61 Things We Learned About Business from Aaron Judge’s 61 Home Run Chase
The pursuit of history is no easy endeavor. Sometimes the journey is planned, other times it unfolds without warning. In either case, there are always lessons to be gleaned along the way. Throughout New York Yankee Aaron Judge’s pursuit of legend Roger Maris’s American League record 61 home runs in a single season, we’ve found insights and inspirations for businesses, job seekers, employees and, well, anyone striving for excellence.
Everyone loves a home run: A baseball team or a business, an outfielder or an employee who is outstanding in her field, it makes no difference. The long ball makes people stand up and take notice. It defines a unique measure of success. It energizes the crowd. And it keeps everyone coming back for more.
You don’t need home run every time up: Nor should you expect one. Through 559 official at-bats, Judge has hit 61 home runs. That means that in every other plate appearance, he did something other than go yard. And he should still be the league’s MVP.
There is only so much one can do: Judge can step to the plate only 1 time per 9 hitters. That’s why it’s a team game.
There’s plenty one person can do: Judge has slugged 40 solo home runs so far.
When it is time to step to the plate, be ready.
Teamwork makes the dream work: Okay, that may have been borrowed from the 1986 New York Mets. Regardless, 8 batters other than Judge (and a number of pitchers as well) have clearly done their share in plenty of games this season, since the Yankees won their division.
Do it the right way—whatever it is: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa all hit more homers than Judge’s 61 in a single season. Yet listen to how people speak about Judge and how they speak about the way those others hit their marks. Only one is universally revered. You know who it is. And why.
Set high but attainable goals: Judge hit two grand slams this year, but even he can’t hit a five-run home run.
Stick with your proven approach: Judge never wavered from his disciplined approach to every at-bat, even as he was stuck at home run number 60 for what felt like an eternity before crushing number 61. When the pressure was on, he didn’t do anything other than what had gotten him to that moment, knowing success would come.
Be patient: Baseball has something called a “chase rate,” which measures how often a batter swings at pitches outside the strike zone or fails to swing at pitches in the strike zone. In the seven games leading up to the one in which he hit home run number 60, Judge had a 24.6% chase rate. In the at-bats after that homer, and he went for historic number 61, it might be expected that anxiousness would get the better of him. Yet his chase rate in the seven games after number 60 was 20.7%.
Do your research in finding talent: The Yankees drafted Judge with the 32nd pick in the 2013 draft. That means 31 teams passed him over. Oops.
Recognize which projects won’t pan out: The number one player in that same 2013 draft, pitcher Mark Appel, didn’t play in his first Major League game until this past June.
Prove them wrong: Judge’s now-famous uniform number 99 was handed to him in spring training back in 2016. The high number indicates he was not expected to make the big league team.
Take advantage when given the opportunity: Judge was called up to the majors in August of 2016 and hit a home run in his very first big league at bat.
Invest in projects and people that show potential: Judge showed flashes during 2016, but was far from a legend. In his first full season in the majors, 2017, he had the greatest rookie year of all time and earned Rookie of the Year honors.
Expect setbacks: In the three years after that Rookie of the Year campaign, Judge missed the equivalent of nearly a full season’s worth of game due to injuries.
Keep pushing forward.
You’re going to strike out sometimes: Maybe even when you want to hit a home run the most. During his final home game of the season, sitting on 61 home runs, Judge struck out three times. And he’d struck out 170 more times prior to that.
Don’t get flustered: There were plenty of questionable strike calls during Judge’s pursuit of 61, any number of swings he could have second-guessed, a few balls that were hit well enough to get over the fence but simply didn’t. The guy never seemed to bat an eye. Just kept batting.
Great teams support the individual: Every Yankee teammate is focused in on every pitch of every Judge at-bat. They sing his praises to the media. They all congratulate him after a home run—but they also give him a pat on the back if he makes an out.
Great individuals elevate the team.
You just may surprise yourself by doing something different: During a home game against their hated rivals from Boston, with the Bronx Bombers ahead in the top of the ninth inning, Yankee fans actually started chanting “Let’s go, Red Sox” in the hope that Boston would tie the game and give Judge a chance to come to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Continually assess your approach: Judge keeps notes on himself. All the time. Always has. Thoughts on certain swings, ideas about at-bats, even how he feels during good games. Every at-bat is a chance to improve.
Don’t forget the big picture: Judge wants to win the World Series. He wants to get himself the best deal possible when the season is over. Yes, the home runs matter. But only in the context of everything else.
Other successes still matter: No team or individual has only a single goal or task to focus on that is all about them. While Judge was chasing Roger Maris and immortality, his team made the playoffs, won their division and began to prepare for the post-season.
Set the right goals: Before the season even started, Judge and the Yankees put the goal of making the playoffs and winning the World Series first and foremost. That has never wavered, no matter how many homers piled up.
You will get curveballs thrown your way.
Learn from your failures, figure out where to improve: Only 6 years ago, Judge batted .179 and struck out 44% of the time.
Rain-outs happen: You may not always get that opportunity you were banking on. Stay focused.
There’s another game tomorrow: Or at least the day after that.
Success follows showing up: With a rash of injuries, Judge missed 37% of games from 2018 through 2020. This year he’s missed only 4 games.
Keep your composure: As the pressure mounted on Judge with every at-bat, his demeanor never wavered. The occasional bad strike call, the odd bad swing, he kept his head about him. And so did his teammates and manager.
It’s a long season: It took Judge 155 games to get to number 61. There are only 162 games in the whole season. Give things time to play out.
Step back and recognize when you’ve done something special: Judge has accomplished only the ninth 60-plus home-run season in the history of Major League Baseball. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the day-to-day.
Celebrate people doing their jobs well: Judge himself earned plenty of accolades, to be sure. But more remarkable was that as the season progressed and Judge got ever closer to the all-time numbers, commentators and writers and TV analysts and even the manager and coaches themselves seemed to become increasingly focused on the great at-bats, big hits and stellar plays his teammates were making.
Managers can help even the top team members: If you think Yankee manager Aaron Boone doesn’t give Judge advise, counsel and guidance, think again.
Managers are not perfect: “There may be a night where he went 1-for-3 with a walk, and I came in thinking he didn’t have a great night,” Aaron Boone told Sports Illustrated. “Then I’m like, ‘1-for-3 with a double, a walk and a stolen base and a play in the outfield—it’s like, that’s a pretty good night.’”
Organizations create atmospheres for individuals to excel: Ask yourself, would Judge have had this kind of success were he not a member of the Yankees? And would it have meant as much to him and to those pulling for him?
Stories are where you find them: It’s been 61 years since Roger Maris hit 61 home runs…in 1961. Maris wore uniform number 9, Judge is 99. None of that has any impact on Judge’s exploits, but it sure makes them more fun to talk about, right?
A great name/slogan/tagline doesn’t hurt, either: “All rise, here comes the Judge.” Enough said.
Respect the competition: Judge never once showed up an opposing pitcher, postured on his way around the bases or had anything other than gracious comments for other teams. He approached rookie pitchers with the same preparation, tenacity and focus as he did veteran stars.
One type of success can help other business areas: How many times while watching Judge on TV did you see ads for 2023 Yankees season tickets, Bank of America or a Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew?
Enjoy every moment of success, because it’s hard to come by: Judge is flirting with the American League batting title, and the guy is still failing nearly 69% of the time.
Consistency works: Of his 61 homers, Judge hit 30 at home and 31 on the road. After hitting 6 in April, he bashed 12, 11, 13, 9 and 10, respectively, from May through September.
You can script your story: Judge hit number 60 before a raucous home-field crowd. He had a week to hit 61 in front of the home fans, too. But…
Not everything always goes according to plan: Judge had a week to hit historic number 61 at Yankee Stadium, but it didn’t happen. He slugged 61 on September 28 in Toronto, then found himself with three games to hit record-setting 62 at Yankee Stadium…but failed again.
Family support at work matters: Who did Judge give his 61st home run ball to? His mom, of course, who’s always been his biggest fan.
Build your skill set: Yes, everyone is focused on Judge’s home runs, and he rose to fame as a power hitter. But he’s also chasing the Triple Crown—leading the league in batting average and runs batted in as well as home runs—and will use that full slate of skills in working out a new contract next year.
Expand into lesser-known areas of expertise: Judge also leads the majors in statistics like average exit velocity off the bat, hard-hit percentage, and the rate of barrels (which means balls that leave the bat with the perfect blend of exit velocity and launch angle).
Always find a way to contribute: If you can’t hit a home run, get a hit. If you can’t get a hit, work out a walk. If you can’t work out a walk, run hard and possible cause an error. If you can’t get on base, make a great play in the outfield. If you can’t make a great play, then make every routine play. There’s always a way to help the team.
Every day is a chance to prove yourself anew.
Not everyone is going to agree with your business decisions: The 20-year-old who caught Judge’s 60th home run ball—estimated by some to be worth tens of thousands of dollars—gave the ball back to the slugger in exchange for items including a meet-and-greet in the clubhouse with Judge, four autographed baseballs and a signed bat.
Moments of opportunity can slip through your fingers: Frankie Lasagna, we watched what happened as Judge’s number 61 left the yard and flew toward your outstretched glove. We feel for you.
Numbers are not always what they appear: As people searched for ever-more hyperbole to put this season in context, a stat started to circulate that Judge is the only player taller than 6’7” to hit 50 home runs. But how does the fact that fewer than 150 players in Major League history have been that tall make you think about that? Yeah, it’s still pretty impressive.
Being first to an idea doesn’t mean everything: The Oakland A’s selected Judge in the 31st round of the 2010 draft, but he turned them down to accept a baseball scholarship to Fresno State.
Don’t obsess about lost opportunities. Just learn what you can from them and move on: See above. Then read Moneyball.
Give yourself a chance to grow in your career: Judge hit 6 home runs during his first two college seasons combined. He hit 12 his junior year. And so on.
Never sell yourself short: Know your worth, know the value of your services, and back it up with your performance.
Bet on yourself: Before this season began, Judge turned down a contract extension offer of $213.5 million for 7 years, deciding to become a free agent at the end of the season and make himself potentially available to every team in baseball to bid on his services. If his season had been a bust…well, it wasn’t, so why even go there? He never did.
Always be ready to negotiate: There is no telling when Judge’s magical season will come to an end and his pursuit of that new contract becomes his focus. He’ll be prepared, we’re sure.
Swing for the fences.