Aura of Yankee pinstripes too powerful for Aaron Judge to leave

SAN DIEGO – It was the legacy, the aura of being a New York Yankee, that ultimately swayed Aaron Judge to stay put.

When the Yankees raised their final offer to nine years, $360 million Tuesday afternoon, they had no idea which direction Judge would go.

Would he stay and become a Yankees legend?

Or would he go and play near his hometown in San Francisco where he was offered the same contract?

Judge, who flew to San Diego on Tuesday evening to get clarity, with the San Diego Padres also offering an alternative 10-year, $400 million deal, made his decision and informed the Yankees and several of his teammates he was staying put.

Yankees teammate Giancarlo Stanton, who spurned the Giants five years ago, informed friends late Tuesday night that Judge indeed was staying.

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The reason?

The honor of wearing the Yankee uniform, which will soon include a “C’’, a Yankee official told USA TODAY Sports, with Judge becoming the Yankees’ first captain since Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.

The Yankees will wait until Judge passes his physical to officially announce it, but three persons with direct knowledge of the contract informed USA TODAY Sports that he would be staying.

It is the most lucrative free-agent contract in baseball history and his $40 million annual salary is the largest by any position player.

The only bigger commitments is Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels and Mookie Betts’ 12-year, $365 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Betts’ was merely an extension, he never reached free agency.

The Yankees say they have no idea whether Judge, 30, will ever again duplicate his MVP season of 2022 when he hit an American League record 62 home runs, but they knew they couldn’t let him get away.

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, who had offered Judge a seven-year, $213.5 million contract before opening day, was forced to keep raising their offer to assure he’d stay.

They could have gone on, of course, and spent their money on shortstop Carlos Correa if Judge had left to assure they had a marquee attraction, but Judge was too important to the Yankees.

He not only is one of the best players in baseball, but one of the most beloved figures in Yankee history.

Yet, they were like everyone else, just waiting the decision with no idea whether he would stay.

The way Judge figured it, if the Yankees could make him wait before putting a historical offer on the table, he could make them wait, too.

“These last couple of days and the winter meetings always provide that sense of urgency with the whole industry here,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Tuesday. “A lot of the conversations that have gone on starting back in the GM meetings start to come to fruition here.

“Obviously, we have an amazing player, an amazing person that’s a free agent for us. So that becomes a little bit more of a big deal, especially in these few days.’’

Now, Judge is a Yankee for the rest of his life, a captain, a legend, and perhaps even a reserved spot in Monument Park for Yankee immortals.

Judge told the Yankees all along he wanted to stay, and now on a gorgeous day in Yankee history, the marriage is about to become official.

“I always felt like he certainly belongs in pinstripes,’’ Boone said. “A guy of his stature and his greatness hopefully spends his entire career into Monument Park and into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee.’’

Start spreadin’ the news.

Judge is a Yankee, right where he belongs.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This post appeared first on USA TODAY