They combined for an astonishing 91 home runs, shattering rookie records in each league. They helped lead two of baseball’s most storied franchises to postseason berths and deep playoff runs. And Monday, New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge and Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger were named unanimous winners of the American League and National League rookie of the year awards.
It was only the fourth time that both leagues’ rookies of the year were awarded unanimously, and the first time since Scott Rolen and Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.
Judge, 25, became the Yankees’ ninth rookie of the year honoree, but their first since Derek Jeter in 1996. He didn’t earn his spot on the Yankees’ roster until the final days of spring training, but by July — after winning the Home Run Derby and starting in the All-Star Game — he was being discussed as the new face of baseball, thanks to his marketable mixture of prodigious power, extreme size (6-foot-7, 280 pounds) and humble personality. It also didn’t hurt that he played for baseball’s flagship franchise.
Though his season was marked by acute peaks and vicious slumps, when it was finished Judge had 52 homers, breaking the big league rookie record — 49 by Mark McGwire — that had stood for 30 years. He also led the AL in walks (127) and runs (128).
Bellinger, 22, began the season in the minors and was called up April 25. From that point on, he smashed 39 homers in only 132 games, exceeding the NL mark of 38 by Wally Berger (1930) and Frank Robinson (1956), while leading a 104-win Dodgers team in homers, RBI (97) and slugging percentage (.581). Monday’s honor made him the Dodgers’ 18th rookie of the year winner, by far the most of any franchise, and their second in a row, after Corey Seager in 2016.
“Now that the season is over, I’m trying to reflect on how crazy this season was,” Bellinger said on MLB Network. “To have this award to top it off … is really special for me.”
Though both Judge and Bellinger struck out at prodigious rates in 2017 — and each set records for whiffs in a single postseason, with Bellinger (29) topping the record Judge (27) had set earlier in October — both also collected huge hits in the playoffs, with Judge’s Yankees advancing via the wild card to the American League Championship Series and Bellinger’s Dodgers earning their first World Series berth since 1988. Both teams were eliminated in Game 7s against the Houston Astros.
Boston’s Andrew Benintendi was runner-up in the American League, with Baltimore’s Trey Mancini finishing third, while St. Louis’s Paul DeJong and Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell were second and third in the NL. Voting was done by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and was completed before the postseason.
For Judge, Monday’s honor may have been a mere appetizer to a main course that could arrive Thursday, when he is considered a leading contender, along with Houston’s Jose Altuve, for AL MVP.
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