O Captain! My Captain!

Despite his recent statistical shortcomings, Jeter is still the face of the Yankees locker room. Getty Images

The fine folks over at Insider have put together a couple of pieces on Yankees SS Derek Jeter, in hopes of finding out what, if anything, the beloved Bomber still does well. In his defense, many fans of No. 2 will tell you Jeter brings priceless "intangibles" to the table as captain of one of baseball's biggest franchises. But just how valuable is an official captain in sports? We turned to a group of Mag writers for the answer.


I covered the Yankees for the New York Daily News from 1992-1995, the last four seasons of Captain Don Mattingly's career, as it turned out. A chronic back injury had taken its toll on Donnie Baseball by that time, turning him, sadly, into a slap hitting shadow of his former self.

Mattingly hit but 44 home runs in the four years I covered him … or four fewer than Ryan Howard hit last year. Still, even as his numbers plummeted down from his greatest years in the mid-80s, there's was no debating that he was the captain.

This was never more evident than in his final season, when the Yankees, for the first time in Mattingly's 14-year career, made it to the post-season. Mattingly's calm, positive voice was the one that all of the 25 Yankees listened to more than any other.

"Cap taught me so much," Paul O'Neill once told me. "His biggest thing was, 'The most important play in baseball … is the next play.' It's something I never forgot."

— JEFF BRADLEY, Mag senior writer


Aside from memories of players heading out to midfield for the coin toss, when asked about the impact of my former captains, my mind was initially blank. Then I remembered Tom Rathman from my time with the 49ers. While I don't recall Tom being elected captain, I do recall him being the one who lobbied the coach when the team wanted a shortened practice or a "hat day"—a practice without pads.

So, from the player's perspective, there is a functional value in having captains in pro sports. I just find it rather comical when someone like Derek Jeter is always introduced to the fans as "Yankees Captain, Derek Jeter." While he may have the same in clubhouse duties as say Tom Rathman did, when you tell the fans about it, the whole captain thing seems outdated and rather cheesy.

Then again, the 49ers did have a tradition that, after every win, all three captains would receive a leather briefcase and a framed photograph of the coin toss. So, being a captain does have its perks.

— ALAN GRANT Mag contributing writer and former NFL player


I might have a bias here, but I don't really associate the idea of a singular captain with any other sport but hockey. That's not to say there aren't great leaders working in the other major team sports. But in most cases, those leadership roles aren't spelled out with a block letter on their chests. (It still strikes me funny to me to see a "C" on the front Jason Varitek's Red Sox jersey.)

By chance, I received a first-hand lesson in leadership on Jan. 26, 2002. I was sitting in the visiting room at Nassau Coliseum, chatting with veteran Lightning D Grant Ledyard after a 6-2 loss to the Islanders. As we were speaking, another Lightning veteran, winger Dave Andreychuk, began to address the team. He was in his first year with the club and had not yet been named captain.

On this night, Andreychuk wasn't happy. He started telling his teammates how their performance was unacceptable, and insisted that everyone stay put in their locker stalls to answer every question from the attending media. His message was unmistakable: be accountable.

There was talent in that room—Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards—the core of the group that would win the Stanley Cup in 2004. But on that night, they were just a group of kids in need of direction.

When the Lightning won the Cup, I thought back on that scene when, as captain, Andreychuk accepted the trophy from commissioner Gary Bettman. And, I wondered, if he hadn't stepped forward, if those talented kids would have developed into a championship team.

Maybe. And, maybe not.

— E.J. HRADEK, Mag senior writer


I've never heard of captaincy increasing a player's value, but I know of one instance where it had a huge impact: Stephen Jackson being named captain by the Warriors a year after his problems in Indy. It seemed like a crazy move by coach Don Nelson at the time, but it motivated Jackson to tone down his act and set a better example. He was truly flattered by the gesture and thus more focused and useful to the team. I'd even argue it made the other quick-tempered Warriors less likely to go off.

But in the NBA in general, guys who are seen as leaders are treated as such, whether or not they have the captaincy title. And a guy who isn't a leader isn't given that respect just because he's a captain. Just look at Tracy McGrady. Guys don't consider him a leader in the truest sense, and yet he's been a captain for most of the years he's played in the league.

Other than that, I get the sense that it's more of an honorary title with a lot of teams. But for some odd reason, the New York media makes a bigger deal about it than most. I've heard Dave D'Alessandro from the Newark Star-Ledger literally preface a question by saying, "So, captain …" I can't say I've ever heard that any place else.

— RIC BUCHER, Mag senior writer


In England, they call the captain of the team its "skipper," and when it comes to on-field, in-game importance, there's not a sport where more is required of the leading man.

On match day, the captain is even more important than the coach. Think for a second. In a sport where there are no timeouts, where only three substitutions are allowed, where the only time a coach can really speak to the team is during the 15-minute halftime interval (when many are more apt to make sure they're properly hydrated, that any muscle tightness is massaged, etc.), there has to be a voice on the field that rings with authority.

In 2006, when England's then-coach Steve McLaren named John Terry as his captain prior to the World Cup, McLaren summed it up well.

"John has all the attributes a captain needs—leadership, authority, courage, ability, tactical awareness and a total refusal to accept second-best," McLaren said.

That's a pretty detailed job description.

— JEFF BRADLEY, Mag senior writer