For years, the warning light has been blinking on Major League Baseball. Rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger can not only be the mechanic to fix the signs of demise, but also can lead baseball to heights not seen since 1998’s chase for 62.
Yankees’ Aaron Judge steps up to the plate and it is completely fathomable to believe he is a walking solar eclipse. At 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 282 pounds, Judge has the physique of an NFL pass rusher, not New York’s next legend of baseball.
If Hollywood wanted to depict the star baseball player for its home team, Cody Bellinger would fit the mold. The 6’4″, 213 pound lefty loves to flash his made for film smile, evoking nostalgia for another famous smile that overtook Tinsel Town–Magic Jonson. The rookie is hitting the ball out of the park at a more efficient clip than any rookie in the history of baseball.
Both rookies are in Miami for the All-Star game. Both can save baseball from a game that has become too slow, too old and too deprived of the fast paced, A.D.D.-friendly action that the NBA and NFL excel at. The erosion of its popularity have left many to wonder if the league is on the endangered species list.
The fans and media are always quick to anoint the next big superstar. Names like Kershaw, Harper, Trout have made the game their own little Sandlot. Even the best, however, have done little to affect Major League Baseball’s popularity on the overall landscape of professional sports.
What makes Judge and Bellinger different from the others that have come before them is both obvious and subtle at the same time.
The obvious is Judge and Bellinger’s respective home parks. New York and Los Angeles are the top two markets in the country. To this day, the biggest World Series television rating share was between the two coastal metropolis’ in 1978. Over 50% of the United States tuned in to see Reggie Jackson and Steve Garvey. Yes, times were different. Magic and Larry Bird were still in college and the NFL was a distant second. We as fans though have an affinity for coastal rivalries. The most watched NBA Finals game outside of Michael Jordan was between Magic’s Lakers and Larry’s Celtics. Bad Boy vs. Death Row brought rap into the forefront of music popularity and into the nightmares of every suburban parent.
Also, let’s not forget they both crush the baseball. Judge broke the Yankees rookie home run record by the All-Star break. Bellinger became the first rookie to hit 10 home runs in 10 games.
The two players individually also have amazing stories.
Judge was adopted the day after he was born and has always been an athletic phenom. His high school coaches have often commented how they would have to travel outside of city limits to find teams unfamiliar with Judge so they would pitch to him. A behemoth who excelled at three sports and received college scholarships to play both football and baseball, he ended up playing close to home at Fresno State. He was selected in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
Bellinger is the son of a former journeyman Major League Baseball player who played for the Yankees during their championship run at the beginning of the century. In high school he was drafted mainly on potential. He was a 6-2, 175 pound twig who hit one home run his senior year. Logan White, former Dodgers’ former vice president saw him play with his son in the Little League World Series and took a flyer on him in the fourth round of the same 2013 draft. They hoped he’d fill out. They hoped he’d find power. Safe to say that one worked out.
Both have affable personalities that have been showcased nationally. Bellinger admitting on SportsCenter he didn’t know who Jerry Senifeld was and Judge went on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, undercover. The only place where Judge may have the upper hand outside of his massive body is the New York rookie has a following complete with powdered wigs and black judge robes. There’s still time for Los Angeles to come up with something. The home of Fernando-mania and MannyWood will soon offer up Bellinger’s rebuttal.
Now the two sit in the same position, leading their teams to the top of the standings.
Since Bellinger’s call up in April, the Dodgers went from a team below .500 to the best team in the National League. Judge is flirting with the triple crown and most Yankee fans are already picking his plot of land in Monument Park. Judge is 25 and Bellinger is 21. Both are rookies and both have already made considerable impacts on their team. There is limitless potential. The opportunity to watch these two grow and flourish in the game for the next decade. Two long ball hitters in big market cities with grounded upbringings.
Hercules and David. The Phenom and The Late Bloomer. Adopted Child and Second Generation Big Leaguer. East Coast and West Coast. The Bronx and Hollywood. Righty and Lefty. Their paths couldn’t be more different. Like most paths, however, a merge is imminent. In this case, a collision. And it just might save baseball.