Should Yankees’ Line of Captains Stop with Jeter?

Yesterday, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told that the club has no plans to replace outgoing captain Derek Jeter in the near future. Cashman also intimated that Jeter may have been the final captain in the franchise’s storied history. Jeter will always be regarded in Yankee lore as “The Captain,” but does that mean the title should be retired with him?

“As far as I’m concerned, and I’m not the decision-maker on this, that captaincy should be retired with No. 2.”

The Yankees have been in the business of retiring things lately, including the numbers of Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. Mariano Rivera‘s number is effectively retired, as he was the last player permitted to wear Jackie Robinson‘s number 42. Jeter’s number will also be retired soon enough, closing out the list of single digits available. Paul O’Neill may very well have his number 21 retired as well. Scott Brosius will probably have to keep waiting.

The role of captain in baseball is often lessened when compared to sports like football and hockey, where each team has captains. Captains have played a traditional role in certain franchises, including the Yankees, but other franchises in baseball rarely declare a captain. Even if no “C” is affixed to the chest of a specific player, teams know who their leaders are.

There have been some truly legendary captains in Yankee history, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly, but none held the title longer than Jeter. Jeter was the true leader of the franchise as it rebounded from disappointing years in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. From the moment he arrived in the Big Leagues, he brought a quiet style of leadership that required even the strongest Yankee haters to give him their respect.

I do see some value in the Yankees continuing to name a captain. In the pressure cooker atmosphere that is New York City, it is important to have a true face of the franchise who can take the heat for the entire team should times take a turn for the worse. No one has done that better than Jeter in recent years. As I continue to heap praise on Jeter, I do think it is interesting to note that the Yankees won only one World Series title under his watch as captain.

The Yankees will not be able to replace Jeter’s leadership for a long time. Management’s current style of “player development,” namely throwing gobs of money at aging free agents, will not yield the type of leaders present on the team throughout their most recent string of World Series titles. While Jeter was the de facto captain of those championship teams, all of the pending jersey retirement ceremonies are a testament to the leadership abilities of each of those men.

The Yankees should certainly not rush into naming their next captain. It took Jeter seven full seasons and four championships to earn the position. The role of captain is an important one in baseball despite the fact that it is not as widely accepted as in the other major sports. Retiring the position entirely would be foolish. It is impossible to predict when the next Jeter will arrive in the Bronx. Yes, he was one of the all-time great Yankees, but so to were Ruth and Gehrig. There will be future Yankees who ascend to the same heights of these three. They deserve the chance to be honored and regarded in the same light as the franchise’s legends.

When the next great Yankee captain arrives, it will be evident. It was evident with Jeter, and he accomplished as much as any Yankee in history. In the moment retiring the captaincy sounds like a good idea, but it is shortsighted. The captaincy is a carrot that must be dangled for future leaders of this storied franchise.

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