The topic of value shadowed Aaron Judge all season. In April, the Yankees placed a value on his long-term future with the team: $213.5 million over seven years. In October, Judge placed a value on the American League’s single-season home run record: He was going for it, every day, even after the Yankees clinched the A.L. East.
Judge declined the contract offer, and his big bet will soon pay off in free agency. He broke the record, and his performance stamped him on Thursday as the winner of the Most Valuable Player Award in the A.L.
Judge received 28 of 30 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which has awarded the M.V.P. since 1931. Shohei Ohtani, the two-way superstar for the Los Angeles Angels, got the other two first-place votes and finished second, with the slugger Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros placing third.
In the National League, Paul Goldschmidt, the slugging first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals who flirted with winning the triple crown, won M.V.P., beating out Manny Machado of the San Diego Padres and his fellow Cardinal Nolan Arenado.
With 34 home runs and a 15-9 record on the mound, Ohtani had an even better overall season than he did in 2021, when he was the unanimous M.V.P. Among his accomplishments was becoming the first player in baseball history to have enough plate appearances and innings pitched to qualify for the league titles in both batting average and E.R.A. It would take a season that was arguably even more historic to beat him out, and Judge had just that.
He swatted 62 home runs, one better than Roger Maris’s hallowed mark for the Yankees in 1961. While Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all topped Maris’s 61-homer mark between 1998 and 2001, they did so in the last few years before steroid testing. All three have been strongly linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, tainting their records for many fans.
Conveniently for Judge, though, McGwire, Sosa and Bonds all played for N.L. teams while zooming past Maris, leaving the 61-homer mark as the standard for A.L. sluggers. Judge surpassed it on Oct. 4 in Arlington, Texas, when he pulled a slider from the Rangers’ Jesús Tinoco over the left field fence at Globe Life Field.
Judge finished the regular season as the league leader in homers (62), R.B.I. (131), runs scored (133), on-base percentage (.425), slugging percentage (.686) and total bases (391). His .311 average trailed only Minnesota’s Luis Arraez, who hit .316.
And while the Yankees won the East by seven games, their summer was a struggle. Their division lead was whittled from 15 ½ games on July 8 to 3 ½ games on Sept. 9, and they needed the steady, high-impact production of Judge to survive. That went for defense, too; Judge entered the season with just 22 career starts in center field, but he made 74 starts there in 2022 and thrived.
Judge becomes the 14th Yankee to win the award and the first since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. The others include some of the most hallowed names in baseball history, including seven Hall of Famers — Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle — and the franchise stalwarts Spud Chandler, Maris, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly.
Judge finished fourth in the voting in 2021 and second to Houston’s Jose Altuve in 2017, the year of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Judge was the A.L. Rookie of the Year that season, when he hit 52 home runs and led the Yankees to a surprise appearance in the A.L. Championship Series.
The Yankees lost that series to the Astros in seven games, but the presence of a young core built around Judge — and another slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, who joined the Yankees in a December 2017 trade — seemed to herald a new era of pinstriped greatness. Yet the Yankees are still waiting for their next pennant.
While they have reached the playoffs in all six of Judge’s full seasons, they have never advanced past the A.L.C.S., where the Astros stopped them again in 2019 as well as this fall. The other budding stars around Judge have mostly failed to live up to their promise; infielder Gleyber Torres remains, but third baseman Miguel Andújar, first baseman Greg Bird, outfielder Jackson Frazier and catcher Gary Sánchez are all gone.
The Yankees and Judge now find themselves at a crossroads: How much are the Yankees willing to offer Judge to stay, and how much does he really want to return? After the four-game sweep in the A.L.C.S., when Judge went 1 for 16 and made the final out, he reflected on his tenure in the Bronx.
“Getting the chance to wear the pinstripes and play right field at Yankee Stadium, it’s an incredible honor that I definitely didn’t take for granted at any point,” Judge told reporters then. “I always checked myself pregame, when I’d say a little prayer, I’d kind of look around the Stadium and kind of pinch myself that there’s very few individuals that get a chance to run out on that field and do that and play in front of the fans that support us throughout my whole six years here.”
He added: “It was a special time. I just kick myself for not bringing home that championship for them.”