David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Brian Cashman caused quite a stir Thursday when he again suggested the captaincy of the Yankees should be retired along with the last player to hold the title, Derek Jeter, who of course called it quits last fall.
In reality, it wouldn't be so shocking.
Without going to Google, guess how many of the 30 MLB teams currently have a player designated as their captain?
If you knew the Mets were the only team left, congrats. And yes, David Wright is the last captain standing after Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox retired at the end of the 2014 season.
The casual observer might not even know that about Wright, considering he eschews the "C'' that his predecessor, John Franco, wore on the chest of his jersey the way a hockey player would on his sweater. Wright wants to look no different from his teammates. "That's why they call it a uniform," he said.
So what does being a captain for an MLB team involve, then?
In the NFL, there are captains named to observe the coin toss before each game. In the NHL, they are the players designated to speak to the officials regarding rules interpretations.
"It's tough to define," Wright said. "It's not like you become a captain and all of a sudden you have all these responsibilities now. More than anything, it's an honor. I'd like to think I have a fairly strong voice in the clubhouse. I like to think people view me in that type of role.
"But as far as getting this title, and then I'm supposed to be somebody different, or do something different, that would make no sense. Or they wouldn't have considered me for it to begin with."
In most cases, a player already behaved like a captain long before the team decided to award him the "C.'' The Yankees didn't elevate Jeter until 2003, when he already was an integral part of four World Series titles, the MVP of the 2000 Series win over the Mets and the Rookie of the Year in 1996. It had been eight years since the Yankees last had a captain -- with Jeter following Don Mattingly as the 16th in team history.
Obviously, Jeter was a natural fit, based on his championship pedigree along with a sterling reputation, both on and off the field. Like Mattingly before him, Jeter was categorized more as a leader by example than the fiery, in-your-face type. But as the central figure of the Core Four during the last Yankees dynasty we're likely to see in a long time, it's easy to understand Cashman's thinking.
He called Jeter a "once-in-a-lifetime player" and reiterated that he doesn't expect to name another captain anytime soon.
"In terms of the designation of a captaincy, it's not something I'd be recommending," Cashman said this past week. "But those are ownership calls."
Mainly because the role essentially is a symbolic one and fills more of a marketing/PR purpose than anything else. As Wright said, it's an "honor" to be recognized as a captain, but the reason the title is fading from MLB has more to do with the current economics than a shift in the sport's traditional values. With players often switching teams, there won't be as many candidates for the job.
"When you think about the qualifications, it's excellence as a player and longevity as a member of an organization," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "It's tough to find that combination these days. You don't have players that are with organizations for a long period of time.
"So I'm not sure it's been phased out because it's anachronistic. I just think it's been phased out because there are fewer and fewer players who qualify for the title."
Look at what happened with Wright. For years, he was besieged with questions about becoming the Mets' captain until spring training in 2013, when he was formally anointed.
Why then? Wright already had eight full seasons in and was the logical choice. But it was the eight-year, $138-million contract he had signed that winter, cementing him as a Flushing fixture, that helped close the deal.
Wright knew the captaincy was in the works for him. He had talked to team officials about it before then. But he felt it was important to speak to members of the organization, along with his teammates, to make his own determination on how he would be perceived. Just as everyone figured a captain would act.
When Wright returned from the World Baseball Classic that March -- a little early because of a rib-cage strain -- he was called into a Tradition Field office and was told by Alderson, manager Terry Collins and ownership that it was time for the Mets to have captain No. 4.
Could he be the last one for the Mets? Or for any team in baseball?
To Wright, it's hardly a meaningless title in the scope of his own career.
"I would say, individually, it's probably at the top of the list, as far as personal accolades go," he said. "Because A, there's been very few in the organization, and B, there's been very few in the game overall."
In an official capacity, the term "captain" appears only once in the MLB rule book, regarding a Rule 4.01 comment, which states that errors in the batting order, before the umpire calls "Play" for the start of the game, should be brought to the attention of the "manager or captain."
We're assuming a manager probably can handle that himself -- or the bench coach, if the manager is in the bathroom.
So what does that leave for the captain?
"It's a position that's earned," Alderson said. "And to some extent, it's recognition. But there's a certain amount of responsibility that goes along with it. There are incidents that come up, and you're the captain, so you take some remedial action. So I think it does carry a certain amount of weight."
Jeter's tenure convinced Cashman that the Yankees might never need another captain. Who knows? By the time Wright is finished, the Mets could feel the same way.