July 4th, 1939, the day that will be remembered by Yankees’ fans as “the day of Lou Gehrig‘s legendary speech”, marked the last time Gehrig would ever set foot on the field at Yankee Stadium. As part of a large tribute to the Hall Of Fame first baseman, the Yankees retired his number and his role as team captain. Though the role’s vacancy would only last 37-years until a catcher named Thurman Munson took the leadership role by the horns and was named captain by Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner, it was still one of the largest showings of respect in Yankees’ history.
2014 marks the end of another legendary Yankee Captain’s career. This time it’s an athletic, slap-hitting shortstop named Derek Jeter, who has been the team’s captain since 2003.
Gehrig and Jeter can’t be more different in terms of their style of play, but in terms of leadership qualities, they could’t be more similar.
The “Iron Horse” was a big and strong first baseman, who hit for tremendous power. He is the team’s all-time leader in doubles, triples, and RBI, while ranking second in hits, batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS and is third in home runs, runs scored, at bats, games played, and walks. His 2130 consecutive games streak was the most of any player in baseball history until Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed that total in 1995. Also, his 23 career grand slams record stood until 2013 when Alex Rodriguez broke it.
Jeter has been the team’s all-time hits leader since 2009, when he surpassed Gehrig’s total. The two legends are tied for most doubles in team history. The current captain is also the team’s stolen base leader.
The two are very similar in terms of attitude, work ethic, and leadership. Both Gehrig and Jeter are private people, who aren’t the most vocal teammates, but make their presence known through their performance on the field and their relentless desire to win.
Over their careers, they have both done whatever was necessary to help the Yankees win. For Gehrig, that meant taking a backseat for more vocal and flashy players such as Babe Ruth. In Jeter’s case, it meant anything from doing more than he was required (such as running to the first base line to cut off an overthrown ball and flip it to the catcher for a season saving out) to sacrificing his body (falling into the seats to catch a pop-up during a July matchup against the hated Red Sox.
Were they the same player? No they weren’t, but their value to the Yankees has been nearly identical and unmatched.
In a sport where the captaincy isn’t considered essential, it seems fitting that the Yankees honor Jeter as they did Gehrig, by making him the “last” team captain.