On Tuesday, September 20, Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ six-foot-seven star outfielder, hit a race deep into the left field bleachers. It was his sixtieth of the season. Only Babe Ruth and Roger Maris have reached that number in American League history. (Maris holds the record for sixty-one, but for how long?) Mike Kessler, the twenty-year-old fan who caught the ball, in a move that prompted one sportswriter to call him the “purest baseball fan in the world “, gave it back to the judge, without charge. It was Judge’s story, he said. He told the assembled reporters that he only had one thing to ask of the player, who becomes a free agent next season: “He’ll try anything to come back next year. You are the heart and soul of the baseball club.” For the cover of the October 3, 2022 issue of the new yorker, Mark Ulriksen celebrates Judge’s remarkable achievement. I recently spoke with the artist about his love of baseball.
When did you start paying attention to Aaron Judge?
As a die-hard baseball fan, Aaron Judge is hard to miss. He is so dynamic, exciting and huge! He is a true superstar. His turns at bat are unmissable. Judge gets a lot of attention here in San Francisco because he grew up a Giants fan in the Central Valley, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. Every baseball team would love to sign him.
You really wanted to draw it. What about its construction is so interesting?
It’s not often that I get the chance to caricature a six-foot-seven-inch, two hundred and eighty pound athlete. By cutting off his feet and face, and juxtaposing him with a standard-sized baseball player, who are also large, he was trying to convey the size of him. He is one of the best position players in the long history of the game.
What makes baseball interesting to you as an artist?
Baseball has always been my favorite sport, maybe because I grew up playing it. It is a sport full of tall and small; players are all unique. This also applies to the architecture of baseball stadiums. Can anyone tell the difference between one basketball stadium and another? No. But Yankee Stadium is very different from Fenway Park.
How do you represent the action in a single image?
I’ve always been drawn to suspended animation, capturing motion frozen in space. Athletes also have distinctive ways of plying their trade. A pitcher’s swing can be instantly recognizable to fans, just as Judge’s swing is distinctively his.
Do you collect snapshots and spend time drawing people you find interesting, or do you like to rely more on your imagination?
When I started as an illustrator, after a career in graphic design, I only drew from my imagination. Then an art director told me that my characters were ugly and unpleasant. Since then, I have relied on photographic references. I have archives of photos clipped from newspapers and organized into various categories: walking, sitting, standing, handshakes, kissing, etc., as well as baseball, basketball, soccer, football, and more. I do sketches of people when I go to music festivals, which I do a lot, but the sketches are always the same, a bunch of interesting, anonymous people drawn from behind.
Have you ever been to a game at Yankee Stadium?
A couple of weeks ago, my wife, Leslie, and I took a short vacation to Manhattan and I attended my first game at the new Yankee Stadium. We were both very impressed, and my wife is not a sports fan at all. She loved how you can circle the stadium during the game and see the field from all kinds of perspectives. We sit with fun and noise bleach creatures. We loved how the maintenance staff led the crowd into a “YMCA” dance. It was a great experience.