Aaron Judge : He isn’t just the biggest star on the most storied franchise in American sports. After Judge’s jaw-dropping 2017 Home Run Derby performance, commissioner Rob Manfred said he “can become the face of the game.” Potentially the next link in the near-unbreakable, century-long chain of Yankees icons, Judge, 27, combines Ruth’s and Mantle’s power with DiMaggio’s and Jeter’s grace, having turned the team back into a title contender while turning each of his at-bats into events. In late-May of 2017, with Judge on his way to a then-rookie record 52 home runs and a second-place MVP finish, Yankee Stadium unveiled an unprecedented seating section in right field dedicated to the ever-popular outfielder — who has led MLB jersey sales for three straight years — called “Judge’s Chambers.”
Pete Alonso : It felt as if the Mets might never again have a star so proudly represent the franchise as David Wright did. It took one season to shoot that theory down. With an all-time debut season, Alonso, 25, broke Judge’s rookie record with 53 home runs, while also winning the Home Run Derby and NL Rookie of the Year honors. With a mix of power, passion and affability, Alonso became an instant favorite of fans, coaches and the front office.
Jacob deGrom : The shortstop drafted in the ninth round out of Stetson was initially overshadowed by Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. He was perceived to have a lower ceiling than Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz. Now, deGrom is building a case for the Hall of Fame. Already among the sport’s best starters, deGrom secured legendary status the past two seasons with back-to-back Cy Young Awards. In his 171 career starts, deGrom, who signed a $137.5 million contract extension last year, has allowed fewer than two runs more than any pitcher — in as many games — since 1908.
Saquon Barkley : “He was touched by the hand of God,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said after selecting the running back with the second-overall pick in 2018. The once-in-a-generation talent reached the Pro Bowl as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and has amassed more than 3,400 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns in two seasons. The chiseled, hard-working, wide-smiling back may have been more valuable in a different era, but Barkley remains a talent like few the league has ever seen.
James Dolan : It was just 15 months ago that Kristaps Porzingis was still the face of the franchise, an honor he could have held for another decade or so before forcing a trade. The Knicks then held hope Kevin Durant would join, but the team’s toxicity sent the former MVP and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn’s smaller stage instead. So, the face of the Knicks remains the constant in a two-decade run as the worst team in the NBA, during which Dolan has overseen just two winning seasons since 2001, while failing to make the playoffs since 2013. In addition to being blamed for the team’s lack of success, the thin-skinned owner keeps himself in the spotlight with incidents like the ejection of beloved Knick Charles Oakley, a recent feud with Spike Lee and the banning of several fans from Madison Square Garden for criticizing Dolan, who is repeatedly showered with chants to sell the team.
Sam Darnold : More than five decades after their only Super Bowl, the Jets’ search for Joe Namath’s replacement continues. Darnold, whom the Jets traded up to take with the third-overall pick in 2018, was the highest-drafted quarterback the team has taken since landing Namath with the No. 1-overall pick in the 1965 AFL draft. Since becoming the youngest opening-day starting quarterback in NFL history (21 years, 97 days old), Darnold has had mixed results, going 11-15 in two seasons while also missing six games to injury/illness. Still, he represents hope for a fan base largely void of it.