In a year of unprecedented power for Major League Baseball, it was only fitting that the rookies of the year would be record-setting sluggers. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who bashed 52 homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who hit 39, were named unanimous winners of their leagues’ awards on Monday.
Major leaguers combined for 6,105 home runs in 2017, the most for any regular season in history, and Judge and Bellinger helped lead the way. Judge set a home run record for American League rookies while Bellinger did the same in the National League. The World Series between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros featured a record 25 homers.
“I think it makes it exciting,” Bellinger said. “A lot of America and beyond witnessed it firsthand with the World Series, what it’s become, with people showing emotion now and learning to hit the long ball at a young age. It’s starting to take off, and I’m a big fan of it.”
The other finalists — Boston’s Andrew Benintendi and Baltimore’s Trey Mancini in the A.L., and St. Louis’s Paul DeJong and Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell in the N.L. — each hit at least 20 home runs. But Judge and Bellinger collected every first-place vote from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, becoming the first duo to win unanimously since Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra and Philadelphia’s Scott Rolen did so in 1997.
Twenty-three players have now won it unanimously, including five Hall of Famers — Jackie Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Carlton Fisk and Mike Piazza — and more recent stars like Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.
Judge, a 25-year-old right fielder, started the season batting eighth and ended it as the A.L. leader in homers, runs scored (128), walks (127) and strikeouts (208), with a combined on-base and slugging percentage of 1.049, trailing only Trout in the A.L. Judge hit .284, drove in 114 runs and became the first Yankee to be rookie of the year since Jeter in 1996.
Jeter led the Yankees to a championship that season, and Judge came close this year, helping the Yankees reach Game 7 of the A.L. Championship Series, which they lost to Houston. Along the way, he won the All-Star Home Run Derby and inspired a wood-paneled cheering section at Yankee Stadium — the Judge’s Chambers, with fans wearing robes and waving foam gavels. A Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, even saw a game there in August.
Judge’s season included a prolonged slump; he hit .179 from July 14 through the end of August, after batting .329 before the All-Star break. He was unflappable throughout, with a calm, humble demeanor and the assurance that he would recover. On his conference call with reporters Monday, Judge recalled a lesson from Carlos Beltran at spring training in 2016.
“I asked him, ‘How’s it been for you, going through the ups and downs each year, through injuries and stuff like that?’” Judge said of Beltran, who retired Monday after 20 seasons. “And he said: ‘Hey, you’ve got to realize that you could be hot in the first couple of months, or you could start off bad in the first couple of months, but you know what? It’s baseball, it’s all going to even out. So if you just stay as even-keel as possible, don’t try to ride the ups and downs, just stay positive with everything, your numbers, your results, and where your team wants to be will be there at the end of the year.’
“Hearing that from a veteran presence like that, who never pressed in any situation, was pretty cool to hear.”
Since the end of the season, Judge’s profile has continued to rise. Last week, Sony revealed him as the new cover star of its popular video game MLB The Show. On Monday, Pepsi announced an endorsement deal with him. Typically, Judge deflected attention from himself.
“There’s a lot of young faces who could be the face of M.L.B.,” he said. “If you look around, from a lot of the rookies we had this year, a lot of the younger guys in their early to mid-20s, and how they’ve impacted the game — we’ve got a special group here in Major League Baseball. How the playoffs went this year, the excitement around this game right now, it’s a special time to be in the big leagues.”
Bellinger, 22, joined the Dodgers in late April and helped the team to 104 victories, the most for the franchise since its move from Brooklyn in 1958. He drove in 97 runs and hit .267 with a .933 O.P.S., while splitting time between first base and the outfield.
Bellinger, the son of the former Yankees utility man Clay Bellinger, joined a long list of Dodgers to win the award. The Dodgers have now claimed 18 rookies of the year, including Robinson — the first — and shortstop Corey Seager, a unanimous winner in 2016. The Yankees, with nine, have the second-most rookies of the year.
For all their success, though, Judge and Bellinger were humbled at times in the postseason. In the Yankees’ division series victory over Cleveland, Judge went 1 for 20 and set a postseason series record for strikeouts, with 16. The record lasted less than a month, because Bellinger broke it in the World Series. He was 4 for 28 in the seven-game loss to Houston, with 17 strikeouts.
The BBWAA awards week continues with the managers of the year on Tuesday, the Cy Young winners on Wednesday and the most valuable players on Thursday. Judge is among the finalists for the A.L. M.V.P., with Houston’s Jose Altuve and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez.
By Tyler Kepner