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Aaron Judge’s 2023 destination was widely discussed throughout last season after he rejected a seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer from the Yankees, which was shared publicly before Opening Day.
The outfielder went on to have a historic 2022 season and eventually agreed to stay with New York, signing a nine-year, $360 million deal. But on The Tonight Show earlier this week, Judge explained his decision to Jimmy Fallon, adding how teammate Anthony Rizzo—and his dog—played a big role.
Rizzo also was a free agent, eventually agreeing to a two-year, $34 million contract to return to the Yankees, and once his spot was locked, the first baseman turned his attention to Judge.
“He was calling me every day. He was sending me texts every day,” Judge said. “He was working hard.”
Rizzo eventually resorted to a tactic that could pull on Judge’s heartstrings. Apparently, their dogs—Penny (Judge’s dog) and Kevin (Rizzo’s)—are friends. “He went for my heart,” Judge added.
Fallon showed a photo of Penny and Kevin, eliciting a loud “aw” from the audience. Judge said, “This is what I had to deal with. Every day, I was getting photos like this.”
Rizzo has previously fessed up to using their dogs to convince Judge, saying on The Book of Joe podcast, with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci and Joe Maddon, his former Cubs manager, “I did send him a couple of pictures of our dogs together—because we both have dachshunds—saying, ‘We can’t break them up!’”
While it may seem like Rizzo was recruiting hard, he told Verducci and Maddon that he “wasn’t recruiting as hard as you think. [Wife] Emily and I know him and [Judge’s wife] Sam really well from last year, just getting closer. It was really, ‘What’s going to make you happy? Is it going to be A, B, C or D? Is that here, there or somewhere else?’ And just kind of being more of a friend throughout the process than being a teammate.
“Thinking in that zero hour when everything hit the fan, I was a little bit worried like everyone else. But also, saying, ‘You have to do what makes you happy and what’s going to be what’s ultimately best for you.’”
Judge described the free agency process as a “fun” one to Fallon, and while he did “meet a lot of great teams,” he and his wife would sit down after the meetings. He said they’d look at one another “and be like, ‘We’re Yankees.’”