The Last Captain?

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Derek Jeter. Photo by Keith Allison.

When I first heard the report of GM Brian Cashman being quoted that the New York Yankee ‘Captain’ designation should be retired with Derek Jeter, I was hoping I heard it wrong. As usual, there was more to the story than the headline inferred, and Ca$hMoney’s rationale makes total sense — there is no need or urgency to name another one anytime soon.
But retire the ‘C’ completely? Of course not. Whomever is named next, it will have become an obvious choice over time. Maybe the guy is on the 40-man roster now, maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s in high school at this writing.

“Everyone knows that Mariano Rivera took care of the relievers and Andy Pettitte took care of the starters,” Cashman said. “And of course the managers, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi, were leaders as well. So I’m not an advocate of one guy being ‘the guy.'”

Nevertheless, ‘Captain of The New York Yankees’  is one of those ‘special’ positions in professional sports. Quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is a big deal (not to New York Football Giants fans, of course — unless one of our linebackers are drilling him into the turf.)

Controversy Over Number of Captains?

It was June of 2003. The Yankees were mired in a slump, and on the road for a then ‘Inter-League’ series in Cincinnati. The club slid from a 25-9 record on May 8th — to a 33-24 mark on June 3rd, after dropping the opener of the three-game set against the Reds.
To help spark the team (and you know he was pissed!), owner George Steinbrenner appointed a somewhat reluctant Derek Jeter as the 11th captain of the Yankees. No one questioned or thought much of the number at the time.
Enter baseball writer and historian Howard W. Rosenberg — who argues the number is 14 or 15. While doing research a few years later for an unrelated book series, Rosenberg found evidence of four other Yankee players heretofore unknown to serve as captain.
See ‘Author Says Yankees Are Missing Something(published in The New York Times on March 25, 2007), where the author lists Clark Griffith, Kid Elberfeld, Frank Chance, and Roy Hartzell.
The response from Jason Zillo, director of media relations for the Yankees:

“Combining our rich and storied history with a devoted and intelligent fan base lends itself to, on occasion, differing interpretations of records and facts,” Zillo said. “While we never dismiss input such as Mr. Rosenberg’s, we use a countless number of resources to provide the most complete and accurate statistical facts and figures that is humanly possible.”

At this writing, nothing definitive has been announced, so here’s the list of “officially recognized” Yankee captains since inception:

  • Derek Jeter (2003-2014)
  • Don Mattingly (1991-1995)
  • Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph (Co-Captains, 1986-1988)
  • Graig Nettles (1982-1984)
  • Thurman Munson (1976-1979)
  • Lou Gehrig (1935-1939)
  • Everett Scott (1922-1925)
  • Babe Ruth (1922)
  • Roger Peckinpaugh (1914-1921)
  • Hal Chase (1910-1912)
  • Wille Keeler (1908-1909)

The Yankee captains in question are:

  • Frank Chance (1913)
  • Kid Elberfield (1906-1907)
  • Clark Griffith (1903-1905)
  • Roy Hartzell (Undetermined)

Fun Facts and Required Reading

On May 25, 1922, Babe Ruth lost the captaincy of the Yankees, was suspended from the game, and fined $200 by Ban Johnson. During the game, which was played versus the Senators at the Polo Grounds, Ruth was thrown out at second base by an outfielder. Ruth disagreed with the call and threw dirt into the face of umpire George Hildebrand who promptly ejected Ruth. On the way to the dugout, a fan called Ruth a “lowdown bum and other names that got me mad” so he attacked the fan in the stands as well. (Source: Baseball Almanac)
RELATED: “Ruth Regrets Action; Resents Fans’ Stand — Declares New York Rooters Have Not Given Him a ‘Square Deal’ Since Return” (A brief article published by The New York Times on May 26, 1922, in PDF format).
 
 

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