Aaron Judge knows San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler took a knee along with several of his players, and the New York Yankees star wants to talk with his teammates about whether they want to make a gesture against racial injustice before Major League Baseball’s season opener.
“That’s the beauty of America, is freedom of speech and freedom to express yourself,” Judge said Tuesday. “We got a special platform being athletes and being able to speak our mind and speak what’s going on in this world. Some people express it online. Some people express it with words. Some people kneel.”
Kapler and his team made the gestures before Monday night’s exhibition game against Oakland. Judge and the Yankees open the pandemic-delayed season Wednesday at the World Series champion Washington Nationals.
“I think whatever message that we try to give out here is we want to try to express unity and that we’re all in this together,” Judge said, “try to have those uncomfortable conversations that we need to have and bring up those uncomfortable talking points.”
New York manager Aaron Boone and his players plan to discuss the matter more after they travel to Washington on Wednesday.
“This country allows you to express yourself in many different ways, and that’s one of the beauties of it,” Boone said. “So I respect how anyone wants to demonstrate and whether it’s in protest or whether it’s in solidarity, whatever the reasons may be, I have no issue with that and support that. And if that comes our way as a club, I’ll stand behind whoever has a strong feeling about it one way or the other.”
Judge hit 52 homers, had 114 RBIs and won AL Rookie of the Year in 2017, then was hurt for much of the past two seasons. An oblique injury, a broken wrist from a Jakob Junis pitch and a broken rib from a diving catch limited him to 27 homers each year and no more than 67 RBIs per season, and the rib was still healing at the start of spring training this year.
Judge feels healthy. He still hurts over the loss to Houston in six-game AL Championship Series, stung the Astros overcame DJ LaMahieu’s tying two-run homer in the ninth when José Altuve hit a two-run, pennant-winning drive off Aroldis Chapman in the bottom half.
Judge revealed he addressed the team after the defeat.
“Just said, hey, guys, don’t forget this feeling. Don’t forget this emptiness,” he recalled. “You’re mad. We’re thinking about what we could’ve done different, and this and that, what we could have done — what I could have done. That’s the biggest thing that I go back to, missed opportunities I had. But you just use it as fuel. I tried to tell the guys, use this as fuel as you train in the offseason. As we get ready for the 2020 season, you remember that. You don’t want this feeling again. What can we do? What can we do different to prepare the right way so that outcome doesn’t happen?”
Boone had given the initial speech.
“One of most of kind of heartbreaking, emotional times of my sports career,” he recalled vividly. “It was such a live, raw moment. The closeness that existed with that team, the belief that all the way to the end we were going to win I felt like was how everyone felt. So the cruel ending of it all — I do remember Judgy in his way, in a strong way saying that to us, and I think that just added to the sting, to how real that moment was. and I always feel like falling down does add another log to the fire, and certainly that was the case, and I feel like in spring training and now in summer camp I’m witnessing that fire burning — burning strongly with these guys.”
Judge thought more needed to be said.
“Just remember this feeling, remember this silence, this emptiness, and just use it as fuel,” he told them. “Don’t use it to mope about it, linger about it, use it as fuel going into this next season to just take care of business.”
This season will be far different from what Judge or anyone else envisioned.
“It is going to be a little leery, I guess, getting on a train, traveling to different city,” he said. “We’ve kind of been in our own little bubble here in New York, our own little bubble in Tampa. So I think kind of leaving that bubble is going to be a little difficult. But this is what we signed up for. We wouldn’t have signed up for this if we weren’t aware of the risk and what we had to kind of face these next couple of months.”