PHOENIX — Aaron Judge was working out at home in California along with wife, Samantha, on Oct. 20 when he received a call from Jason Zillo, the vice president of communications and media relations for the New York Yankees.
“You got a minute? This is very important,” Judge recalled Zillo saying.
“Is there a trade going on?” Judge wondered. “What’s going on? Something important?”
Then Zillo told him to sit down and informed Judge he had won Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award for character, community involvement and philanthropy.
“It is our highest honor because it represents the combination of on-field excellence and service in our communities,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
Judge and Manfred were joined at a Monday news conference by Luis Clemente and Roberto Clemente Jr., sons of the Hall of Fame outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
“He set the standard for what it was to be a complete player. And that’s something I try to model my game after,” Judge said. “The 3,000 hits is impressive, the batting average, the home run numbers. But, honestly, I’m jealous of the Gold Gloves.”
Judge is the fourth Yankees player to receive the honor after Ron Guidry (1984), Don Baylor (1985) and Derek Jeter (2009). Judge just completed the first season of a $360 million, nine-year contract with the Yankees, who finished 82-80 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Judge has been speaking with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, as recently as Sunday, to discuss what moves the team needs to make to reach the World Series for the first time since winning the 2009 title.
“Changes could mean a lot of different things, from philosophies, players, coaches, everything,” Judge said. “We haven’t made it to the big dance in quite a few years, so, we got some work to do.”
Some Yankees fans have become impatient that no changes have been announced since the season ended Oct. 1.
“It’s a tough time, especially with the World Series still going on,” Judge said. “I think once we kind of get past this and it’s really the offseason, I think that’s when we’re going to start seeing some bigger moves.”
Now 31, Judge hit an AL-record 62 home runs in 2022, breaking the mark Roger Maris had held since 1961. He tied for the big league lead with 131 RBI and hit .311.
Judge batted .267 with 37 homers and 75 RBI in 106 games this year, missing extensive time because of a toe injury sustained while crashing into the Dodger Stadium fence in June.
Before the news conference, Judge posed with past winners that included Jeter, David Ortiz, John Smoltz and Harold Reynolds.
A five-time All-Star and the 2022 American League MVP, Judge established his All Rise Foundation in 2018. It supports youth in New York and in California’s San Joaquin and Fresno counties, near his home.
His foundation hosted baseball camps in both states and has awarded grants supporting Bridge2College, NYC Autism Charter Schools, Tourette Association of America, the Edward C. Merlo Institute of Environmental Technology, the Resiliency Center of Fresno and the Birch Family Services. The foundation supported students to attend California leadership conferences.
“It really goes back to our mission statement, which is inspiring the youth to be the next leaders of this generation and great citizens,” Judge said. “Does this line up with what our vision and what our goal is, when we started this foundation?”