The History of Aaron Judge and His Shoulder Injury Turned Rib Injury

The Yankees' right fielder has been dealing with the same injury for nearly 10 months

Yankees baseball is so, so, so close to being back. But even it had already come back or if it had never been forced to be suspended, Aaron Judge still wouldn’t have played a game for the 2020 Yankees as a result of him diving for a ball nearly 10 months ago.

The Yankees’ handling of their injuries since Judge went down with a fractured wrist in July 2018 has been nothing short of ridiculous. The amount of times a Yankees player has been properly evaluated or correctly diagnosed or has returned from injury within the team’s original timetable can be counted on one hand, and you might not even need all your fingers on that one hand to do the counting. The Yankees were set to begin this season without their No. 2 and No. 3 starting pitchers and without their entire starting outfield. This coming a season after the team set the all-time record for most players placed on the injured list in a single season. To make matters worse is the injury to Judge, like the injuries to Luis Severino and James Paxton, were all sustained last season and went untreated the entire offseason. Judge injured himself in mid-September, Paxton in late September and Severino in October. Even Aaron Hicks’ elbow injury which needed Tommy John surgery was delayed enough that he would miss somewhere around half this season, had the season started on time, and it didn’t have to be the case.

After enduring the mysterious statements, announcements and timelines for injuries to Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton last season, Judge’s current injury status is as bizarre and confusing as his fellow outfielders were a year ago. Judge’s situation began as a minor injury and has since transformed into a complicated and complex saga over three-plus months.

How did we get here? Here being July 2 with baseball set to begin in three weeks and Judge still isn’t healthy, wouldn’t be playing if the 2020 season had never been delayed and still might not be able to play when the season does begin on July 23? Let’s go through it all.

On Feb. 18, on the first actual day of spring training, the Yankees immediately shut down Aaron Judge like he’s some disgusting, unsanitary dive bar that John Taffer just walked into.

“Just dealing with some crankiness,” Boone said rather nonchalantly about Judge as if he could be cured with some Tylenol and a couple days off. “I guess a little soreness in shoulder.”

Boone’s lack of emotion is a main reason why he is the Yankees manager and Joe Girardi is now with the Phillies. But when it comes to injury news, Boone’s even-keeled temperament comes off as comical when injuries go from a player being day-to-day to missing two months, and that happened all of the 2019 season.

“I feel like it’s a pretty minor thing,” Boone said. “Probably in the next couple days, start ramping him back up.”

Boone’s first “ramping” reference of 2020 and it came on the first day of spring training! It wasn’t the first appearance of “ramping” in the calendar year that got me though, it was his use of the word “minor” that truly got me upset. Nothing is “minor” when it involves the team’s best player and no injury of any magnitude is “minor” with the Yankees until they prove they can accurately diagnose and successfully heal injuries. Not playing baseball since Oct. 19 and implementing sweeping changes on the team’s medical staff didn’t just erase what happened last season. A winter layoff didn’t magically build trust between the team’s handling of injuries and the fans. The botched timelines by Boone and the Yankees last season eventually led to Boone simply not giving timelines for any injured Yankees, and there were a lot of them as the team set the single-season record for most players to land on the injured list. In many of the cases, Boone made it seem like everything was fine only to have the player land on the IL later that day or in the following days. So when Boone refers to an injury as something “minor” and uses the word “ramping” to describe Judge, you better be worried.

“We did put him through a battery of tests,” Boone said. “He had the MRI.”

Normally, an MRI means an issue is significant enough to warrant an MRI, but not when it comes to the Yankees. The Yankees aren’t worried about their players absorbing an abundance of magnetic imaging. When I was in elementary school, the school nurse would take your temperature no matter. You could break your collarbone in gym class and the first thing she would do is take your temperature. Cut your knee open? “Let me take your temperature.” That’s sort of how the Yankees operate when it comes to MRIs. If a player speaks up about not feeling 100 percent, they’re getting an MRI. I wasn’t overly worried that Judge had to receive an MRI. If anything, I was more worried that Boone said, “It was kind of what his shoulder has always been” in regard to the MRI results, which made it seem like Judge’s shoulder isn’t in the best of conditions.

“It probably started a couple weeks ago, when I first got down here,” Judge said. “I’ve been hitting since early November, and working out since early November. Once I got down here, hit on the field, hitting outside I just felt a little soreness up in the shoulder.

“Nothing alarming, nothing that I was like, ‘Hey we need to really check this out,’” Judge continued. “So I said, ‘We got plenty of time going into spring training: let’s take it slow these next couple days, make sure everything’s right, and then kind of go from there.’”

Nothing alarming! Nothing Judge thought needed to be checked out!

It only got worse on Feb. 18 as Boone uttered the same sentence that got him in trouble with Hicks a year ago.

“I don’t anticipate it will delay the start of the season,” Boone said. “We will treat it very conservatively.”

Not even two weeks later on March 1, Boone told YES that Judge is going through “testing” to find out why his shoulder is still bothering him. The injury Boone described as “minor” and the one Judge thought didn’t need to be checked out had not progressed in 12 days.

When Judge’s shoulder issue was originally announced by Boone less than two weeks ago, I freaked out and was told I was overreacting. No one knew at the time that a pandemic would delay or possibly even shut the 2020 season down completely. Had I known what I know now back on Feb. 18 or even in the first two weeks of March, I would have spent a lot less time worrying about the Yankees’ injuries and a lot more time watching TV series for the third and fourth and fifth and sixth times like I have been doing for three-plus months. But sorry if I have been traumatized by the 2019 Yankees and their medical staff.

After Boone said Judge would be shut down from throwing and batting for at least the next week, it was only two days later that he was seen throwing and before his shut down period ended, he was once again swinging a bat, which seemed odd given the Yankees’ stated rehab plan for him. The shoulder “crankiness” that Boone described still hadn’t gone away for Judge 12 days later, and not only had he not played in a spring training game yet, but the Yankees couldn’t even identify the problem.

“It’s frustrating that we haven’t pinpointed exactly what it is, what’s caused the discomfort, so that’s the frustrating part,” Boone said. “But I would say I feel a little more optimistic as to where we’re at.”

It’s statement like that that makes me wonder why the Yankees even allow Boone to speak to injuries. The front office clearly tried to place a gag order on him in the second half of the 2019 season when they stopped letting him give significant injury updates and timelines, but I guess they thought the offseason had changed him.

Two days later on March 3, Judge underwent tests in both the morning and afternoon. 

“Right now, more likely than not I don’t see him being ready for Opening Day because of the time frame, 3 1/2 weeks,” Brian Cashman said. “Hopefully, [the tests] come back negative. In the meantime, he is responding well to the treatment protocols that we are running him through.”

“The bottom line is he has been better the last few days,” Boone said. “Until we get to the bottom of what exactly is going on, if anything, then we will have better idea.”

It had been 13 days since Boone said Judge had a minor injury, and yet, the Yankees manager was questioning if anything is even going on inside Judge. Originally, Judge’s injury was described as a right shoulder injury, but now the team was saying different.

“He feels it now more in the pec area,” Cashman said. “Just trying to figure it out, what’s bothering him. In the meantime, he is feeling better the last 48 hours.”

Later that day, Cashman went on WFAN and spoke further about Judge.

“They are optimistic that it’s a muscle, but it’s premature,” Cashman said on the radio. “I know he feels much better and optimistic.”

After Judge underwent a second test that same day, Cashman said the team would determine whether further testing was necessary.

Three days later, on March 6, Judge spoke about the injury.

“Frustrated, especially with an injury that happened at the end of last year and still didn’t heal up,’ Judge said. “At least we have an answer, so now we can start working on a solution. Overall, I’m just mad. I want to be out there with my team, especially in spring training. We’ve got a good team here, a good club, and we’ve got a lot of goals here in 2020.”

Boone spoke about the tests showing progress for the injury, but wouldn’t say if surgery was out of the question to remove a bone.

“It shows signs of healing,” Boone said. “I wouldn’t say [surgery] is off the table, but you wouldn’t want to go to that right now especially if the bone is healing.”

Two weeks later, on March 20, the Yankees announced that in addition to Judge dealing with a fractured right rib, he was also suffering from a collapsed lung. It only took 31 days from Judge’s shoulder “crankiness” for the Yankees to announce the complete diagnosis.

“The pneumothorax came back completely gone, which is a good thing,” Judge said of his healed lung. “Which means I can fly if I need to go home [to California].”

On May 5, Boone appeared on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.

“All signs are encouraging,” Boone said of Judge. “Hopefully have him as part of all this, as well,” he added if the season gets played.

On May 14, Cashman told reporters he always thought Judge would miss significant time, despite saying back on March 3 that Judge was feeling much better.

“When it happened, I always felt we wouldn’t see Judge more likely ’til the summertime,” Cashman said. “But Aaron Judge is like most superstar athletes. [They think] they’re invincible and they feel they’ll be back sooner than later.”

Even without any reports of Judge being ready to go should the season resume in the near future, Cashman stuck by his prediction that Judge would be available to play.

“Once we resume play, we’re excited to believe that he’s going to rejoin us at full capacity,” Cashman said. “He wants to play as much as anybody, and we look forward to getting him back in the lineup.”

Eight days later, on May 22, more than three months after his injury was first announced as “crankiness” and “minor” and after several updates in which the Yankees used a form of the word “optimistic” and said Judge was feeling better than he had been, he still wasn’t swinging a bat in Tampa, according to Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames.

“He walks by the cage and helps guys pick up balls,” Thames said. “He really wants to get going. [We’re] just trying to stay safe. When the doctors let him, [we’ll] turn him loose. He’ll be ready.”

That update from Thames was about six weeks ago now and until earlier this week, it was the last update regarding Judge we had until Cashman gave an update on Judge this week and said he had done a throwing program and has been hitting against a pitching machine. Cashman went so far as to use the word “optimism” again when speaking about a Yankees injury, but quickly negated that by throwing in a “dream” reference.

“Where he’s at physically is he feel goods,” Cashman said. “There’s a great deal of optimism that as long as there’s no setbacks … we can dream that his words will ring true when he said that he would be ready for Opening Day despite this injury.”

Back in March the Yankees were going to open the season without their entire expected starting outfield, and now they believe they will open the 60-game season with all three healthy even though three weeks of summer camp is three more weeks of having to stay healthy before a meaningful game.

Judge is the most important player on the Yankees and not having him for part of any season is an issue, especially in a shortened season. Ten months after sustaining this ongoing injury, who knows if Judge will actually be ready to play once the MLB season finally begins? The Yankees certainly don’t.


My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!