Aaron Judge's legendary Home Run Derby performance introduced the world to baseball's newest star

MIAMI – One hundred fifty years ago, when baseball was in its infancy, never could it have dreamed of a night like Monday, of a man like Aaron Judge. He does things to a baseball that defy comprehension and test the limits of physics and remind the jaded masses of the human body's ability to perform wondrous feats. Progress is typically a slow burn. Judge took an evolutionary leap over a conflagrant two hours.

The evening ended at 10:20 p.m. ET on the 80th swing of Judge's Home Run Derby-winning, star-affirming, zeitgeist-capturing show. Forty-seven went for home runs, the kill shot a 458-foot screamer to center field. They traveled 3.9 miles total, the shortest 372 feet, the longest 513. Three more exceeded the 500-foot mark. Balls went to left, center, right, ricocheted off the glass wall to his pull side and the hands of those bold enough to believe they can catch something that steamed off the bat at 110 mph-plus and the acid-trip sculpture in center field at Marlins Park, the stadium that served as Judge's playground.

He is 25 years old and a rookie and a New York Yankee, and those three things together make him the star baseball needs. Mike Trout is one of the best players ever and Bryce Harper a wonderful representative of what baseball can be, but Aaron Judge is something altogether different, a 6-foot-7, 282-pound, right-handed singularity – a specimen whose ability can make a sport rethink its limits because he stretches so beyond what was believed to be possible.

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MIAMI, FL - JULY 10: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees celebrates during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Marlins Park on July 10, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 20: Outfielders Aaron Judge #99 (L) and Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees celebrate after the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 20, 2016 in Anaheim, California. The Yankees won 5-1. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees congratulates teammate Greg Bird #33 after Bird drove them both in with a home run in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 16, 2017 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Apr 12, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) is congratulated by Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka (38) and Yankees first baseman Chris Carter (48) after hitting a two-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: The 5' 10' Ronald Torreyes #17 stands next to the 6' 7' Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees for the national anthem before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on September 7, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 10: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Aaron Judge #99, Ronald Torreyes #74 and Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees stand during the national anthem before their Opening Day game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on April 10, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Rays 8-1. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 26: Brett Gardner #11, Jacoby Ellsbury #22, Aaron Judge #99 and Matt Holliday #17 of the New York Yankees looks on during the National Anthem before a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 26, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Starlin Castro #14 and Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees celebrate the 9-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on April 16, 2017 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
May 21, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) is congratulated in the dugout after he made a diving catch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 11, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) hits a two run home run to right center during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 30: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees is greeted in the dugout after scoring during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 30, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: Brett Gardner #11leaps high to celebrate his home run with teammate Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees during an MLB baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on April 29, 2017 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Yankees won 12-4. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10: Starlin Castro #14 of the New York Yankees celebrates his second inning three run home run against the Baltimore Orioles with teammates Aaron Judge #99 and Matt Holliday #17 at Yankee Stadium on June 10, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Apr 19, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Hicks (31) celebrates his solo home run against the Chicago White Sox with New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 27: Aaron Judge #99, Starlin Castro #14 and Ronald Torreyes #74 of the New York Yankees high five each other after their victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 27, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees in action against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on June 10, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Orioles 16-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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"I've never seen somebody hit a ball like that in my life," Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez said. "Never ever ever ever ever ever."

He took a moment to consider Judge's performance before saying something that might be blasphemous were it not absolutely true.

"Not Babe Ruth," Perez said. "I don't think anybody could hit the ball like that."

If this all sounds like hyperbole, it's only because Judge traffics in the hyperbolic. He entered the Derby as the favorite following a first half in which he thumped 30 home runs and slashed .329/.448/.691. He saw his opponent in the first round, the Marlins' Justin Bour, whack 22 home runs, and though the sellout crowd ostensibly had shelled out hundreds of dollars a ticket in hopes of Judge facing another Marlin, Giancarlo Stanton, he was showered with boos. After his seventh home run landed 501 feet away, Judge turned the fans for good. He was about to put on a show to rival – and, eventually, exceed – Josh Hamilton and Mark McGwire and the rest of the legendary Derby participants.

"Once Justin put on a show like that," Judge said, "I just had to go to work."

Work. That's a funny word. Because when Aaron Judge swings a bat, it looks like anything but. It's what makes scouts marvel the most. His swing is so ... easy. The knock on players of Judge's size – the reason so few have sustained major league careers – is because honing and repeating a swing with such long levers takes an immense amount of effort. Just last fall, when Judge joined the Yankees, he looked positively lost. He batted .179 and struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats. The too-big-to-succeed stereotype dogged him. Coming into spring training, he wasn't guaranteed the right-field job.

Today, to dream of the Yankees without him – to dream of baseball without him – is depressing. The star-making machines of the NFL and NBA don't translate in baseball. It is a parochial game. The relevance of the All-Star week waned in recent years because of it, and even though a new timed format imbued the Derby with an energy it long lacked, the paucity of instantly recognizable names left it, as so much else in the sport, something for the die-hards.

Though three months does not make a star, Judge's power, his pinstripes, his age, his marketability and his unfailing likeability do make him the finest crossover candidate to play baseball since Ken Griffey Jr. twisted his cap backward and inspired a generation now in its 30s and 40s. Baseball constantly crowns the next big thing. After too many Joffrey Baratheons, Judge may be Daenerys Stormborn, his dragon a bat.

"He's an animal," said Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, whom Judge dispatched in the finals. "That's all I can say about him. The first time I saw Aaron Judge hitting BP, I can tell you: He's a monster."

Ousting Bour was one thing. Following up with shots of 504 feet and 513 feet and 507 feet to expel fellow rookie Cody Bellinger in the second round was another. Eleven home runs in the finals to beat Sano felt like a forgone conclusion, and Judge's last came with nearly two minutes left on the clock, time the crowd would've happily spent watching him do what he does so well.

"I really think this whole thing was a big trick," Tampa Bay outfielder Corey Dickerson said. "I think they should've just let him hit and let everyone enjoy it."

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Starting catcher: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

(Photo by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Starting 1B: Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays

(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting 2B: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting 3B: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting SS: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting OF: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Starting OF: George Springer, Houston Astros

(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting OF: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Starting DH: Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay Rays

(Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting pitcher: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Lance McCullers, Houston Astros

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

(Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Pitcher: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

 (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

(Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Earvin Santana, Minnesota Twins

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Luis Severino, New York Yankees

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox

(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Chris Devenski, Houston Astros

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins

(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays

(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Reserve catcher: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

(Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Reserve 1B: Yonder Alonso, Oakland Athletics

(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Reserve 2B: Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Reserve 2B: Starlin Castro, New York Yankees

(Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Reserve 2B: Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Reserve 3B: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Reserve 3B: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Reserve SS: Francisco Lindor, Ceveland Indians

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Reserve OF: Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Reserve OF: Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Reserve DH: Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Not playing due to injury: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels OF

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Not playing due to injury: Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros pitcher

(Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)

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Dickerson swooned not at Judge's 500-foot-plus moonshots or the towering drive stopped only by the roof but how easy he made 400-foot home runs to the opposite field look. Those are the ones that make him a ballplayer's ballplayer, that are the envy of everyone who endeavors to pick up a bat and has the gumption to hit 100-mph pitches with it. Anyone can pull a home run a long way. Nobody can go oppo with the effortlessness of Judge.

That, more than anything, makes him an aberration. The prospect of him facing Stanton in the finals was delicious because he is Stanton evolved. The Marlins lavished Stanton with a $325 million deal in hopes he would become what Judge already is, a fully formed hitter whose power recalibrates previously held notions of what power truly can be.

It would be one thing were Judge to show this in batting practice only. The fact he was the game's best hitter in the first half almost emboldens what he did in the Derby, lending it the gravitas that shows he's more than a guy who can hit 70-mph pitches to another area code. All Judge asked Danilo Valiente, the Yankees' batting-practice pitcher, was to keep the ball somewhere he could hit it, and Valiente obliged, knowing that Judge possesses the game's largest nitro zone.

"It was absolutely incredible," Valiente said. "He set out to do it, and he did it, and it was amazing to be able to watch it."

He was speaking for himself, but Valiente may as well have been the spokesman for those lucky enough to have tuned in. This was just an exhibition, and a gimmicky one at that, and yet it felt bigger, like those who have spoken about Judge in such sycophantic terms since April were validated. Baseball, the longest slog in sports, doesn't have many events. This was a capital-E Event.

And one can only hope it isn't the last, that Judge isn't like Michael Jordan, who grew too big for the Slam Dunk contest and eventually ceded to the less worthy. The Home Run Derby was made for Aaron Judge and vice versa. It's the sort of thing that reignites excitement, that takes a sport from afterthought to front burner. It warps minds and pushes boundaries and incites giddiness. And on Monday night, it was baseball at its finest, with its newest star burning bright in the Miami sky.

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Starting catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Starting 1B: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

(Photo by Juan Salas/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting 2B: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Starting 3B: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Starting SS: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Starting OF: Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Starting OF: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting OF: Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins

(Photo by Juan Salas/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Starting pitcher: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Pitcher: Alex Wood, Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers

(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Brad Hand, San Diego Padres

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Relief pitcher: Pat Neshek, Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Reserve catcher: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Reserve 1B: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Reserve 1B: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Reserve 1B: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

Reserve 2B: Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh Pirates

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Reserve 2B: D.J. LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Reserve 3B: Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Reserve 3B: Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Reserve SS: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

(Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Reserve OF: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Reserve OF: Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Reserve OF: Michael Conforto, New York Mets

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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