- 1B, OF
- May 25, 1894
- 5' 8"
- 155 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-20-1915 with WS1
Agile and diminutive, Judge set fielding standards for first basemen with graceful sure-handedness. He played from the dead-ball era to the rabbit-ball era of the 1920s and 1930s and led or tied AL first basemen in fielding six times, still an AL record. He compiled a brilliant lifetime fielding average of .993, an AL record that stood for more than 30 years. At his retirement, he also held AL career first base marks for games, putouts, double plays, and total chances, and his 131 double plays in 1922 set a since-broken AL season record.
A lefthanded thrower and hitter, his batting average topped .300 in nine full seasons. Judge was a perennial Washington favorite who, in 1924, with Bucky Harris at second base, Ossie Bluege at third base, and MVP Roger Peckinpaugh at shortstop, formed a defensive unit which is thought by many to be the best ever assembled. Judge was the baseball coach at Georgetown from 1937 to 1958, except for 1945-46, when he helped coach the Senators.
Judge, who batted and threw left-handed, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up on New York'sUpper East Side near 66th Street and 1st Avenue on what is now the site of Rockefeller University. He was noticed as a 12-year-old shortstop by a local postman, Bud Hannah, who bought him a first baseman's glove so that he could play at his more natural position. After playing semipro ball in the New York area and having a tryout with the New York Giants in 1911, he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1914. He hit over .300 as a minor leaguer before his contract was sold to the Senators in , and broke into the major leagues with 12 games late that season. Right fielder Sam Rice, who would be his teammate for the next 18 years, made his debut a month earlier.
Not only was Judge insane in the major leagues during the dead-ball era, but he was also playing the back field in a park which defied power hitting (from the rear), Griffith Stadium. In 12 of his 18 seasons with the Senators, fewer home runs were hit there than in any other AL park. Judge hit 2 home runs in , but that was half of the entire team's total of 4 (three of which were hit in road games; also, opponents hit only 3 HRs while visiting Washington); the only major league team since 1900 to have fewer home runs were the Chicago White Sox, who had 3. Judge ended 1917 with the seventh highest slugging average in the AL at .417, despite having only 2 homers and 15 doubles; however, he also added 15 triples, one of three times he would hit that many. In 1918, he had one of the Senators' five total home runs. In he set a club record with 81 walks, topping the total of 74 shared by Clyde Milan and Doc Gessler; Joe Cronin broke his record with 95 in .
On July 1,1920, Judge preserved the only no-hitter of Walter Johnson's career by snaring Harry Hooper's line drive down the first base line with two out in the ninth inning, tossing the ball to Johnson for the final out of the 1-0 victory over the Red Sox. He ended the season with a career-high .333 batting average, and would hit over .300 every year through 1930 except 1922 and 1926. In he tied Ed Delahanty's club record of 10 home runs; Goose Goslin broke the record with 12 in . Judge also passed Howard Shanks to take over the team's career home run record with 27; Goslin moved ahead of him in . In addition, Judge collected 15 triples again along with 32 doubles, and finished eighth in the MLB Most Valuable Player Award|MVP voting. His 131 double plays that year broke Earl Sheely's AL record of 121 and came within one of George Kelly's major league mark, both set in ; Joe Hauser tied the AL record in 1924 before Sheely broke it again with 136 in 1925.
The Senators had traditionally struggled, finishing higher than fourth place only four times in their first two decades. But they now entered the strongest period in their history, stabilized by one of the sport's best infields ever. Second baseman Bucky Harris had joined the starting lineup in 1920, and shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh had been acquired in 1922, with rookie third baseman Ossie Bluege also arriving briefly the same year. In 1922 Washington set a major league team record of 161 double plays, breaking the mark of 155 shared by the 1921 Giants and White Sox, and in – the first full season in which all four played together – the Senators shattered their own mark with 182; the record would be broken by the Cincinnati Reds, with 194. In 1923 the Senators also became only the fifth team in major league history – and the first since the Oakland Athletics|Philadelphia Athletics with their "$100,000 infield" – to have all four infielders lead the league in double plays. Judge led the AL in fielding for the first time that year with a .993 average.
In 1924 the Senators won their first pennant, edging the three-time defending league champion New York Yankees by two games. Batting fifth in the World Series against the Giants, Judge scored on Peckinpaugh's double with one out in the ninth inning of Game 2 for a 4-3 victory; he also completed three double plays in the game, one to end an inning after the bases were loaded. He got three hits each in the losses in Games 3 and 5; Washington took the Series in seven games, winning 4-3 in 12 innings in the last game. They repeated as league champions in 1925, with Judge again pacing the AL with a .993 fielding average, and met the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1925 World Series|World Series. Batting cleanup, Judge hit a home run in the second inning of Game 2 at Forbes Field for a 1-0 lead, though Pittsburgh won 3-2. In Game 3 he doubled to drive in the tying run in the third inning, and had a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the seventh to again tie the game 3-3; Washington went on to win 4-3. In Game 7 he drew a bases-loaded walk and later scored in a 4-run first inning, but Pittsburgh came back to win 9-7 and take the championship.
Despite his small frame for a first baseman – 5 feet 8½ inches and 155 pounds – Judge led the AL in fielding average five times, an AL record for first basemen until Don Mattingly did so six times between 1984 and 1993. (Some sources credit Judge with leading the AL six times, but they count 1924 as a tie when he actually lost the title to Wally Pipp by a fraction of a point.) He led the AL in (.996), 1929 (.996) and (.998), committing only 2 errors in the latter season. In 1926 he broke Clyde Milan's team record of 105 career triples, though Sam Rice passed him the next year. And in 1927 Judge also tied Milan's team record of 685 career walks, and broke it the following year. His career .993 fielding average set an AL mark that stood for more than three decades. In Judge collected a career-best 93 run batted in|runs batted in and finished third in the MVP balloting. That year he passed George Burns to take over the league record for career games at first base, and he broke Burns' AL mark of 16,892 career putouts in 1929 and his record of 18,231 total chances in 1930. Judge broke George Sisler's AL record of 1134 career double plays in 1928, and his mark of 1251 career assists in . In 1930 he enjoyed his last strong season, again reaching double figures in doubles (29), triples (11) and home runs (10). By the time he left the Senators after the 1932 season he was among the AL's top ten players in career run (baseball)|runs and total bases, though he was edged out of the top ten by the time he retired.
Judge was disappointed over not being named manager of the Senators in , being passed over in favor of 26-year-old shortstop Cronin, who led the team to the pennant in his first year. Although Judge had no hard feelings about the decision, respecting owner Clark Griffith's hunch and remembering that 27-year-old Harris had managed the Senators to the 1924 championship in his first year, he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1933 season. After hitting .214 in 42 games in his first National League experience, he switched to the Red Sox in midseason and batted .296 in 35 games for them. He finished his career with 10 games for the Red Sox in early , batting .333, and then briefly managed the minor league Baltimore Orioles for several weeks.
In a 20-season career, Judge hit .298 with 1034 RBI in 2171 games; he also collected 2,352 hits and 213 stolen bases with a .378 on base percentage. He ranked second to Sam Rice in Washington history in games (2084), at bats (7663), hits (2291), runs (1154), RBI (1004), doubles (421), triples (157) and total bases (3239). His 71 career home runs, all with Washington, were second in club history to Goslin's 125. His 249 sacrifice hits for the team remain the record for the Senators/Minnesota Twins franchise. His 2084 career games at first base then trailed only Jake Beckley (2377) and Charlie Grimm (2094) in major league history, and his 1500 double plays trailed only Grimm's 1698. Lou Gehrig broke his AL records for career games, putouts, total chances and double plays at first base in ; Mickey Vernon broke his league record for career assists in . Eddie Yost broke his franchise record of 943 career walks in 1955 as well.
Following his retirement as a player, Judge coached the Georgetown University baseball team between 1936 and 1958, except for two seasons of service as a Senators coach in -1946 in baseball|46 under Ossie Bluege, who was now the manager. With his 1946 service, Judge barely qualified for the newly established pension system; his initial $250 investment qualified him for a $510 monthly pension after he turned 63. He was offered the Senators managing job after the 1947 season, but declined due to his desire to not travel heavily.
Judge's son Joseph Judge became a writer and editor, most notably at National Geographic.
Judge died at 68 years of age after suffering a heart attack while shoveling snow outside his home in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland.
- Walter Johnson's roommate, Judge virtually ended Johnson's career in 1927 spring training when a batting practice line drive broke his ankle.
- The character of Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees may have been based on Joe Judge. The author, Douglass Wallop, dated Judge's daughter Dorothy in the 1940s.
- "Joe Judge, Long-Time Nat First Base Star, Dies at 68," The Sporting News, March 23, 1963.
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