Giancarlo Stanton Finally Has Smash Brother in Yankees Teammate Aaron Judge

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistApril 2, 2018

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge, left, and Giancarlo Stanton (27) stretch at baseball spring training camp, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
B/R

TAMPA, Fla. — Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were the "M&M Boys." Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were the "Bash Brothers." The "Dynamic Duo" was taken long ago and, besides, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are both bat men, so who would be Robin?

As the catchy nickname suggestions flew this winter—Towers of Power? Mash Brothers?—Stanton's wise guy New York roommate and best friend, Mets reliever AJ Ramos, laughingly offered this to the slugger.

Two Ks.

Stanton, who spent six seasons alongside Ramos with the Marlins, jokingly retorted that Ramos had to actually "throw a strike to get a strike."

As Stanton and Judge join forces and a potentially historic New York Yankees season opens its curtain in the Bronx on Tuesday, it won't be the nicknames or the jokes that matter. Two components will tell the tale of the tape for the Yanks this summer: How many strikes rival pitchers throw, and in a strikeout-friendly lineup, how many strikes they get.

Even by Yankees standards, the Hype-O-Meter has been through the roof with these two Goliaths. This spring, the Yankees opened the Steinbrenner Field gates an hour earlier than usual before each Grapefruit League game so fans could flock inside to see the batting practice show. And this summer, the club plans to open the Yankee Stadium gates early before selected home games as well.

Along with the excitement, the pressure and expectations are stratospheric.

In other words, big business as usual in the Big Apple.

And how this ginormous Stanton-Judge pairing reacts, whether it veers more toward Two Thumpers or Two Ks, will play the biggest role in whether the Yankees can surpass last year's surprise run to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

"Diamonds don't get made unless there's enough pressure applied over time," New York general manager Brian Cashman says. "We're looking for diamonds at the end of this thing. So if the pressure comes along with the process, so be it."

"Expectations," Stanton says of the difference between his new clubhouse and that of his old Marlins. "You can see it's a true feeling, and see it's excitement and [people were] kind of ready for the season on the first day of spring."

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hit a combined 111 home runs last season and this year lead a Yankees lineup that hit 241 homers in 2017.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hit a combined 111 home runs last season and this year lead a Yankees lineup that hit 241 homers in 2017.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

That the Bronx Bombers Show will light up the skies around baseball again this season is about as assured as the supply of mustard for your ballpark hot dog. Even without Stanton last year, the Yankees led the major leagues with 241 home runs in a lineup powered by Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner.

Now, new manager Aaron Boone will run out the two men who hit the most homers in the game last year. Stanton pounded 59, and Judge walloped 52. They become only the second pair of teammates ever to have each hit 50 or more in the previous year, following Mantle and Maris in 1962, wrote MLB.com's Matt Kelly. And, according to Elias Sports Bureau, (per Kelly) the Yankees are the first team to lead the majors in home runs and then acquire last season's home run leader since, yes, the Yankees added a fella named Babe Ruth in 1919.

Put all that together with the fact that Yankee Stadium ranked behind only Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park as the most home run-friendly park last year (and it was No. 1 in 2016), and every night pretty much will be Guaranteed Souvenir Night with this bunch.

"People are excited by it, there's no doubt about it," Cashman says. "But you're only able to maintain it when you perform. You've gotta back up the hype with performance."

Of course, with the home runs will come the strikeouts, bunches of them, and probably, given the track records of these guys, oodles of them. Judge led the majors in whiffs last year with 208. Stanton tied for 17th with 163.

But aside from that—or, perhaps, along with thatcomes one thing we cannot know until the pages of 2018 begin to turn: How Stanton will react to and perform in the white-hot New York spotlight, and whether Judge will build on his sensational rookie season or fall back into some degree of a sophomore slump.

Win or lose, Stanton always will be under the shadow of that $325 million contract, and in New York he will be expected both to play to that level and to regularly answer for it. As a couple of his ex-Marlins teammates tell it, when Stanton went 0-for-4 in a given game in Miami, he sometimes would no-show at his locker when reporters were looking for him. In New York, that won't fly.

Stanton's manager in Miami, of course, knows what it takes to be a Yankee as well as anyone.

"The biggest thing is that there's the huge change from Miami to New York," Don Mattingly says. "His position is kind of the same: The guy who's been around the longest with a bunch of young guys around him.

"The only thing is, you can't hide. There, you lose three in a row and it's, 'Oh no, now what's happened?' The sky is falling. And you win three in a row and you're the greatest team ever. The biggest thing about New York is dealing with the downs."

Stanton, a very intelligent guy and, when he wants to be, engaging, knows this. And he knows he will be pulled in 100 different directions by the media and the fans and that he must set boundaries somewhere without becoming the bad guy.

Giancarlo Stanton's Yankees career got off to a fast start with a pair of home runs in the season opener, including one in his first at-bat of the season.
Giancarlo Stanton's Yankees career got off to a fast start with a pair of home runs in the season opener, including one in his first at-bat of the season.Nick Turchiaro/USA Today Images

"You've got to understand that," he says. "I don't know where or when it's going to be because I've got to live it, but there's going to be a point where there is magnified negativity, and there's going to be a point where there are magnified positive things. Just realize it and play between the lines is the main thing.

"There are going to be highs and lows. It's already expected. I'm fine. It doesn't matter to me. I don't wish bad on anybody. I don't do things in a negative light, so I don't worry about it."

Says starter CC Sabathia, comparing his Cleveland and Milwaukee days to moving to the Big Apple: "You hear everything about what's going to happen, the media and things like that, but just getting here and getting settled in is the hard part. Once you settle in, it's easy. Getting to spring training, getting to New York, playing your first Yankees-Red Sox game...once you get all that in, all that experience, it will be easy."

Stanton and Judge spent the spring getting to know each other, having met just a few times before, first at last year's Home Run Derby in Miami and then at the Baseball Writers' Association of America awards dinner in New York in January.

Stanton's memory of the first meeting is that he had something to fix when Judge arrived: The struggling Marlins had been in New York in May for a series against the Mets, a reporter asked Stanton whether he thought Judge had more power than him and it turned into a mini-controversy.

"[I said] I don't care about speed off the bat, I don't care if he has more or I have less or whatever. I've always said that," Stanton says. "So from then it became who's going to hit the most homers, who's going to do this, and then they both need to be in the Home Run Derby, this and that.

"I remember just saying, 'What's up?' to him [at the Derby] and clearing that up, like, 'Look, man, they're going to try and [stir the rivalry] and we've gotta be cool. We've gotta be friends and understand that we can help each other make this fun.'"

Judge, who already this spring has indicated he will not participate in this summer's Home Run Derby, says he doesn't remember many details.

"I just remember him saying, 'Hey, man, great to finally meet you and I'm looking forward to competing against you,'" Judge says.

With 52 homers last season, Aaron Judge broke a rookie mark held by Mark McGwire (49).
With 52 homers last season, Aaron Judge broke a rookie mark held by Mark McGwire (49).Chris O'Meara/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

While it's hard not to see a friendly rivalry developing between the two boppers this summer, as Stanton says, "Who cares how many we hit as long as there's a W at the end of the day? We don't need to hit home runs or [compete for] RBIs. One solo homer or a three-run double, whatever helps the team."

To Judge, the addition of Stanton is a chance to compete with him, not against him.

"We've got a good team," says Judge. "I want to continue to be just a piece for this amazing team that we've got. We've got a lot of great pieces. We've added Stanton. We got a lot of quality time in the playoffs last season. I'm excited for our growth."

Funny to hear a man who is a hulking 6'7" and 282 pounds discuss growth, especially in a clubhouse of guys who darn near could be mistaken for NFL linemen. Stanton is 6'6" and 245 pounds. Starter CC Sabathia is 6'6", 300. Closer Aroldis Chapman is 6'4", 212 and setup man Dellin Betances is 6'8", 265.

But there is one essential reason above all why size matters to Judge and Stanton: As a couple of right-handed hitters with enormous strike zones who likely will be similarly attacked by rival pitchers, they will be able to understand and help each other through the grind of the season.

"That'll be the coolest thing," says Judge, who has followed Stanton in the lineup through the Yankees' first three games this season. "That's why I enjoyed having Matt Holliday [6'4", 240] around so much last year. He was a bigger guy who had success in the league and I'd get a chance to pick his brain on certain things regarding hitting. Mechanical things he's had to work on and adjust from his first couple of years until now.

"Getting a chance to have Stanton with us and get quality time in the cage will be cool. Picking his brain to see how his mind works, how he thinks about hitting, what he tries to do, certain mechanical things he does, certain drills, things like that.

"That's the coolest thing I've enjoyed so far about being with the Yankees. We're surrounded by so many great players and ex-players, so many great legends. You don't take all the information, but you take bits and pieces from some guys and you form it into your own swing, your own approach. That's what I'm looking forward to doing."

One of the reminders Holliday kept tossing out to Judge still resonatesalways stay in the big part of the yard, between the power alleys.

Judge and Stanton are the first pair of teammates since 1962 to have each hit 50 homers the previous season.
Judge and Stanton are the first pair of teammates since 1962 to have each hit 50 homers the previous season.Brett Davis/USA Today Sports

"That was the big thing he talked about: Use it," Judge says. "We're big, strong guys. You don't have to hit it 500 feet. Just be consistent with your barrel."

Also of help this season should be a schedule that will see the Yankees facing clubs from the NL East, a grouping of pitchers that Stanton knows intimately and, therefore, can share inside information about.

In the grand scheme, it may not matter who is pitching. As Mattingly says of Stanton, "He's going to hit 40 mistakes out. I think he'll be fine."

As the man himself says...a pitcher's gotta throw a strike to get a strike.

Meanwhile, in the city, the alternating dates of the Yankees' and Mets' schedules will put Stanton and his roomie home together on very few days this summer. Which, who knows, aside from the Two Ks thing, might not be so bad.

"If he leaves some dishes out, I'm throwing them on his bed," Ramos, who spent six seasons with Stanton in Miami, quips. "There might be some funny stuff left in his room, or in my room."

In fact, Ramos threatens, if Stanton doesn't keep things neat, "I might leave a bowl of eggs under his bed, just for the smell."

And if that is the most difficult part of Stanton's adjustment to New York, look out. The Yankees might just be unstoppable.

   

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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