New York Yankees: Understanding the captainship 101

Jul 2, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees former player Lou Gehrig is seen on the scoreboard during a ceremony to promote awareness of ALS more commonly knows as 'Lour Gehrig's disease' before taking on the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 2, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees former player Lou Gehrig is seen on the scoreboard during a ceremony to promote awareness of ALS more commonly knows as 'Lour Gehrig's disease' before taking on the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

There is currently no captain on the New York Yankees. And for the foreseeable future, that’s the way it should remain.

Many moons ago I had a weekly feature at the FanSided site Yanks Go Yard. Every Monday, The Bronx Is Boiling ran and was often a diatribe in pure Peter Griffin, you-know-what-grinds-my-gears form. For nearly two years it was the same thing, but for the past two years, I have a felt a void in my life, not writing that piece.

Well, thanks to a hot May, Brett Gardner gave me some fuel to fire away.

I like Gardy a lot. He is the longest-tenured New York Yankee and has always been a gritty ballplayer, who despite all his second-half Houdini acts, leaves it all on the field. I assume he has been called upon to be the leader in this young clubhouse, having won a World Series as a platoon player in his true rookie season.

Gardner had an insane May, slashing .327/.400/.673 with a 1.073 OPS. He hit nine home runs and six doubles in 115 plate appearances.

And then the captain thing came up again.

The calls that Brett Gardner should be the next Yankees captain are an insult to every captain that has come before him. It simply doesn’t make any sense that people even consider Gardner to be worthy of the Yankees captainship. And if you think I’m making this up, hit any online Yankees group and you will see the idea is overflowing.

Here’s a list for you:

Those are the Yankees captains since Babe Ruth handed the “C” to Gehrig. There were captains before the Iron Horse, but as the story goes, once Gehrig passed away, Joe McCarthy vowed there would never be another Yankees captain.

Here’s another list for you:

Know what they all have in common? They are all legends of the game, making their mark beyond simple stats one way or the other.

They also were never Yankees captains.

You see, to suggest that the Yankees should award Gardner the captainship is an insult to Yankees history. The day Jeter retired, Yankees fans were debating who the next captain should be.

The Yankees don’t simply anoint a captain for the sake of having a captain. They don’t merit it upon Hall of Fame stats either, because then the Mick would have been captain, as arguably the greatest baseball player to ever live (had he kept himself healthy).

People will point to Gardner’s tenure and leadership. Well, if that’s all it took, doesn’t it seem like Paul O’Neill should have been the captain between Mattingly and Jeter?

But he wasn’t. And you know why?

Yankees captains are cultural icons.

Gehrig is one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. His tragic death and farewell speech transcended not only Yankees baseball, but the game itself. His life was the subject of a film that saw him portrayed by Gary Cooper (for all you young ones, Cooper is an iconic Hollywood star and would be the equivalent of Justin Timberlake playing Jeter in a film). He was such an impact on the franchise that they vowed never to have a captain again.

When The Boss came in, he had to put his mark on things, and brought back the captainship. He didn’t choose Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson or Catfish Hunter, but instead chose Munson. “Oh Captain, my Captain” became renowned around the baseball world, as fiery images of Munson leading the rowdy bunch of the Bronx Zoo became iconic in sports lore. His tragic death only propelled his legend.

The triumvirate in between was a band-aid, often overlooked by most Yankees fans because their purpose was to lessen the devastating blow of losing Munson. Even still, look at Nettles for example. He was never the best, he’s not a Hall of Famer, but he’s a folk hero among Yankees fans for the things he did when he did them.

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Then came Mattingly. Then came Jeter.

Mattingly was arguably the best player in baseball for three or four years. He was on The Simpsons and known much further than the walls of the House That Ruth Built. He was the poster boy of baseball’s empathy, deserving much more than he was able to accomplish with some of the worst supporting cast in Yankees history behind him.

It took Jeter eight years and four World Series rings to earn the captainship himself. If I need to explain to you how Jeter has transcended the game, you need to turn on a computer.

Yet, the day he retired, people felt there was a need to replace him.

Gardner is a good player. He has been a good Yankee. But what has he done that has transcended the sport? His 2009 appearance in the World Series? He went 0-for-10. He has zero home runs in his postseason career and a .179 career batting average in American League Championship Series.

Does that sound like a Yankee captain to you? You know, the New York Yankees? Where players like Scott Brosius and Chad Curtis become immortal because of memorable postseason achievements that suppress the fact that they had modest careers at best.

Look, if you have this need for a captain, that’s OK, but it’s simply not how the Yankees work. Mattingly and Jeter are prime examples of that. Mattingly won an MVP, set three MLB records and led the league in multiple stats before Steinbrenner put the “C” on his chest. Jeter had 1,390 of his 3,465 hits and four of his five World Series under his belt before he earned the “C.”

Now, because Gardy has been there a while and gets along with everyone, he deserves to be captain?

That’s just a silly notion.