourage of people walked into the Yankees press conference room to re-introduce Aaron Judge following the official announcement of his new contract, one guest made it clear what was about to happen.
With one of the most synonymous faces associated with the franchise, Derek Jeter, in attendance, the Yankees named Judge captain. He becomes just the 16th player in franchise history to be bestowed the honor and the first since Jeter had held the title from 2003 to 2014.
Judge joins a group of baseball greats that includes Don Mattingly, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
“That’s a pretty good list right there. You know, not only great baseball players, but great ambassadors of the game,” Judge said “Great ambassadors of the New York Yankees, how they pride themselves on the field day in and day out. How they take pride in what they do, represent this organization. … This is an incredible honor that I don’t take lightly. I’m gonna continue to try to be the same leader that I’ve been in the past six years, continue to lead by example.
“I know there’s probably going to be a couple more responsibilities with this, but I’m here to embrace every single obstacle and continue to lead this team.”
The announcement came as the Yankees celebrated the return of their current face of the franchise and it was made by Hal Steinbrenner, who moments before said that he couldn’t imagine Judge not being a member of the organization. Judge agreed to a nine-year contract earlier this month and it was made official on Tuesday.
Steinbrenner told reporters after the press conference that the captaincy was broached after the deal had been completed. The Yankees owner didn’t want the honor to come off as a negotiating ploy as the two sides tried to work out a contract.
“After we agreed to a deal on that phone call, that’s when I asked him,” Steinbrenner said. “And I told him I said I didn’t want this to be perceived as a negotiating tool or trying to incentivize you to come back. It’s too noble of a thing. So I asked him once we had a deal done.”
Judge had been the logical choice to take over the captaincy and the move didn’t come as too much of a surprise during the Wednesday morning press conference in the bowels of Yankee Stadium. Steinbrenner, Jeter, Willie Randolph, manager Aaron Boone, GM Brian Cashman, Judge’s agent Page Odle and Judge’s wife Samantha were all on the dias with him for the announcement.
The Yankees superstar had become the clear-cut face of the franchise, especially after the historic year that he had for the Bombers last season.
“I think in a lot of ways was an obvious choice,” Boone said about Judge. “He’s sort of been our captain and certainly developing into that over the last several seasons. And so I think it’s fitting that we’re able to get this done. Have him in pinstripes forever and the next natural step with him returning is the captaincy. I know all his teammates will be really excited about that.”
The New Yankees captain was thrilled to have the former one alongside him for the big day. Jeter was flown in at the request of ownership and Cashman and said it felt important to be on hand for the announcement.
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Judge said he wasn’t aware Jeter would be there on Wednesday until he had bumped into him before the press conference.
“It was definitely an honor seeing him here and a great surprise, Judge said. “It was kind of like a passing of the torch kind of thing. It was something special because he means a lot not only to this organization but to myself too. For him to show up, come from the warm weather to the cold weather for the day it was pretty special.”