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Will Derek Jeter be the last Yankees captain?

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 I found some interesting tidbits I was unaware of and inevitably led to the question: Will there be another Yankees captain, and if so, who?

Cashman thinks Jeter should be the last

Back in 2015, Brian Cashman told ESPN he doesn’t foresee there being another Yankees captain.

I think Derek did it as well as anyone can. He wore it well, and I’m not a big advocate of giving out the captaincy anyway. I’m not going to recommend anyone being named captain of the New York Yankees right away.

It’s clear that Cashman didn’t think anyone on the 2015 roster was worthy of being named captain even though he felt there was good veteran leadership on the team. That made sense when you look at the names on that squad. But he went on to say:

As far as I’m concerned, and I’m not the decision-maker on this, that captaincy should be retired with No. 2. I wouldn’t give up another captain title to anybody else.

The problem with saying “never” is that you — Cashman, in this case — will inevitably be wrong. After Lou Gehrig’s passing in 1941, Joe McCarthy said there will never be another Yankees captain. How did that turn out?

There will be another

For 30 years McCarthy was right. Then in 1976 Thurman Munson was named captain, followed by Graig Nettles in ’82, Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry in ’86, Don Mattingly in ’91, and, most recently, Derek Jeter in ’03.

It would have made perfect sense to end the captaincy with Gehrig. It also would have made sense to end the tradition with Munson. You can say the same about Jeter.

I know Yankees fans like to talk about Aaron Judge being the next captain, but does it really matter? He can still be a team leader without the title, and there will always be the CC Sabathia or Brett Gardner-type veterans on the team that people look to as leaders.

When Jeter was named captain, Joe Torre had an interesting comment when asked how it affects his job.

 I don’t see my job being any different, as far as helping, because I don’t know what he [Jeter] could tell someone if they have a question to ask me. It can’t be a negative, but I don’t think players are going to listen to him more now that he’s captain. He’s always had that respect.

I think Judge too has the respect of his teammates and will continue to lead no matter what. Would he make a good captain? Sure. He’s got all the elements going for him — except a long-term contract and World Series ring on his finger. But there’s time for that.

Captains are a dying breed

There are currently no captains in Major League Baseball and David Wright, who retired in 2018, was the last in the league. Some historic franchises like the Cardinals haven’t had a captain since 1965. Teams like the Mariners and Padres have never had a captain. It begs the question, are they necessary?

Captains have no official duties in baseball. Hockey has a longer and richer tradition of captains, and football has offensive and defensive captains that go out for the coin toss. Baseball doesn’t require the captain to do anything other than be a team leader and “face” of the team.

Captain is a cool honor but I’d be fine if the Yankees retire it with Jeter. If they do name another captain, I’d like to keep it to players of Gehrig, Munson, or Jeter’s status. Maybe that’s impossible. Or maybe it’s just rare, like what the Yankees captain honor should be.

A Brief History: New York Yankees Captains

Listen to the full episode here: