It’s no secret Major League Baseball lags far behind the NFL and NBA in terms of popularity.
And soccer fans will scream at the top of their lungs it’s a no-contest, that their sport dwarfs what commonly has been referred to as our National Pastime, although I think soccer is more appealing across the pond than it is here at home.
But I always have and always will be a baseball guy first because it was the No. 1 sport without question when I was a kid and by a wide margin.
I don’t mind the tedious, crawling pace that has turned off a legion of sports fans who want non-stop action to keep their attention spans. I grew up as a baseball worshipper and I’m now in the minority. The violence of the NFL has vaulted it into the stratosphere, while the NBA, because of its fast pace and outrageous athleticism, is right behind.
Baseball needs a shot in the arm. Monday night it might have received the booster rocket it needed.
I’m generally not a big fan of MLB’s Home Run Derby, much like I don’t watch the NBA’s Slam Dunk competition or even the NFL’s Skills competition. Baseball has become a slugger’s game, with stolen bases and bunting having gone the way of the dinosaur, though those are aspects I find pleasing. As they say, chicks dig the long ball.
But Monday, I tuned in to see what all the fuss has been about New York’s rookie sensation Aaron Judge. I’m not a Yankees fan, but every time I look at the box scores it seems like he’s hitting a home run. Thirty of them in fact, on pace for the high 50s. And this from a guy who couldn’t even hit .200 last year in his brief call-up.
What Judge did Monday was revolutionary for the sport. He blasted several majestic moonshots, some of them more than 500 feet. Once he survived his first round, he steamrolled the opposition. The difference was he’s 6-8 and nearly 280 pounds and even his miss-hits were flying out of the park, to the opposite field in fact.
Judge has a chance to be to the game what Tiger Woods was to golf. He’s Bunyanesqe, almost larger than life. He also has a humility about him as he’s careful not to get caught up in “Judgemania.” After his humbling last year, he knows it can be here today, gone tomorrow. He’s guarded against pitchers dissecting his swing and figuring him out.
It doesn’t hurt Judge that he plays for the Yankees and in the media capital of the world. If he was hammering 30 homers for the bland San Diego Padres, only a smattering would be noticing. But he’s doing it under the most intense microscope and scrutiny there is.
Baseball needs an Aaron Judge type of star. It needs that marquee name that will draw 40,000 to a meaningless game in Tampa Bay. It needs a player to appeal to the masses, not just those diehards like me who grew up on Mays, Mantle, Aaron and Clemente.
Aaron Judge could be that player.