IT WAS EARLY DECEMBER WHEN Yankees fans woke up to news that was too good to be believed. Giancarlo Stanton, the National League’s dominant home run threat and its Most Valuable Player, had just been traded to the Bronx, the thought of which terrified opposing pitchers. Between Stanton and Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, the Yankees had enough firepower to potentially set the all-time record for home runs in one season.
The expectations crested to a fever pitch in January—a full month before spring training began. Over a half-million tickets were sold on the premise that a Pinstripe-wearing Stanton would take the Yankees deep into October.
But Stanton’s arrival was accessorized with a series of tough questions, starting with the most obvious: Could the town’s newest slugger handle big-market pressure? Could Stanton get along with Judge, or would they turn into rivals like Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson in the ‘70s? And how much would the higher-caliber offense really help the Yankees in the playoffs, when pitching historically rules?
Here are Stanton’s thoughts on his expectations of playing in New York, an acrimonious departure from the Miami Marlins and getting acclimated in a new clubhouse with new teammates.
COMMERCE: What was your initial reaction after being dealt to the Yankees?
GIANCARLO STANTON: Well, it wasn’t something that happened right away. It took some time and it was part of a process that I had to work out with the Marlins. But I was very happy, obviously. All I’ve ever wanted to do was win, and I didn’t see that happening in Miami. They were going in a different direction. I joined a team with a great tradition and that tries to win every year. As a player, you can’t ask for anything more than that.
What was your impression of the Yankees when you were an opposing player?
Cool place to play, great fans, exciting atmosphere. Even in spring training, I could tell things were different than what I’d been used to.
What was it like for a reigning MVP to walk into a new clubhouse? Did you walk around the room introducing yourself or let the players come to you?
I just went about my usual routine and did my work. That’s what I normally do anyway, new team or not. I knew a lot of folks would be focusing on me, so my goal was to be ready.
You struggled in your first home games—and heard some loud boos. Did that bother you?
I expected it. It comes with the territory. You should be booed when you don’t perform, so I can’t say I was surprised or that I didn’t deserve it.
That wasn’t the first time an out-of-town star arrived in New York and discovered it wasn’t that easy. Was the transition more difficult than you imagined?
I tried not to listen to the external stuff, the noise. I knew it was just a matter of getting my timing down, and that comes from preparation. The reaction from the fans, what’s said about me in the press—I can’t control that. But I have confidence in myself. There are ups and downs in baseball; every player goes through bad stretches. It’s important not to overreact to them.
But you wouldn’t be wearing Pinstripes unless your relationship with the Marlins deteriorated. How did that happen?
Well, they needed to cut the payroll, which I knew meant they would have to trade me. But [General Manager] Mike Hill and [new owner] Derek Jeter told me that if I didn’t agree to a deal with the Giants or the Cardinals, they would trade everyone around me and keep me for 10 years. That’s not what I wanted to hear. I wanted them to test the whole market, not just a few teams. I’d had enough of losing. I was ready for a change.
And now you’re paired with Aaron Judge. What were your first impressions of him?
(Laughs). Reminds me of myself; it’s like looking at my twin. Aaron is obviously a very strong guy who can hit the ball a long way. I’m impressed with the work he puts in and how dedicated he is. Aaron is a good guy. He’s a good teammate.
Speaking of teammates, you were particularly close to Jose Fernandez in Miami before he died in that boating accident. Do you still think of him often?
Every day. In a way, I feel like I’ve brought Jose to New York with me. It was at the All-Star Game in 2016 when he said, “Next year [the All-Star Game] is going to be in Miami. You’re going to hit 60 home runs and win the MVP.” It was crazy that he just about predicted it. It gave me goosebumps to hold that [MVP] trophy. I’ve told his story before, but he also said, “If things don’t work out here [in Miami] then I’m going to sign with the Yankees and I’m going to take you with me.” I still think about Jose when times get tough. He’s kind of my inspiration. So, I keep him with me here in New York.
You were hit in the face with a pitch in 2014, and still wear a face guard. How did you overcome the fear of the ball after that?
It was bad—my teeth were shattered, they went through my lip. I’m pretty sure I passed out at one point [after the beaning]. But it’s a risk that every player takes when he steps in the batter’s box. I made up my mind that I would push forward. I knew that if I had one ounce of fear, then my career would be over. You can’t be a major league hitter if you’re worried about being hit. I still loved baseball enough keep playing. So, I’ve never worried about it since.
You made a moving speech at the awards dinner in New York over the winter, just after you were traded to the Yankees. You thanked your dad. How did he help you become the ballplayer you are today?
I mean it when I say everything I’ve done in my career, I’ve done for my parents. My father was the one who dragged me off the couch to throw [batting practice] to me when I was growing up. He would work 9-to-5, sit in traffic all day, but always had the time and energy to help me. He’d drive around looking for an empty field, an empty lot, anywhere I could take some swings. Sometimes he would be the one who’d wear me out. I would say, “Dad, I’m good, I’ve had enough!” His dedication meant so much to me.