If the season ended today, New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge would win the Triple Crown.
As a rookie.
With two homers on Sunday — one a highlight-reel worthy 496-foot shot — he upped his mark to 21 this season and that goes right alongside a .344 batting average and 47 RBI. Will the Triple Crown pace continue? Who knows, but the power is a barometer of baseball card potential and he’s on pace to be among the best rookies in MLB history.
He’s on pace to top the 40-homer mark and that’s been done just one other time by a rookie. Even if he struggles some, by season’s end he’s likely to be very close to — if not among — the top 10 sluggers for most home run seasons by a rookie.
Before we get to those past rookies, first we need to revisit Judge and his cardboard for a quick primer. Judge’s official Rookie Cards are in 2017 brands (click to view) and he’s got autographs in most releases (and probably in those to come) but his cardboard career began back in 2013. He has nearly 500 different signed cards with ink in 2013 Bowman Draft (above), Bowman Sterling, Leaf Memories, Leaf Metal Draft Leaf Trinity, Panini Prizm Perennial Draft Picks and Elite Extra Edition being the earliest options from wax in that first year. Some of those boxes are still readily available, too (click to view). He’s also appeared in many prospect releases since then, giving collectors a lot of options as his Rookie of the Year/league MVP/Triple Crown potential season continues.
The record for the most home runs by a rookie is 49, which was done by Mark McGwire back in 1987. We all know how that story ended but the season was one that helped put his 1987 cardboard on the map as part of a legendary year that paid off over and over and over as stars emerged over time. PED scandals or not, he owned the baseball card world in 1998 when he later set the single-season home run mark and in the seasons around that time. Now just think what his cards would have looked like had he done those things as a Yankee.
The next-highest marks are 38 from Frank Robinson and Wally Berger in 1956 and 1930. Robinson is arguably the most-overlooked of all of the elite sluggers in the Hall of Fame. The PED years really changed the record books but Robinson’s 586 career home runs still rank 10th-best in the history of the game. His 1957 Topps Rookie Card is nowhere close to that.
On their tails in the record book are Albert Pujols and Al Rosen with 37 in 2001 and 1950 and Jose Abreu, who hit 36 as a 27-year-old rookie in 2014. Pujols dominated the last 17 years on cardboard, though the newest member of the 600-home run club has been overshadowed of late by that one teammate — Mike Trout, who only hit five homers in his brief call-up and then 30 in his first full season. Abreu has been a powerful player in his first four seasons — averaging 32 homers per campaign — but hasn’t really captured that luster that his cards had in his first year. (This is likely due to his arrival and age after years as a star in Cuba.)
Rounding out the top 10 on the rookie home run charts? The guys who hit 35 homers in a season — Mike Piazza (1993), Ron Kittle (1983) Rudy York (1937) and Hal Trosky (1934). Piazza is another where we know the story — it ended in Cooperstown last year — while Kittle was kind of a big deal back then as the 1983 Rookie of the Year for the Chicago White Sox but he then fizzled out after he was traded to … wait for it … the Yankees.
Judge is home-grown so nearly every card he appears on features those powerful pinstripes so no matter what he does in regards to that final number there will be plenty of interest in his baseball cards from the past as well as those made in the present.
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