With Spring Training fully underway, Yankees GM Brian Cashman stated a few days ago that he wants to retire the role of Yankees’ captaincy along with Derek Jeter’s number. While I think the majority of the Bronx Bombers and their fans would appreciate the gesture, it just doesn’t make sense.
The Yankees currently sit at 2-2 after the first slate of games in Florida, though it has been a slow start. Brett Gardner leads the sluggish offense with a .143 average and a .333 OBP (according to the MLB At Bat app). With the pitching staff waiting on Tanaka, Sabathia, Nova, and Pineda to return to health, the Yankees are relying heavily on a thin farm system to carry them through the Spring until some more aging regulars can take their respective spots on the field.
The Yankees are head and shoulders the oldest team in the league but that doesn’t mean they are incapable. Ellsbury, Beltran, McCann, and Teixeira have all been in MVP talks in the past but are now, in varying degrees, past their primes. Gregorius, Headley, and Garrett Jones are helpful additions but ultimately nothing compared to what the Yankees fans are used to. Remember the 2009 World Series winning Yankees? Instead of Didi, they had Jeter. Instead of Headley was a fit and pre-conspiracy A-Rod, and instead of Garrett Jones was a healthy Mark Teixeira who was good for a Gold Glove and 30 home runs a year.
This is the first Spring Training since 1992 (before I was even born) that Derek Jeter was not a player in the Yankees organization. In the few games I’ve watched, it is obvious the Yankees are looking for someone to step up but are altogether unsure of who that will be. To mask that, I think Cashman made these comments to ride the last of the Jeter nostalgia wave before the Yankees realize that they are grossly underprepared for the future.
There is no getting around the fact that Jeter was the best captain of his time. At the time of his retirement, only Paul Konerko and Jason Varitek had been captains of their respective teams. Konerko also retired at the end of last year very much in the shadow of Jeter. With 400 home runs and the 2005 World Series championship, Konerko had his fair share of fine moments, though I don’t think anybody, including his wife, ever saw him smile. Varitek won two championships with the Red Sox and ended the lengthy drought of the Curse of the Bambino. But Jeter won 5 championships in the most hostile sporting city in America and perhaps the world.
I don’t need to get into credentials. You know his résumé.
But to retire captaincy? That feels a little extreme to me. In hockey, there is a tradition that no matter what, someone has to be the captain. In the NFL, we’ve seen recently that most skill positions have a C on their jerseys. International soccer is huge on wearing a captain’s band. But baseball is different. Not every team has a captain. If there’s a certain player that shows particularly promising leadership, then he’s declared captain but there isn’t a captain all the time, and that’s okay. But don’t retire the role. Just let it breathe for a bit.
Guys like Jeter don’t come along very often. But that’s what makes being named captain special. Lou Gehrig, Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson, and Don Mattingly all were Yankees captains. Including Jeter, only 5 players have ever captained the Yankees in over 110 years of baseball. They certainly could have stopped after Gehrig, who won 6 rings as a Yankee. They could have stopped after Guidry and Munson who both won a pair of rings and they could have stopped after Donnie Baseball.
Like I said, I understand the gesture, but it just doesn’t make sense. Jeter’s number will be retired, he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and there will never be a shortstop like him in the Yankee organization again. From what I know about Jeter’s selfless character, I don’t think he would even want to be known as the last Yankee captain ever. It offers a closed-minded approach to the future that the Yankees won’t be great again. Any future Yankee teams will be hard to beat the 1998 Yankees, but we said the same thing about the 1927 Yankees – it only took 71 years to compose a team, and a captain, worthy of being discussed as the greatest team of all time.
Who knows, maybe in 2069 there will be a team of Yankees so fearless led by an unflappable young man that they will put the 1927 Yankees and the 1998 Yankees to shame.
Retiring captaincy is a short sighted gesture that would put Jeter on an even higher pedestal than he is already on, something that would be unfair to him. You never know what greatness lies ahead.
Thanks for reading.