It took visits in Tampa, phone calls in the middle of the night and the richest contract in Yankee history, but Aaron Judge found himself back in The Bronx on Wednesday, where he was introduced — again — as a Yankee.
Judge said he made up his mind to accept the Yankees’ nine-year, $360 million offer — and turn down a similar deal from his hometown San Francisco Giants — because of a late-night call he received from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
After that conversation, in which Steinbrenner raised the Yankees’ offer to nine years and offered Judge the captaincy, Judge accepted the contract, essentially making him a Yankee for life.
“It came to a decision we knew in our heart we belong in New York, we belong in this city,’’ Judge said of the decision he and his wife, Samantha, made this month. “There’s a lot of unfinished business here in New York. I’m looking forward to finishing that business.”
The term “unfinished business” was a popular one at the Stadium on Wednesday, repeated by Judge, Aaron Boone and others, with Judge citing his goal to win “not one, but multiple championships down the road.”
A World Series title — or appearance — is still absent from Judge’s résumé, even after the 30-year-old hit 62 homers to set the American League home run record in his MVP season.
The Yankees opted to keep Judge as the face of the franchise for at least the next nine seasons, as well as make him the 16th captain in franchise history and first since Derek Jeter.
That last part came Dec. 7 in the final conversation between Judge and Steinbrenner at 3 a.m. Pacific time, with Steinbrenner on vacation in Italy and Judge at his parents’ house in Linden, Calif., awaiting an early-morning flight to Hawaii.
But it was part of a negotiation that began the day after the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason by the Astros, when Steinbrenner, Judge and general manager Brian Cashman had a conversation before Judge and Steinbrenner met again at Steinbrenner’s house in Tampa.
Judge said Steinbrenner told him at that point, ‘We’re gonna make you a Yankee. We’re gonna get this done. I don’t like waiting.”
But Judge, coming off one of the best seasons in baseball history after turning down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension prior to Opening Day, knew he owed it to himself to see what else was out there.
That led to a trip to San Francisco for a meeting with the Giants and a last-minute trip to San Diego to talk to the Padres.
Judge added he had more than the two formal offers from the Yankees and Giants, but declined to name the teams.
Judge needed that last nudge — the extra year and the captaincy — to get the deal done.
Steinbrenner said he told Judge, “As far as I’m concerned, you’re not a free agent. As far as I’m concerned you’re a Yankee and we need to do everything we can to ensure that remains the same.”
So he went from eight years on the contract to a ninth year, which Judge said he wouldn’t have been able to turn down from another team.
“It was apparent to me the ninth year was very important to him and he could be very productive [throughout the length of the deal],” Steinbrenner said. “I don’t know what the offers are. There’s always at least one owner capable of doing more than the owner before.”
Only one team, though, could make Judge the Yankee captain and keep him with the organization that drafted him in 2013.
Cashman spoke of Judge’s importance to the Yankees and why it was vital to keep him around.
“This is a franchise player that impacts us in the win column [and] is connected massively with our fan base,’’ Cashman said. “This was not just a baseball situation. People stop doing what they’re doing and watch every at-bat.”
“We got our guy,’’ Boone said. “I know we’re going to hoist that championship [trophy] one day, which we know we’re gonna do. It’s just hard getting there.”
In the end, as Steinbrenner said Wednesday, “It was difficult to imagine the New York Yankees without Aaron.”
Now he doesn’t have to.
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