TENNIS

Yankees judge Aaron launches the home run chase, and no words are needed

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In 1994, novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace wrote an essay about the ghost-written memoirs of Tracy Austin, a former tennis player who won the US Open twice and was ranked No. 1 in the world.

The piece, “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart”, is on the face of it a muddled critique of another sportsbook filled with cliches but lacking substance, but more broadly it’s a meditation on the fascination with athletic success and the way athletes articulate – or struggle to articulate – what it takes to achieve greatness.

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“The best athletes are compelling because they embody the comparison-based achievement that we Americans revere – fastisstrongis — and because they do so completely unambiguously,” Wallace wrote. “The questions of the best plumber or the best management accountant are even impossible to define, whereas the best relief pitcher, free thrower or tennis player is, at all times, a matter of public statistics. Top athletes fascinate us by appealing to our twin compulsions with competitive superiority and hard data.

Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has produced a variety of interesting stats this season, whether it’s his nearly .300 batting average, his 70% hard hitting rate against fastballs, his 10 stolen bases, a career high or his 52 matches started at the center field so far.

None of those numbers make Judge’s success so “carnally noticeable,” as Wallace wrote, because his total home runs coming in on August 1 — 42 long runs in 100 games played — and the way he has a real chance of hitting 60 or 61 home runs. by the end of the regular season.

Home run records, and the historic chases for them, are undeniably one of the most weighty pieces of baseball history. Roger Maris struggled so much under the weight of attention and his own desire to break Babe Ruth’s MLB single-season record of 60 home runs that he began to lose clumps of hair. (He did, hitting 61 homers in 1961, but at a heavy emotional cost.)

Maris’ record was finally broken (again and again) in ways that were both invigorating and disillusioning to the game and its watchers. The sport was revived in 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire ran for 70 home runs that summer, a thrilling national fascination that seems different with the knowledge that MLB allowed the steroid problem to run rampant under its watch. Barry Bonds blew them away by hitting 73 home runs in 2001, and for many who revere the game, Henry Aaron’s 755 home run mark is still considered the all-time standard considering what Bonds was willing to do. do to reach 762.

In 1961, the Yankees failed to shield Maris from the onslaught of media attention, allowing their right fielder to answer questions ad infinitum as he chased Ruth’s record.

“His hairline is huge,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Judge on Sunday, referring to Maris and his outfielder’s ability to hold steady under the growing focus on his home run rate. .

Yet for all the drama that has always accompanied a player in pursuit of a benchmark or team record, there’s no denying that watching Judge slam a well-timed home run after a well-timed home run this season has been nothing short of exciting. , and the anticipation of his final home run total creates a remarkable storyline to follow in the midst of a season in which Judge and the Yankees are already generating plenty of buzz.

Judge will likely become a free agent after this season, and his future with the organization is uncertain. At the same time, he’s building a record for American League MVP while leading the Yankees on another run in contention. In a time when there’s no shortage of topics when it comes to the New York Yankees, Judge’s home run pace tops the rest.

Friday night, after Judge hit two home runs – including a grand slam – Boone sat down for his post-game press conference and answered a question before it was even asked: He is incredible.”

At no time during his follow-up comments on Judge did Boone use his player’s name or a qualifier such as “No. 99” that would clarify who he was referring to. He didn’t need to hear the inevitable question, he didn’t need to utter the name ‘Judge.’ The season he hosted allowed the obvious not to be said, but at this point, after every home run, Judge stands in the center of the clubhouse to talk.

“The team is doing great,” Judge said Friday night when asked if he agreed with Boone’s assessment that he was “incredible.”

The next afternoon, after hitting another home run – the 200th of his career – Judge said he intended to “keep his head down and help this team win games. At the end of the year, we can talk about what I finished.

The judge has managed to dodge all questions about his racing pace this season as successfully as he has managed to elicit those questions. In Baltimore recently, he brushed off questions about what the 60 homer mark means to him or how many home runs would be meaningful to him. Asking the judge about his home run pace this year requires the kind of deliberation that can briefly send a reporter into the headspace of a pitcher facing him this season: you can do your best to execute your pitch, but it will meet his conditions, not yours.

Wallace wrote that “great athletes usually prove incredibly inarticulate about the qualities and experiences that constitute their fascination,” and the answers to questions about Judge’s success this year are consistent, if unsatisfying in their lack of tangibleness.

“He’s just a better, more experienced hitter now,” Boone said Sunday in response to a question about how Judge has generated more consistent home run results from an executive who has always indicated that this type of season of powerful strike was possible. “I attribute that to the fact that he’s a guy who’s in his prime, but also — as we’ve talked about a lot — who’s applied his major league experience really well. It led to a fuller hitter, better and consistent quality of contact, and when you add his size and power, when you make good contact for him, it will often lead to home runs.

Recently, this publication attempted to explore the concept of “major league experience just fine” in a lengthy story about Judge’s approach to his day-to-day preparation. Yet the conclusion remains unsatisfactory because it implies that a linear approach has led to clear upward success in a game where remarkable results are often generated by remarkable changes. Athletes and their coaches are often inarticulate by design; they earn very little by sharing their secret sauce and risk losing a lot. As such, the consistent response given by Judge and those around the Yankees this year is that he’s just a better matured hitter. In a sense, this year’s results may actually reflect what one would always have expected from a disciplined hitter with a physically evident propensity for raw power.

Truly, Boone’s best descriptions of Judge’s season have been the simplest: “It’s amazing,” he said Sunday, perhaps realizing how often he’ll have to pop up a similar synonym if Judge continues. to hit balls over the walls of the outfield.

In his essay on Austin, Wallace noted that although deviations and imprecise explanations of athletic success become trivial or irritating to some fans who are invested in the “why” beyond the “what”, observers will continue to seek these explanations due to “a deep compulsion. both to experience genius in the concrete and to universalize genius in the abstract.

“True indisputable genius is so impossible to define, and true techne so seldom seen,” he writes.

Judge’s genius for the season is hard to articulate in the abstract, but there is perhaps no marker of success in baseball considered more illuminating and concrete than a home run record. The judge says he’ll keep his head down until he gets to the end of the regular season, but by the time his home run total is finalized, the number will speak for itself.

(Photo: Brad Penner/USA Today)

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