MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Anthony Rizzo is a three-time All-Star and the 2017 winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, baseball’s biggest honor for sportsmanship and community involvement. Jon Lester is a three-time World Series champion, and Jason Heyward organized the most important meeting in franchise history.
Plenty of leaders with the Chicago Cubs. No captain.
One of the most revered titles in sports is hanging by a thread in baseball, which treats its history with hallowed tones in almost every case, but doesn’t seem the slightest bit concerned about the absence of the iconic C on the front of its uniforms. New York Mets third baseman David Wright is the majors’ only captain on the eve of the season, and it’s unclear if he will ever play again.
“Leadership is a taken role and people want to follow you just based on how you are, how you treat them, how well you listen, how well you interact daily, how much you really are into them as opposed to yourself,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “and that becomes obvious. Leadership is taken, man. It’s hard to just place that out there.”
The 35-year-old Wright was named the fourth captain in Mets history in 2013, joining Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and John Franco. He made the last of his seven NL All-Star teams that same year before he was hampered by a series of injuries. He hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2016.
Wright declared right away that he wouldn’t wear the C on the front of his jersey, so that special touch has been missing from baseball for a couple years.
“I’m not sure if there’s a benefit to having a title and I’ve never been one to like come in here and say you have to listen to me because I’m the captain,” Wright said. “I would hope that if I have something to say that somebody would listen to me because of, you know, because of what I’ve hopefully displayed in the clubhouse and be considered kind of a leader in here.”
But Wright made no attempt to hide the significance of the title to him.
“I’ll say it again, that to this day it’s probably the biggest honor away from the field of my career,” he said.
A variety of factors have contributed to the decline of captains. Many of the captains across sports spend most of their careers with a single team, but that has become a rarity in baseball. There also are no real responsibilities for the title.
Hockey captains serve as the team’s liaison to the officials. NFL captains participate in the pregame coin toss. NBA captains also have specific responsibilities, but baseball barely mentions the word in its rulebook.
“There’s no, like, formal meeting,” Washington ace Max Scherzer said. “It’s not like football where you go out there and shake the other team’s hands and you need captains to go do that. Baseball doesn’t have that. So maybe that’s why you don’t see it. There’s no coin toss.”
But the list of baseball captains still includes some of the biggest names in the history of the sport. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Derek Jeter are on the list of 11 Yankees captains. Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider with the Dodgers. Jimmie Foxx and Carl Yastrzemski for the Boston Red Sox. Willie Stargell, Barry Larkin and other Hall of Famers.
Jeter thought he did something wrong when then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner called to make him captain in 2003.
“The boss, Mr. Steinbrenner usually only called if you were in trouble during the season,” Jeter said. “He called me, we were in Cincinnati, and said he wanted to name me the captain. It was a welcome phone call.”
The list of baseball captains underscores not only the special players to hold the title, but also the unique situations that led to their leadership position.
Rizzo, Lester and Heyward, who got the Cubs together during a key moment in Game 7 of their World Series win in 2016, could each serve as captain. But identifying one leader in Chicago’s clubhouse at the possible expense of its other respected veterans likely would hurt the team more than help it. There are similar situations in several other clubhouses across the sport.
“Having a team captain could conceivably in some ways change the relationship between the manager and the coaches and the rest of the team,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said.
“So, again, it’s all about the people. It’s not that it’s a good idea or a bad idea, it’s all about the people. It’s not just the guy you’re considering for that position but also everybody around him, your own players, the manager, the coaching staff. You really have to think of it in those terms.”
AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick and AP Sports Writer Steven Wine contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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