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Oh, Cashman! No Captains?

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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The New York Yankees don't really figure to have a great season this year, so the team is doing everything it can to distract from its dismal present by invoking its bright past. In year 1 After Jeter, the Yankees will retire the numbers of three players from the dynasty years -- Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada -- and honor former captain and coach Willie Randolph with a plaque in Monument Park. 

It won't be long until they retire Derek Jeter's No. 2. And apparently Yankees general manager Brian Cashman thinks that with the end of the single digits should come the end of the Yankees captaincy.

“As far as I’m concerned -- and I’m not the decision-maker on this -- that captaincy should be retired with No. 2,” Cashman said Thursday on ESPN Radio. “I wouldn’t give up another captain’s title to anyone else.”

As a Yankees fan who loves Jeter (a lot), I cannot stress how ridiculous a notion this is.

For one thing, Jeter subscribed -- sincerely or not -- to the idea that no one player is above the team or the game, an idea the Yankees tout as part of his legend. Eliminating the captaincy so that it dies with Jeter amounts to canonizing a player who would tell you he didn't do it alone. That level of deification does neither the Yankees nor Jeter any favors when it comes to public perception of the team's self-aggrandizement.

Many interpreted Cashman's statements as his belief that no player would be able to match Jeter's leadership in the clubhouse. But Yankees manager Joe Girardi had another interpretation: that no single player is the true leader of the entire clubhouse. As ESPN's Wallace Matthews notes, each unit within a team has its own de facto captain, from the bullpen, to the starters, to the outfield.

That may well be true, and teams certainly don't need to have one designated captain to lead and maintain unity within the locker room. The New York Mets are the only MLB team now with a captain: David Wright. The last five World Series have been won by three teams without captains: the St. Louis Cardinals, the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants, who have arguably the tightest locker room in the league. Meanwhile, the Yankees of the late 1970s -- the “Bronx Zoo” teams -- were among the most discordant groups of players of all time, despite having a strong captain in Thurman Munson.

It's also true that perhaps the Yankees could stand to be more discerning in whom they assign the captaincy, and shouldn't be quick to name Jeter's successor. The Yankees have had a captain more consistently than any other team in the modern era, which is partly a function of the long list of legends to wear the pinstripes, but also a sign of the organization's affinity for pomp and self-congratulation under the late George Steinbrenner. No knock on the great Graig Nettles, but he's not exactly the first Yankee captain to come to mind.

So sure, Cashman is correct that Jeter was “a once-in-a-lifetime player,” but he's also right that for the Yankees, it's now about “looking forward.” The team doesn't need a new captain in the near future, but it also doesn't need to eliminate the position altogether.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Stacey Shick at sshick@bloomberg.net