Ranking Derek Jeter and All 11 New York Yankees Captains

Jake SingerContributor IIIJune 14, 2012

Ranking Derek Jeter and All 11 New York Yankees Captains

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    The New York Yankees have a storied tradition, and the team does a great job remembering its best and most memorable players and moments. Monument Park stores plaques and the retired numbers of the all-time greats, and the Yankees honor some of their most important players by naming them "captain" while they are still playing.

    In fact, the club of Yankee captains is more exclusive than the club of Yankee retired numbers. While the Bombers have retired 16 numbers (17, if you count Jackie Robinson's number 42), the Yankees have only recognized 11 players as "captains."

    Here is a ranking of each of those 11, based on the duration of their captaincy, the performance of their play, and the number of championships won during their time as captain (because that is what being a Yankee is all about, after all).

    It should be noted that, as Howard Rosenberg discovered, two Yankees, Clark Griffith and Kid Elberfeld, were probably known as "captains" during their time with the team, but the team never officially named them as such and are thus not recognized by the team as captains.

    Griffith was the player-manager of the team in their first five seasons of existence from 1903-1908, when the team was still known as the Highlanders.

    Elberfeld took over as manager from Griffith midway through 1908 and led the team to a 27-71 record for the rest of the season. Perhaps "Kid" should be better remembered for stealing home twice in one game on May 20, 1907, the first American League player to do so.

11. Hal Chase, 1910-1912

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    Hal Chase is the first recognized captain in Yankee history, but he was certainly not one to aspire to.

    Chase was known as one of the best fielding first basemen in baseball when he played and served as player-manager in 1910 and 1911 and he went on to win the National League batting title with the Cincinnati Reds in 1916, hitting .339. But he's best-known for allegedly throwing games while playing.

    He had been accused of intentionally misplaying balls for years and in 1918 while with the Reds he allegedly paid a Reds' pitcher $50 to throw a game. Manager Christy Mathewson found out and suspended Chase for the rest of the season.

    In 1919, National League president John Heydler anonymously received a copy of a $500 check that Chase had received from a gambler during the previous season. Heydler ordered Chase's new team, the New York Giants, to release him. Chase never played major league baseball again.

    Chase ended his career with a .291 average and spent nine season in pinstripes (I use that term loosely - the Yankees wore pinstripes for the first time in 1912 and did not wear them again until 1915), but any player who intentionally lost games for his team cannot be considered a good captain.

10. Babe Ruth, 1922

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    Babe Ruth may be the best player on any team, let alone the Yankees, to ever play the game, but he's also one of the worst captains the Bronx Bombers have ever had.

    Ruth was named captain of the Yankees before the 1922 season, but had to sit out the first six weeks of the year after being suspended by the commissioner for playing in exhibition games during the offseason (it was against the rules at the time for players who competed in the World Series the previous season to participate in exhibitions during the offseason that re-enacted the events of the Fall Classic because the practice allegedly devalued the World Series itself).

    Five days after he returned from his suspension, Ruth was stripped of his captaincy after throwing dirt on an umpire during a game and climbing into the stands to confront a heckler.

    During his five games as captain of the Yankees, one cannot say that Ruth set a good example for his teammates, and for that, Ruth gets the distinction as the worst captain in Yankee history other than a man who intentionally lost games for the team.

9. Graig Nettles, 1982-1983

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    Graig Nettles' spent his last two years with the Yankees, 1982 and 1983, as captain, after his best years were behind him.

    In 1982, the team went 79-83 on the way to a fifth place finish before rebounding to 91-71 and third place in 1983.

    Nettles was decent, hitting .232 with 18 home runs in '82 and .266 with 20 homers in '83. But he had trouble staying on the field, playing in just 122 and 129 games in '82 and '83, respectively.

    Nettles is another great Yankee, but he did not stand out during his two years as captain.

8. Ron Guidry, 1986-1988

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    Louisiana Lightning is another all-time great Yankee, but he was anything but great during his tenure as co-captain of the New York Yankees (a title he shared with Willie Randolph).

    1986 through 1988 represented the final three years of Ron Guidry's career, a time during which the Yankees were actually decent. They were 90-72 in 1986, good enough for second place, and 89-73 and 85-76 in '87 and '88, respectively.

    Guidry was also average in 1986, going 9-12 with a 3.98 ERA in 30 starts.

    Injuries began to take their toll on Guidry in 1987, though, as he was only able to make 17 starts. He went 5-8 with a 3.67 ERA, before going just 2-3 with a 4.18 ERA in 10 starts in 1988.

    Guidry has his number retired by the Yankees and had a great career for the team, but the years of his captaincy were not his best, and the team never made the playoffs under his and Willie Randolph's leadership.

7. Willie Randolph, 1986-1988

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    Like his co-captain, Willie Randolph spent three seasons as Yankee captain before his tenure with the team came to an end.

    While the team was average during his captaincy, Randolph played pretty well. His best year was 1987, when he hit .305 and represented the Yankees in the All-Star Game. His .305 average was the second best of his career, as was his .825 OPS.

    After 1988, Randolph signed as a free agent with the Dodgers and split time over the rest of his career with them, the Athletics, Brewers and Mets.

    Randolph's term as Yankee co-captain was not disastrous, but it was also relatively brief and was lacking in postseason play.

6. Everett Scott, 1922-1925

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    Everett Scott took over for Babe Ruth as captain of the Yankees in 1922 and remained in that role through the rest of his Yankee tenure, which ended when the Washington Senators claimed him off waivers in 1925.

    Scott wasn't a special player for the Yankees; his highest average for the team was .269 in 1922 as a shortstop, a year in which he was 15th in AL MVP voting.

    But he was the "Iron Man" of baseball before Lou Gehrig entered the scene. His 1,307 consecutive games played between June 20, 1916 and May 6, 1925 was the major league record that Gehrig broke.

    He will also be known forever as the Yankee captain for the opening of Yankee Stadium and the team's first World Series championship in 1923.

    For that, he goes down as the sixth best Yankee captain of all-time.

5. Don Mattingly, 1991-1995

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    Don Mattingly was a great Yankee and a great Yankee captain. Unfortunately for him (and for the Yankees), he was never able to win a World Series with the team.

    But Donnie Baseball was a consummate professional. He had a great glove and a solid bat. He gave it his all and performed well until the day he retired, despite chronic back issues, even after his power went away.

    In his last two seasons with the team, 1994 and 1995, even while struggling to stay on the field every day, he hit .304 and .288, respectively.

    He led the team through the end of the "dark years" for the Yankees immediately prior to the team winning four World Series in five years, but he was never able to get into that group of so many Yankees before him who won it all.

4. Roger Peckinpaugh, 1914-1921

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    If this article was a ranking of the best names for Yankee captains in team history, Mr. Peckinpaugh would easily be No. 1.

    Even though it's not, he still earns No. 4 on the list because Peckinpaugh was the Yankee captain the first time the Yankees won the pennant in 1921.

    After manager Frank Chance resigned during the 1914 season, Peckinpaugh (who was already the captain) took over as player-manager for the rest of the season, becoming the youngest manager in major league history at just 23 years old.

    Peckinpaugh also has the distinction of being the first captain of the "Yankees" after they officially adopted that name in 1913.

    After leaving the Yanks, Peckinpaugh went on to win the AL MVP Award for the Washington Senators in 1925.

    For his long reign as captain of the team and his presence on the first Yankee team to advance to the World Series, Peckinpaugh is the fourth best captain the team has had.

3. Thurman Munson, 1976-1979

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    Thurman Munson is one of the most beloved Yankees of all-time, both because of his talent and his hard-nosed attitude on the field.

    One of the best, if not the best, catchers the Bombers have ever had, Munson was named to be the first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig retired in 1939 before the 1976 season. He did not disappoint.

    He won the AL MVP Award that season, belting 17 home runs and 105 RBI for the Yanks, and took them to the World Series for the first time since 1964 before being swept by Cincinnati.

    He led the team to two World Series victories in 1977 and 1978 before tragically dying in an airplane accident in August of 1979.

    Munson's time with the Yankees was cut short, but even during the short time he spent as Yankee captain he established himself as the third best captain the team has ever had.

2. Derek Jeter, 2003-Present

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    "El Capitan," as radio announcer John Sterling calls Jeter, is already the longest-tenured captain in Yankee history.

    Since being named captain by George Steinbrenner during the 2003 season, Jeter's Yankees have gone to two World Series, winning in 2009, in addition to the four titles he had won before being named to the position.

    During his time as captain, Jeter has become the Yankee all-time hits leader and the first Yankee to ever have 3,000 hits while wearing pinstripes, and no one would question that today's Yankees are Jeter's team.

    He has been to the playoffs in all but one season and was the captain when the team moved from the old Yankee Stadium across the street to the new one. He addressed the fans after the last game at the House that Ruth Built and has literally sacrificed his body for the team, such as when he dove into the stands to catch a pop up in a regular season game against the Red Sox.

    But for the one World Series the Yankees have won during Jeter's time as captain, he might be the greatest leader the team has ever had.

1. Lou Gehrig, 1935-1939

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    Lou Gehrig's life, career and captaincy were all cut short by ALS disease, but the "Iron Man" made the most of his four-plus seasons as captain before playing his last game on April 30, 1939.

    After finishing in second place in the American League in 1935, Gehrig led the Yankees to three consecutive World Series wins in 1936, 1937 and 1938 (the Yankees also won the Fall Classic in 1939 after he retired).

    He led the league in home runs with 49 and won the MVP Award in 1936, and he finished his career just shy of 500 home runs with 493.

    For all the he meant to the Yankees and for the four World Series teams he contributed to as captain of the team, Lou Gehrig is the best Yankee captain of them all.


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