Among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the one that, perhaps, would hold the most interest for Yankee rookie right fielder Aaron Judge just may be the Colossus of Rhodes, the famed statue of Helios, the Greek titan sun god, erected in the city of Rhodes as a celebratory measure after a great military victory in 280 BC.
And, while Judge’s physical dimensions do fall short of the Colossus’ 108 feet, which approximates the size of Lady Liberty from crown to feet in New York Harbor, there is no question that his dimensions, at 6-7 and 282 pounds, make him a far more likely candidate to play tight end for the Giants than right field for the Bronx Bombers.
As a matter of fact, once upon a high-school time, Judge did indeed provide an excellent target as a wide receiver at Linden High School in Compton, California, and was heavily recruited by heavyweight college football programs such as Notre Dame, UCLA and Stanford.
Nonetheless, despite the satisfaction Judge received every time his football coach Mike Huber called the play simply called in the Linden playbook “Jump Pass,” one Huber, without obfuscation, blatantly called from the sidelines by simply raising both arms above his head as if he were signaling the touchdown that inevitably followed, Judge was then what he is now, a baseball geek.
Eschewing a chance to sign with the Oakland As out of high school as a 31st round pick, Judge instead took a Fresno State baseball scholarship and remained there until 2013, when he signed with the Yankees as a supplemental first-round pick for a 1.8 million dollar bonus.
After his call up to the big club late last season and a spectacular debut at Yankee Stadium, hitting a long homerun to dead center in his very first game, the massive 24-year-old sporting double 9’s on the back of his jersey but not his name for a club that never bought into such self-promotion found more than his share of struggles.
Not yet learning how to control what has afflicted so many position players of extraordinary height, the elongated length of the swing, Judge struck out precisely half of the 84 times he strode to the plate, hitting a paltry .179.
This year, without question, Aaron Judge is among baseball’s biggest draws, having gone from a player who wasn’t even guaranteed in spring training a spot on the roster to an All-Star- caliber outfielder and one among the league leaders in homeruns, runs batted in, slugging percentage and batting average. Additionally, no one in either league has hit baseballs harder and farther than he has.
Of course, when it comes to men of great physical size, several have been pitchers, including former reliever Jon Rauch. Rauch pitched for eight different teams over an eleven-year career, and, at 6-11 and just a cheeseburger shy of an even 300, is the biggest human being ever to wear a Major League uniform.
The mound historically is the place where other behemoths found great success by striking fear into batsmen’s hearts by throwing from what must at times have felt like twenty feet away instead of 60 feet, 6 inches.
Before his career was cut short by a stroke and long before he lost over a million dollars and his home in a business scam, rendering him, for a period of time, homeless and sleeping under bridges in the Houston area, the Astros’ J.R. Richards, at 6-8 and 225 lbs., was arguably baseball’s best pitcher in the second half of the 1970s.
And, of course, there’s Randy Johnson, the Hall of Famer, who used his 6-10 and 230 lbs. to achieve as few hurlers ever have- 22 seasons, 300-plus career wins, and more strikeouts in baseball history than anyone not named Nolan Ryan.
However, position players of Judge’s size or close to it, are rare, at least the successful ones. Most are relative blips on baseball’s screen, playing for a few years while captivating baseball’s management who dream of long arcing homeruns from the big boys that discovered a way to master the length of their swings and punish fastballs while staying back on breaking balls.
The list of those swing and misses is filled not only with names but also some interesting and, at times, sad anecdotes. And, those with scant resumes bracket the occasional few who did find success.
Former Oakland first base man Nate Freeman, at 6-8, had a career that lasted just two years and 115 total games. Currently just 30 years old, his phone no longer rings from teams that are intrigued.
Tony Clark, now the executive director of the players’ association in MLB, once upon a time, did indeed find a good deal of success. The tallest switch hitter in Major League history, at 6-8, a first baseman by trade, Clark played fifteen years and homered 251 times while wearing seven different uniforms and is a player fondly remembered by long-time Detroit fans back when he was Tony the Tiger.
An inch down at 6-7, several may only be remembered by blood relatives. Joel Guzman, as a Dodger and a Ray, cashed MLB checks for two years and recorded just thirteen total hits. Then there were the twin brothers, Damon and Ryan Minor, who combined for eighteen homeruns while playing four Major League seasons each. Real historians of the game may remember Ryan more than Damon. It was Ryan who, on September 20, 1998, replaced Cal Ripkin, Jr., ending Cal’s remarkable 2,632 consecutive game streak, a feat that most feel will never be approached again.
Other long-forgottens in the 6-7 category include Desi Wilson and his 28 career homeruns, Ron Jackson and his 17 career long flies and Walt Bond, an Indian first from 1960-’62 before becoming a Houston Colt 45. Bond’s life struggles were even more daunting than anything he faced on the diamond as he continued to play while fighting leukemia, to which he sadly succumbed at just 29 years old.
Without a doubt, the best of the 6-7 position players and the man to whom Judge is often compared is the former Ohio State basketball and baseball Buckeye, Frank Howard. Howard did indeed corral his elongated swing and went on to play 16 years, using his 255 lbs. to power 382 baseballs over distant fences while fashioning a very respectable .272 career batting average, especially for a power batter.
Just one more inch down, the 6-6 category, brings us to names many will remember, such as Dave Kingman, who despite a career batting average of just .236, found the baseball with his Louisville Slugger often enough to homer 442 times and,
seemingly, always found plenty of baseball suitors, playing for eight different teams over sixteen years, while picking up a couple pretty cool nicknames along the way, Sky King and King Kong..
Without question, the best of the 6-6ers would be Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield, not only a member of the elite 3,000 hit club but a lifetime .283 hitter as well. As to how he mastered his long swing, well, it helps when you were as athletically gifted as Winfield was. He remains the only man ever to be drafted by four different professional leagues- the NBA, ABA, NFL and MLB.
Certainly, with Aaron Judge’s potential, there is the expectation that perhaps fifteen or so years down the road, he’ll have eclipsed both baseball’s historical swing and misses and the few Colossus elites. As has been said, only time will tell, but the projections remain strong.
While so many fans are enjoying the Judge Show, perhaps, none are enjoying it as much as Judge’s own personal fan section who sit in right field at Yankee Stadium, dressed in judges’ robes and old-time powdered wigs. There they wait for an opportunity when their young hero hammers a deep one to stand in unison as everyone around the park screams in less-than-reverential courtroom tones, “All rise!”
John Grindrod is a regular contributor to The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and author of two books. He can be reached at email@example.com.