ARLINGTON, Texas — As Aaron Judge approached baseball history, Yankees announcer Michael Kay knew only one part of his home run challenge would be an open case.
Kay says he wanted to capture the “enormity of the moment” Tuesday in Arlington, Texas, when Judge hit his 62nd home run of the year, setting a new AL single-season record.
A few weeks ago, Kay came up with a phrase to punctuate his call on the YES Network that will now forever be associated with Judge’s historic homer.
“I don’t plan on calling, but the one thing I wanted to say is definitely ‘case closed,'” Kay told the Daily News. “I was just thinking, ‘Judge,’ and that’s the American League home run record, so I wanted to end it with ‘case closed.’ I knew that, but everything else depends on where the ball is, and it wasn’t one of those majestic home runs that you know right away, so there had to be some hesitation.”
A first-inning home run against Texas Rangers pitcher Jesus Tinoco capped a two-week stretch that saw Judge tie and surpass the 61-year record held by former Yankees infielder Roger Maris.
The quest attracted huge attention and YES welcomed a national audience to the Judge’s at-bits matches through live reviews on other networks. Tuesday night’s game at Globe Life Field peaked YES with 933,000 in the New York area.
Kay says he’s happy his calls for the umpires’ 60th, 61st and 62nd home runs went smoothly, and admits there’s pressure to broadcast such highly anticipated moments.
“I told Derek Jeter the same thing: obviously, it’s not about me, but my voice will be attached to it for a long time, and I never want to ruin the moment for the guy,” Kay said.
“I don’t want him to have to listen to a stray call in 30 years or when he’s playing for his kids. This is a big responsibility. Forget what people across the country might be listening to. I just want to do the right thing with the players who have these amazing moments that excite all these people.”
Judge became just the fourth player in any league to hit 62 home runs in a season, following Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, whose 73 homers in 2001 are the MLB record.
Judge’s home run chase has reignited the debate among fans over who should be recognized as the true home run king since McGwire, Sosa and Bonds have all been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
“The beauty of this home run is that it’s in everyone’s lap now,” Kay said. “I didn’t have to make that decision for them on the call. I just said the fact that he is the American League home run king. I thought this was important to state. And now it’s up to you.”
The Bronx-bred Kay made a similarly memorable call for Judge’s 61st home run, referencing Phil Rizzuto’s broadcast of Maris’ 61st home run in 1961. The idea came to Kay after he watched a YouTube video of Maris’ milestone a few days before the judge struck the number. 61 in Toronto.
“I just heard Ritsuto say, ‘This could be anything. It’s a long way there.” I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if the home run allowed me to actually get it and tie the two eras together?'” Kay said.
“The only thing I regret is that it was like a bullet in the left seats, so you can have these grand plans that go away because the ball will determine what you say. I was able to blurt out, “That could be it,” but I could never blurt out, “Far out there.” … I’m just glad that some people realized that.”
Kay famously hit Jeter’s 3,000th hit, a home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series and a walk-off single in his final game at Yankee Stadium.
He says Judge’s 62nd home run is one of the most important milestones he’s overcome.
“I’m so lucky to be calling this team for 31 years, they give you so many great moments,” Kay said. “It’s definitely in the top three, four or five, probably because it has such historical implications.”