Every Friday I’ve been releasing ‘A Brief History’ podcast about the Yankees. It started as a way to stay sane during quarantine, but evolved into something that I look forward to researching each week.
The most recent episode was about the history of Yankees captains. When I picked this topic, I expected to talk about the legend of Lou Gehrig, some cool Thurman Munson stories, and the weird timing of Derek Jeter’s captaincy (which I did end up talking about). But what I found were names even the Yankees don’t acknowledge as being captain from the early 1900s, and that Babe Ruth(!) was actually captain at one point.
5 Day Reign
On May 25, 1922, just five days after his on-field captain duties began, The Babe attacked a fan at the Polo Grounds when he was on his way back to the dugout after being thrown out at second base. Ruth said the fan “called me a lowdown bum and other names that got me mad.” Apparently mad enough that Ruth pulled a Ron Artest and climbed into the stands to fight him.
Ban Johnson, the American League President, fined Babe and stripped him of his captaincy for his antics. The sum of the fine differs depending on the source, some report $200 and others $500. Either way, the 5 day reign was the shortest tenure as captain in franchise history.
Not Captain Material
There is no denying Babe Ruth was the best player of his era. I don’t like comparing 1920s stats to modern-day because the game was more different than it is similar, so instead I look peer-to-peer. Over his career, Ruth was about 2X better than the average major league baseball player — I’d say that’s pretty good. But his boisterous personality and off-field celebrity status did not fit with being a captain.
In the early 1900s having a captain was necessary. The rule book stated that the on-field captain was a player, not the manager, who could argue with the umpire. As the game moved into the 1920s having a captain was no longer necessary but still many teams kept the tradition. The Yankees had one all the way through 1925; Everett Scott replaced Ruth in 1922 and remained team captain until he was traded.
When Scott left, the Yankees didn’t have a captain until 1935 when Lou Gehrig was given the honor. They probably waited to name Gehrig captain until after Ruth left the team following the ’34 season. Nobody embodied “captain material” more than the Iron Horse.