Aaron Judge surprised nobody last week when he was asked about his shortcomings after the Yankees took down the Indians in the American League Division Series. Judge was 1 for 20 in the five games and struck out 16 times, a record for one player in any postseason series.
"It's part of the process," Judge said. "Just stay the course."
Ah, yes, The Process.
A day doesn't pass without somebody in sports referencing The Process. Sean McDermott's fixation with The Process became a local punchline before he coached his first game with the Bills. For years, it has been part of the Sabres' message. "Trust the Process" has been the 76ers' mantra during their rebuild and long has stood as Alabama coach Nick Saban's favorite slogan.
Now it appears there's a process leading to The Process, in which coaches and athletes first embrace the existence of a winning formula before believing their blueprint is better than that of their opponents. Its execution leads to another catchphrase: "It's not about the X's and O's; it's about the Jimmys and the Joes."
The Process, anchored by the core belief that conducting business in proper fashion eventually leads to success, is not exactly a novel idea. Everybody has a process. There's a process of getting better and a process of making the playoffs and a process of trying to win a championship.
After a while, there are so many teams banking on The Process that it becomes impossible to process. Based on the number of teams missing the playoffs, The Process hasn't worked for the vast majority. Don't let me forget, in case you haven't heard this 1 billion times: Success doesn't happen overnight.
Seriously, which process do we trust?
Seriously, my head might explode.
This is nothing against Judge, a terrific player with a refreshing and humble personality who handled himself with grace all season. He's an example of a greater problem in sports: The Process infiltrated our sports vernacular and became a convenient excuse for failure. When all else fails, or especially when one fails, talk about The Process.
Judge seemed destined to skip the process and head straight for Cooperstown after his first three months with the Yankees. His 52 homers and 127 walks led the big leagues and were the most ever by a rookie. He led the league with 128 runs scored, was second with 114 RBIs and first in the hearts of Yankee fans.
When he passed Joe DiMaggio for most homers in a season by a Yanks rookie – setting the mark before the All-Star break, no less – and tracked down Babe Ruth for most homers at Yankee Stadium, Judge seemed suited to join pinstriped immortals in the most storied franchise in sports.
But let's not forget that he also struck out 208 times, most in the big leagues this season. It took three months, but pitchers found holes in his swing and exploited them during a six-week funk after the All-Star Game. See, pitchers subscribe to a process, too, an entirely different process.
It contributed to Judge batting just .181 with four homers over his final 18 games in July and hitting .185 with three homers in August. While fans became loopy over his tape-measure bombs and exit speeds, the same was true about his swing. In less time it took for him to make a meteoric rise, he became tangled up like an extension cord.
The book on him was published by the Indians, who frustrated him in the ALDS with fastballs high and tight and breaking balls low and away. He failed to adjust to high heat, and he flailed at off-speed pitches out of the strike zone. At what point do we stop talking about The Process and start focusing the players, in this case Judge?
If his three-run homer in the Yanks' 8-1 victory over the Astros in Game Three of the ALCS signaled Judge was back, him striking out on a breaking ball later in the game suggested he had not solved all problems. He was batting .147 and had struck out 21 times before a homer and a double in a 6-4 victory Tuesday in Game Four.
Judge struck out four times in three of the five games against Cleveland. It was easy for him to say his problems were "part of the process" after the Yanks won the series. I would imagine his performance over the five games would have been described as "part of the problem" if they lost to the Indians.
Enough, already, with The Process.
My apologies for the Ron Rolston flashback, but the Sabres were talking about The Process long before McDermott arrived and only look marginally better now. McDermott gained credibility with The Process when the Bills won a few games early in the season, but it's bound to fade if the Bills fade over their final 11 games.
Yet, in some cases, The Process really is a sound strategy for improvement while suggesting potential exists for better days ahead. Alabama fans trust The Process because they trust Saban. When overused, it's a dressed-up plea for patience from struggling teams or players that are buying time while searching for answers.
And that's when The Process sounds less like a concept and more like a copout. Sometimes, it's hard to decipher between the two.
You be the Judge.