Captains rare, but new group may be worthy
Who will follow trio of Jeter, Konerko and Wright in being bestowed 'C'?
They don't wear Cs on their jerseys, because they don't have to.
The three current captains of Major League Baseball clubs are so well-respected by their teammates, managers, fans and even opponents that their leadership is simply known and felt. It doesn't need to be broadcast or advertised.
Derek Jeter has been the captain of the Yankees since 2003. Paul Konerko has held the honorary position with the White Sox since the winter following Chicago's World Series championship in 2005. David Wright of the Mets was given the accolade during Spring Training this past March.
It's a rare title that has seemingly become even more rare in the modern age of the game. When Jason Varitek retired, his captainship of the Red Sox went with him. Mike Sweeney held the title with the Kansas City Royals, but only from 2003-07, because he went on to play for other teams during the waning days of his career.
The title is hardly official. It's only mentioned in the official rules of baseball once, in an explanatory comment attached to Rule 4.01 that reads: "Obvious errors in the batting order, which are noticed by the umpire-in-chief before he calls 'Play' for the start of the game, should be called to the attention of the manager or captain of the team in error, so the correction can be made before the game starts."
So it seems a bit antiquated, as if the only way it would come into use in that scenario is if a manager had already been ejected. Then again, the spirit of the law seems to speak in much louder volumes than the letter.
For example, former White Sox and current Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle was asked several years ago in Chicago, at a time when he already had 12 years in the big leagues, to describe what happened when a young player went to him for advice.
"I tell them to go ask [Paul] Konerko," Buehrle said. "I have an idea, but I don't know if I'm right. He's dealt with more stuff like that. He knows the right answer, where I don't want to tell them and be wrong."
And when Mets general manager Sandy Alderson bestowed the honor upon Wright in March, he expressed no surprise whatsoever in the fact that Wright preferred to go without the "C" on his chest.
"I don't think David needs it," Alderson said. "I don't think that fits his personality. He's not somebody who is a captain in title alone. It's really about the substance underneath the title."
It's always been the same way with Jeter, who is the 11th captain in Yankees history, following Hal Chase, Roger Peckinpaugh, Babe Ruth, Everett Scott, Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly.
In fact, Jeter said he learned what it meant to be a captain by watching Mattingly, his former teammate.
"Once in Spring Training, back in the old Fort Lauderdale stadium, we were working on a back field when the team was on a trip, and there was nobody in the stadium," Jeter said the day he became captain. "We finished up at about the same time and I was about to walk across the main field, and he said, 'You better run. You never know who's watching.' Here he was, the captain of the Yankees, with no one in the stadium, and he's running. That always stayed with me."
So who could possibly be the next captains around the big leagues? Here are five solid contenders:
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: If there ever was a heart-and-soul type player, this is it. Pedroia just re-upped for a monster contract extension, so he'll likely be in Boston for the rest of his career, or at least the most productive years of it. He has already won a World Series in 2007, the '07 American League Rookie of the Year Award and the '08 AL MVP Award. Pedroia plays all out, he plays hurt and he inspires teammates. Maybe the franchise doesn't want to give out the title so soon after Varitek bid the sport farewell, but Pedroia fits the bill.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: McCutchen has ridiculous athletic skills and has fashioned himself into one of the best all-around players in baseball in a short time. Now the Pirates are looking like winners again after a 20-year drought, and their center fielder is proving his worth as the unquestioned leader between the lines on the field and between the doors of the clubhouse. A captain should be a respected everyday presence, but he should also be an All-Star-level player. McCutchen is undeniably both, and he's getting better.
Joe Mauer, C, Twins: Mauer is from Minnesota and is going to be in Minnesota for a long time. He's the face of a franchise and a world-class hitter. Whether Mauer remains a catcher or eventually moves to first base or even designated hitter depending on durability as he ages, he's the definition of a leader -- especially now as the team rebuilds and tries to forge a new identity. Making him captain would be well-played.
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals: Molina's bat has finally caught up with his defense. That makes for a perennial National League MVP Award candidate, so he's more than covered on the talent end of things when it comes to potential captainship. Where Molina scores the most points, however, is his steadiness behind the plate for his pitching staff and in the dugout, where he becomes more and more of a tone-setter for teammates young and old.
Buster Posey, C, Giants: The similarities to Jeter have always been staggering. Both won Rookie of the Year honors and World Series rings in their first full seasons in the Major Leagues. Both won another ring two years after that. And Posey has already added an NL MVP Award to the mix. It's rare for a player as young as Posey (26) to ascend to such exalted positions of veteran respect and leadership so quickly, but then again, that's Jeter-esque, too.
Also: Evan Longoria, Rays; Joey Votto, Reds; Matt Wieters, Orioles; Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs.