With Thursday’s David Wright news that the New York Mets captain will return for the final home series of the season, it likely caps the career of the man known as ‘Captain America’ in Flushing. While it will be the final innings of the Mets’ captain’s career, it will also be the final innings of Major League Baseball’s captain’s career.
That’s right. Wright entered the 2018 season the lone captain in baseball. The role of captain is going extinct. With plenty of understandable factors behind it, it is still an odd disappearance.
Unlike other sports, the captain in MLB has no specific role. The managers exchange the lineups, there’s no pregame coin toss or handshake at midfield, there’s no one communication with officials. Many times, it’s simply been an iconic figure. Wright, for example, was just the Mets fourth captain in the team’s history. Even with Tom Seaver escalating to one of the most dominant pitchers of his era, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter were the first to don the C for the Mets. Carter, of course, was one of the most beloved players in the game and a Hall of Famer. Hernandez? Well, his magic loogey helped cement his New York icon status.
With the advent of free agency, players fly around too much. With teams trying to stay under the luxury tax, young future stars are often sent off for rentals. Simply put, players don’t hang around long enough to earn captainship.
That said, there are plenty of players who seem deserving of the captain status, should teams decide to bring back the concept in full force. Let’s take a look at a few.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout nails the man at the plate to save a run. pic.twitter.com/BfuxN7bnIl— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) September 13, 2018
Reports Friday morning indicate the Angels are about to do the smartest thing in its franchise history and offer Mike Trout a lifetime contract. He’s already been with the Angels for eight seasons, is currently on the books for at least two more, and is one of the greatest baseball players we’ve ever seen. I can’t speak on Trout’s leadership, as I’ve never been in the Angels clubhouse, but he seems like the kind of guy that people would listen to when he spoke. With an improving farm system and some nice young pieces moving up, who better to have as captain?
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Today is Freddie Freeman’s birthday. I’d say a 6.5 game lead in the NL East was a good gift. We’ll see if his teammates can give him another gift today! #Braves have a chance to go up 7.5 today with a win and Phillies loss. pic.twitter.com/50o0rqgXYg— Kelsey Wingert (@KelsWingert) September 12, 2018
Freeman is a fixture at first base for the Braves. The old front office tore down the walls and when the smoke cleared, Freeman was one of the few left standing. And he has delivered. I’ve often said that Freeman merits MVP votes every season, because the Braves would have won 40 games a year without him. Now, injected with some of the game’s best youth, Freeman is excelling at the same level with one of the most fun clubhouses in the game. You can be sure Freeman is revered in that clubhouse and right in the middle of all the fun.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
When you go to watch Joey Votto play, YOU become part of the action. pic.twitter.com/DZ0xecQUrb— MLB (@MLB) September 4, 2018
Why there’s no certainty how much Votto has left in the tank, he’s signed through 2024. The Reds have patiently waited for some of the younger pieces to develop, and slowly they are coming along. If they can dig up some pitching, they have a young, exciting lineup with even some more pieces like Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell still to come. The discipline he shows at the plate has to rub off in the clubhouse, right (he’s 12th all-time in on-base percentage)? Votto has stuck with the Reds for 12 seasons, has been one of the best players in baseball for most of them, and has played in just nine playoff games. He deserves to be the leader if and when this team turns the corner.
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
This is a tough one. Kris Bryant is one of the most likable players in the game, and also happens to be one of the best, a proven winner at every level. Jon Lester has that veteran savvy, posting a 4-1 record behind a 1.77 ERA in his trips to the World Series. But something about Rizzo just says captain.
Rizzo was well traveled in his youth, drafted by the Red Sox, traded to the Padres and then shipped to Chicago in that blockbuster Kyung-Min Na and Andrew Cashner (swing and a miss). It’s rare to think a non-homegrown player as a captain, but Rizzo is as much a Cub as there’s every been. He’s a perennial MVP and All-Star candidate, has a Gold Glove and World Series under his belt, but has two distinctions that really stand out. He’s won both the Branch Rickey and Roberto Clemente Awards. That’s the kind of leadership and mentality you want leading this young team.
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Before Posey arrived, the last time the Giants won a World Series, they were on the other side of the country. Posey took home Rookie of the Year in 2010, and then the Giants won the World Series three times in five years.
Not too shabby kid.
Posey isn’t quite the player he used to be, with postseason surgery and not playoff games likely looming. But he is the face of this franchise, and as they continue to search for a new identity, who better to lead them?
Yadier Molina is a tricky one. He’s got at least two more years as a Cardinal, but a 37-year-old catcher with one of the best catching prospects in the game knocking at the door could decide to hang it up. Three years ago, there was no question. If he commits to being behind the plate for the Cardinals for the duration of his contract, then he is a no-brainer captain.
What about a guy like Paul Goldschmidt? The Diamondbacks have enjoyed newfound success as he mans first base, easily one of the ten best players in the game. While he seems to merit the same lifetime contract that Trout will get, it’s still unsigned. It’s tough to name someone a captain who is heading into his option year, but he is more than deserving.
There are quite a few players that have heard outcries to become captain over their years. Brett Gardner was one many in New York felt should replace the Yankees Derek Jeter. While Gardner is the veteran of a young team and has had some memorable at bats, the captain needs to be someone that will leave a legacy behind. Someone that kids 20 years from now will say, “my dad always remembers that time Brett Gardner...”. Gardner is a very good player, and has played a big role for the Yankees, but doesn’t simply merit the captainship because Jeter retired.